Online Privacy and Security

Remember the thrill at having connected with a long lost friend on Facebook after many years, if not decades, or an email requesting help to move funds on behalf of a beneficiary with hefty financial gains? ‘How did they find you’, you wonder.

In 1993, the New Yorker published a cartoon of a dog at a computer remarking, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”? Now, in 2010, lots of people would know that he’s a dog, what breed he is, who his owners are, where they live, and what they bought each other for Christmas. But he wouldn’t know they knew. And that’s where the danger lies. The Internet is forever: everything that you post online is tracked and stored and will follow you to college entrance interviews, future job interviews and even impact your credit rating.Online privacy starts with a secure PC. Install antispyware, antivirus, and firewall software, as well as backup software to protect against data loss. These can be found in most Internet security suite software packages and will scan your incoming emails for viruses and other malware. Setup automatic updates to keep your system protected from the latest threats. Protect your data with backups on external media. Secure your computer as well with a password and restrict access to your personal computer.

Safe surfing behavior starts with increasing your defenses against identification by adopting tight privacy controls on personal information. “Personal privacy is no longer an individual thing,” according to Harold Abelson, professor at M.I.T. “In today’s online world, what your mother told you is true, only more so: people really can judge you by your friends.” You do not have to sign in to every site, try to stick to those sites that you actually plan to use, and those sites whose privacy implications you understand.

Internet SecurityPublishing full dates of birth, postal addresses and other contact details on networking sites – and then leaving profiles open to the public – makes it easier for cyber criminals to commit identity fraud. Ensure that only your trusted friends are able to see this information. Avoid posting sensitive information, your complete date of birth, or your travel plans online.

Use strong passwords that are 10 -14 characters long and alphanumeric with symbols, and different passwords for different sites. This may seem troublesome but it is better than having a whole set of accounts compromised from sharing the same password. Changing passwords regularly is also a good idea if you value your security highly. Do not share you passwords with anybody or through emails. It is better to note down your passwords in a diary rather than on your computer or mobile phone. Do not login to your accounts with public computers if possible, especially airport lounges etc.

Adopt secure email strategy by setting up a separate free mail account on Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail for online use and do not use this for your personal or professional emails. Refrain from opening attachments or responding to emails from addresses that you do not recognize.

Teach safe surfing habits to your children and other members in your family to recognize and protect themselves against contact with cyber-bullies, hackers, phishers, and predators. Be aware of inappropriate conduct and content online. Keep current with technology. You don’t have to be an expert, but a little understanding goes a long way towards keeping you safe online.

Social MediaIn an online world dominated by social networks, ad companies and other services that automatically collect massive amounts of data about their users, privacy may be difficult to maintain. The Internet keeps us in touch with friends, news, information and research on any topic under the sun and lots of ways to waste time — and even get into trouble. And just as in the non-cyber world, some people you encounter online might try to take advantage of you — financially or physically. But by using available tools, staying vigilant and applying common sense, your privacy doesn’t have to die every time you browse the web.

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