Did you know that a cybercriminal attacks every 39 seconds? As most of our everyday activities are connected to the internet, it’s more crucial than ever to learn how to protect personal information online.
If you want to know how to keep your data safe online, you aren’t alone! 155 million Americans had their data breached in the year 2020 due to accidental data exposure. This means they inadvertently revealed their sensitive information online due to inadequate information on security. Knowledge is power! So take a moment to read our tips on how to protect yourself online, and what to look out for when surfing the web.
Online Privacy and Security – The Basics
While they seem to be interchangeable, there are important differences between privacy protection and online security.
Privacy refers to the proper management of your data for the purpose of preventing misuse, exposure, or uncertified access to your personal information. Privacy protection is your right to decide what personal information about you is accessible by third parties. It involves allowing or blocking browsers from tracking your activity, viewing browser history, and mining data about you in general.
Security refers to protecting personal information from unauthorized access or exploitation and misuse of your personal data by other people. This involves the detection of things like imposter scams, password and authentication breaches, and identity theft.
Essentially, security refers to the prevention of exploitation from other people, while privacy refers to your ability to grant access to your personal information. Both of these types of protection play equally important, but different roles in keeping you safe online.
How to Protect Your Privacy Online
Now that you are familiar with the basics, here are some actual ways to protect yourself online!
- Use a private browser option
- Regularly delete your history (including cookies!)
- Change privacy settings on social media profiles
- Think about what you share and post online
Use a Private Browser
Online privacy protection has to do with the information that we willingly (or not) give out to third parties when we use the internet. This can include our name, address, location, family status, place of employment, etc. But there is more to how to protect personal information online than just what we actively share.
Information can be gathered about us based on the kinds of websites that we frequent and what we do there. This type of information is tracked using cookies. Knowing how to track and manage the cookies that are dropped on your computer is an integral part of privacy protection online. Cookies can make your online experience much easier by filling out forms and personal info quicker (you know, that convenient auto-fill option).
Consider that if you want to know how to protect your privacy online, that a webpage which knows your full name, phone number and email address to fill out a form for you, it also can sell that information to third parties (ever wonder where all those spammers got your info?). It seems like it has been done without your permission, but actually, you allowed the cookie.
A few ways to protect yourself from cookies are to use a private browser window, regularly delete your browsing history, and say no to unnecessary cookie requests!
Change Privacy Settings on All Social Media Profiles
An important aspect of protecting privacy online is how to protect your personal information on social media. For many people, social media has become a daily experience with most users spending more than two hours every day using these websites.
Every social media platform allows you to personally configure your privacy options, giving you control to opt in and out of what you share with others. By changing your privacy options to limit who can access your personal information, you take an active role in how to protect your online privacy.
Think Before You Share
The online culture of social media has grown exponentially over just a few years. Now over 3.6 billion users globally have access to social media websites, and share everything from significant life events, to vacation photos, to what they ate for breakfast this morning.
For you, the user, these shares are in the interest of connecting with your network, but many don’t consider the amount of data they are freely releasing every time they post on social media or even how can you protect your online friends from unwanted disclosure of their private information.
Think about what is in your post before you share, and whether this is information that you would be okay with anyone (including companies and criminals) knowing. Consider removing location pins, pictures that clearly show where you or others are, valuables you have in your house, license plates, phone numbers, or where you work.
Asking permission before you post and tag photos with other people is a considerate practice, and sharing information about how to change privacy settings can help others take control of their online privacy as well.
How do I Check to See if Someone is Using my Social Security Number?
To check the activity of your Social Security Number (SSN), first check your social security statement. This statement allows you to see your recorded earnings based off of your SSN. If someone is using your number for employment fraud, to evade taxes or apply for a loan, it will be evident here. If you do suspect that someone is using your social security number, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and contact the International Revenue Service to clarify any issues regarding taxes.
How to Protect Your Identity and Data Online
Protecting your data and identity online can seem daunting, but there are a few simple steps that can go a long way when it comes to online security.
- Create complex passwords and change passwords often
- Only use secured and verified websites
- Know the warning signs of identity theft and other scams
- Protect yourself from malware
Create Complex Passwords and Change Them Often
Password protection is one of the first lines of defense when it comes to how to keep personal information safe. Using passwords that may be easy to guess, such as birthdays, names or even favorite things can be simple for hacking programs and people to figure out.
Use different passwords for different sites, utilizing different characters, capitals and numbers, and change your passwords every couple of months in order to keep them secured.
Only Visit Secured and Verified Websites
Knowing strategies of how to protect your data online is usually easier than it seems. By only using secured and verified websites you decrease your chance of contracting a computer virus, or having your identity and personal information stolen. In order to check if a website is secured, inspect the web address at the top of the screen.
Secured websites begin with “https”, while unsecured websites simply have “http” without the ‘s.’ To take out the extra step of checking every single URL that you visit, use the blacklist feature in your browser to block all websites that are only “http”.
A second indicator of a secure website that will add to your personal information safety is the lock symbol right before the URL. This symbol indicates that the webpage is encrypted, an added layer of security performed by the owner to prevent third parties from mining data from the page.
Know the Warning Signs
As fraudulent activities online are constantly evolving, it’s increasingly important to know how to protect personal information online by being able to spot common signs of internet scams and intrusions such as:
- Being contacted randomly by someone whom you don’t know asking you to do something (usually send money)
- Messages that appear to look like verified sources, but upon closer look URL names are strange, and have unusual characters or are very long
- Messages that have a sense of urgency and request money or personal information
Protect Yourself From Malware
Since new malware is released every 7 seconds, one of the easiest ways to protect your information and digital life is by installing antivirus software on your computer.
Malicious software, aka malware are computer viruses or other programs designed to hack into your computer, causing disruption of basic functioning, and often intended to seek out personal and financial information.
This software will detect and protect your information if malware does happen to make it onto your computer. Other ways you can help protect against malware are:
- Being cautious downloading free software from the internet
- Avoid clicking on pop ups asking you to download files
- Keep your computer software up to date
- Inspect links for strange names or characters before clicking on them
Where Could an Identity Theft Access Your Personal Information?
Identity theft is any kind of unauthorized use of your personal information to commit identity fraud, such as applying for credit cards, loans or evading taxes. As more and more of our lives occur online, identity theft is a major concern.
Identity thieves can access your personal information through hacking your email or by using malware to mine your personal computer.
The most common place that personal information is retrieved is through social media accounts, making it even more important to care about what you share and be careful about using unsecured WiFi connections.
What Steps Can You Take to Secure Your Private Information?
Here are some simple steps you can take if you want to keep your information secure:
- Don’t click on any suspicious links or attachments you receive on social media or via email
- Never fill out unofficial forms that request your personal information
- Always use complex passwords that contain the combination of numbers, symbols, upper and lower-case letters
- Don’t use the same password for different accounts
- Change your passwords often
- Be careful of what you share on social media
How to Keep Your Personal Information Safe Online – Recap
Protecting your personal information online is an ongoing process of remaining informed and aware of your own activity on the internet.
By staying vigilant about your privacy restrictions on regular web pages like banking sites, social media accounts, and the settings in your browser history, you take an active role in keeping your personal information safe online.
Creating your own secure passwords and regularly updating them, installing anti-virus software, and staying alert to potential scammers or suspicious links and sites are crucial tasks that help keep your data and identity private.
It can be hard not to worry about how to protect personal information online as our lives continue to integrate more and more into this digital world. Using the right tools, being conscious of what you share on social media, and being cautious about what you do on an unsecured WiFi connection, are ways that you can protect your information and safely use the internet.