Do you know how much data about you goes online every day? How often you check your privacy settings? Do you install apps and just click “Accept all” and then never come back to the app settings to see what you allowed?
In the wake of massive data-breaches like the Equifax scandal, we need to protect our online privacy more than ever. You’ll be surprised at how many ways hackers can steal and advertisers can buy your personal information.
Whether you're worried about identity theft or you just don't like the idea of other people tracking your every move, you can take steps to keep your private data private. And you don’t have to delete all your accounts and go live in the woods. Here are ten steps you can take right now to control your online identity.
1. Create strong passwords
All your digital devices should have passwords – computers, smartphones, tablets, any gadget you use that has personal data on it. If stolen, it will provide a great source of personal info if it doesn’t have a password.
This applies to your online accounts as well. Almost all of them require passwords, and you have to make them strong – don’t use your name, date of birth, ID number, or your pet’s name. And don't use the same password for more than one site, or you may wind up losing more than you bargained for. You should change your passwords regularly, too.
2. Turn on two- factor authentication
This setting protects certain accounts even if someone does get your password. Every time you log in, you’ll need to apply a special code the website texts to your phone or email. This authentication works well for keeping others from accessing your accounts. It might feel time-consuming, but if you’re serious about privacy, then you’d better sign up for it.
3. Be careful of public WiFi
Yes, free WiFi at your local cafe or restaurant is convenient, but you don’t know who can watch that internet traffic. If you have to use it, don't convey private information.
4. Change your home network settings
Immediately change the default passwords for anything connected to your home network, especially your router. If hacked, the router may give someone complete access to everything you do online.
5. Use RFID blockers
A new method of stealing your data called RFID skimming means a thief with a card reader can steal your credit card data just by walking past you. Using an RFID blocker helps your wallet stay protected.
6. Use camera cover-ups
Hackers can access your webcam within seconds using twenty-dollar software they found on Google, and firewalls and virus protection programs don’t provide sufficient protection. A hardware solution like a webcam cover offers the most effective protection for cameras on laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
7. Be careful on social media
Choose carefully what you share online. Even though you may have only a small circle of friends in your network to comment on your day and your opinion on different topics, your audience is bigger than you think. Take special care in filling out forms or writing posts to avoid telling the world where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with.
8. Update your software and download cautiously
Make sure your operating system stays current, no matter how tedious the updates feel. Allow updates on all your devices to keep them safe. Same goes for downloads. If you find something on your computer you don’t remember downloading, delete it.
9. Keep your online life scam-free
When you install new software or apps on your devices, make sure you trust the source. If you can’t figure out who the source is, you probably shouldn’t download it.
10. Pay attention to your opt-ins
When you download anything, make sure you read the opt-in sections. A simple phone game may want access to your media, contacts, and camera. You can go to its settings and pause certain types of data collection. Other apps may require them, though, so think carefully about whether you really want that app. And be careful with updates, because some may push your settings back to default and undo all your careful privacy work.
Other quick tips:
11. Unsubscribe from email newsletters you don’t read.
12. Never open email attachments from unknown senders.
13. Avoid using Google or Facebook to log into sites.
14. Log out of your account instead of just closing the browser window.
Sure, you could opt out of the internet altogether, but that would probably inconvenience you more than these steps. And taking these steps may seem annoying and excessive, but they’ll let you lead a safe and healthy online life.