Many people are unaware of even the most basic aspects of online safety and self-protection. If you’re one of those people, here is a basic crash-course in Internet safety:
Basic facts about your online identity
- Know that you’re not invisible. Unless you specifically take steps to hide your IP address behind a proxy, anybody with basic computer skills can see your IP address, and potentially use this to learn other personal information.
- Know that your online activities are being tracked – by Google, by various businesses, and by the government.
- Know that what you post on your Facebook page or other site can be accessed by potential employers, divorce lawyers, or others in a position of power over you. Emails can also be accessed through subpoena. Keep this in mind before uploading anything that could damage your reputation.
Protecting against identity theft or other bad actors
- Be aware that burglars and other thieves have begun to use social networking sites to peruse for valuables, so you might not want to post a picture of yourself with that new $40,000 diamond necklace your hubby bought. Don’t advertise your valuables to the world.
- Never alert people that you’re leaving town. As difficult as it might be not to shout out to the world about that Caribbean cruise you’ll be taking, social networking is not the place to reveal this. Wait until you’re back and then say, “Jane Doe is back from her Caribbean cruise.” Tell your close friends the news over the phone or in a private chat conversation.
- Don’t bank from a public computer. Key logging malware and other viruses have been linked to the use of open Wi-Fi connections and public computers, such as those in hotel lobbies or libraries.
- Don’t post vital details about yourself, such as your full birth date, home address, phone number, or other information that might give an identity thief more pieces of the puzzle to impersonate you. These details can help them apply for credit cards or conduct other financial activities in your name.
Guarding Against Phishing Scams
What is a phishing scam?
A phishing scam is when a thief sends out millions of emails randomly, asking recipients to “verify” sensitive information about their bank accounts or other vital information in the hopes that some are dumb enough to respond. These emails may look very official and may even have your bank’s logo.
How to guard against phishing scams
Never directly respond to any email that asks for a password or prompts you to “confirm” vital information by providing account details. Instead, close the email and go directly to your bank’s website, then email them about the email you received. Most banks say they will never ask for such information via email, but this method works against other phishing scams as well. Some simply want you to click on a bad link to “update” your account so that they can download a virus to your computer.
Never wire money to someone you know without first independently verifying that the request came from them. A common phishing scam is to collect personal information about you and those you know, then send you an email pretending to be that relative who is in trouble overseas and needs money.
Other Internet Protection Tips
*When choosing passwords, always use a combination of letters and numbers that do not identically mirror personal information. For example, don’t use basic words or obvious number combinations, such as digits from a phone number or your date of birth. A basic technique of hacking 101 is to simply use a program that automatically attempts passwords according to words in the dictionary, common pet names, dates of birth, or phone numbers. If your password consists of something like this, it can be easily hacked.
- Keep your Internet browser updated, which will keep you up to date with the latest security patches.
- If you use a home wireless network, choose the highest security option, which will provide the best protection if you use online banking.