Simple Steps to Protect Your Privacy
I was reading Forbes today and they recently published a list of ten simple things you should do to protect your privacy.
Given that Identity Theft is a rapidly growing problem, I thought this seemed like an excellent topic. By this point in time, most of us either know someone personally – or ourselves have been victims of Identity Theft. Let me give you an example. In March of 2014, I received a letter from the IRS. Naturally, this causes me to break out in a cold sweat and wonder aloud “What the hell does the IRS want with me?” To make a very long story brief, someone had filed a return in my name hoping to receive a big fat refund on reported W2 earnings and lots of deductions.
So now I have a LifeLock account. You should too. Click this link if you would like some inexpensive peace of mind.
Let’s get to the list. In some cases I have quoted the original recommendation in detail, but most are just the headlines where I expand on the topic from my own experience.
Forbes List is:
Password protect your devices
This is a good idea for a great many reasons. Computers, smart phones and tablets should all have passwords. I know this is inconvenient, but if you lose your device (or it is stolen) someone can find a lot of personal data in your phone. However… Make sure you have a password list written down somewhere. Create a document in your computer and call it something OTHER than My Passwords.doc. Give it some oddball name you will remember and no one else will figure out. Then print it out and put it in a safe place.
Passwords need to be complex to be effective. If it’s a word found in the dictionary, a simple dictionary crack will reveal it in a very short amount of time.
The two most common passwords are blank (- no password at all) and “password”. More very common versions are “1234” “123456”, variations thereof, home address, phone #, etc. These are ALL bad ideas as they are the very first things someone will try when they want to hack your account(s).
An example of how to take a normal word and make it complex and very difficult to guess / hack is this. Let’s say you want to use the word “password” for your password. Instead, use this: P4ssW0Rd! or Pa55WorD#
You will notice the word still looks like “password” but we have replaced some letters for numbers, capitalized random letters and added the special character at the end. You could put a special character (!@#$%^&*) in the middle or at the beginning to further complicate cracking the password. Some numbers have letter similarities like: 4=A 5=S zero – o 1=i 3=E 9=g
With some devices you only have a keypad that only lets you enter numbers, so it’s hard to be terribly creative, but with computers and online accounts, you have many options. More complicated is better.
Google yourself regularly
This is a good idea. See what the Internet thinks about you. See what others are saying about you. Find out if anything strange is being done in your name. Anyplace you find your name being used incorrectly or libelously, contact them and try to get it straightened out. If you create anything offered for sale online, Googling your name can turn up instances of people stealing your images and attempting to profit from them. Issuing a DMCA Takedown request will generally resolve the issue. If not, find an attorney who wants to make a lot of money and sue them. Copyright infringement will generally result in awards of at least $30,000 per infringement, so this can be very profitable.
Sign out of online accounts when you’re finished using them
Don’t leave your Facebook, Twitter or NextDoor accounts open on your computer. Never access these accounts from a public computer (Internet cafe or business center in a hotel). You never know who will be the next one to sit down at that computer. You also do not know how secure the computer is. Someone can easily install a key logger on one of these machines and harvest every keystroke you enter. Do not be a victim.
Don’t give out your email, phone number or zip code
It seems everywhere you go shopping, someone wants to collect one or more of these identifiers. Do not give them out unless you really enjoy junk mail and SPAM.
Encrypt your computer
Encrypting your computer means that someone has to have your password (or encryption key) in order to peek at its contents should they get access to your hard drive. On a Mac, you just go to your settings, choose “Security and Privacy,” go to “FileVault,” choose the “Turn on FileVault” option. Boom goes the encryption dynamite. PC folk need to use Bitlocker.
I could recount several times where people have done exactly this and forgotten their passwords. You are S.O.L. if you do this. Also, when your computer crashes (notice I did not say IF) you will most likely never be able to recover your data. Encryption adds security, but unless you work for the DOD or DARPA, this is overkill and can render your data unrecoverable.
Turn On 2-step Authentication In Gmail
This way Google will call your cell phone if anyone tries to access your account from any machine that is not normally used for this purpose. If someone figures out your username / password combination, this way they will still be thwarted in any attempt to impersonate you or steal your contacts.
Pay cash for embarrassing items
Movie rentals (you know the kind I’m referring to), junk food, gentleman’s clubs, etc. Just pay cash.
Change Your Facebook Settings To “Friends Only”
Visit your Facebook privacy settings. Make sure this “default privacy” setting isn’t set to public, and if it’s set to “Custom,” make sure you know and are comfortable with any “Networks” you’re sharing with. ** See my additional warning below on the topic of Facebook friends.
Clear Your Browser History And Cookies On A Regular Basis
When’s the last time you did that? If you just shrugged, consider changing your browser settings so that this is automatically cleared every session. Go to the “privacy” setting in your Browser’s “Options.” Tell it to “never remember your history.” This will reduce the amount you’re tracked online. Consider a browser add-on like TACO to further reduce tracking of your online behavior.
Keep in mind, if you delete ALL your cookies, those websites you regularly visit will no longer remember you. This is especially inconvenient for sites that require you to log in. CraigsList, Facebook, Twitter, your school, etc. will all require you to put in your username and password EVERY time. If you manually clear your cookies, leaving the ones you know you will need, you get around this problem. That, however, is VERY time-consuming.
Download and install Tor
Tor privatizes your computer and keeps you from being tracked.
My Add-Ons to this list:
Do NOT take those ridiculous Facebook Quizzes
You know the ones that ask “What city should you live in” or “What Game of Thrones character should you be” Why do you think these silly quizzes exist? Someone somewhere is harvesting as much information about you as possible. This is used to profile you. It is used to push online advertising to you and it can be used to figure out enough information about you to steal your identity.
Facebook Friend Requests
I don’t know about you, but I occasionally get those drive-by friend requests. You know the ones I’m talking about. The people who don’t know anyone you know. The ones who set up their profile in the last week. The ones featuring too much cleavage (and skin in general). The ones who only have older guys (like me) for friends – and feature lots of cleavage. These are bogus and only want to be your friend so they can harvest your friends list. It is entirely possible this is really some big, hairy Russian named Igor with a beer belly and five days of stubble in a wife beater shirt.
Just say NO to people who have nothing in common with you.
Don’t respond to duplicate Friend Requests
If you receive a Facebook friend request from someone you were previously friends with – STOP. Do not respond to that request until you check your Friends list first. If your list shows you are still friends, contact that person and tell them of the duplicate request. What is happening is that someone has become friends with your friend (read why this happens above) and they have harvested all of the pertinent data (personal info and photos) it takes to create a duplicate Facebook page. Report this fake page to Facebook ASAP and have your real friend post a notice on their timeline about the deception.