How others get hold of your private information
Divulging your age, birthday, employer, high school or home address might not be up there with disclosing your username and password. But these kinds of personal details, as well as records of your browsing habits, are more open to abuse by online criminals, bullies and spammers than you might think.
You may end up giving away more information than you'd ideally like if you're:
- Letting your web browser track and share your online activity and data
- Leaving the security and privacy settings on your online accounts too low
- Sharing too much information about yourself with too many people
- Using public wifi without protection
Securing your web browser
The information your browser quietly stores as you go about your business – cookies, browsing history and the rest of it – are a potential goldmine for advertisers, spammers and hackers who want to steal your identity and commit fraud. The easiest way to keep your information and activities to yourself is to adjust the ‘private browsing’ options in your browsers such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, Edge, Firefox and Safari. You want the browser to remove cookies, history and temporary internet files each time you quit.
Cookies are small text files a website places on your computer (i.e. stores in your browser). When you revisit a site, the information can be retrieved and used to, for example, recall your preferences or remember actions you have taken (like adding items to a shopping basket).
But cookies can also threaten your privacy. While they can't ‘infect’ your machine, they can store information about you and be used to track your movements across multiple sites. When that pesky ad for something you've already bought follows you from site to site, that's a cookie at work. Some cookies can remain on your machine for weeks, months or even years.
If you disable cookies altogether, you are likely to suffer some side effects. A more practical approach is to set up the following rules:
- Disable access by third-party cookies
- Delete cookies when you quit your browser
- Make exceptions for individual sites
Having unwanted windows pop up while you are browsing can be very intrusive, and worse if they link to a malicious website. Most modern browsers, such as Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome, will block pop-ups for you – either by default or after a small adjustment to your settings. You might find that you need to enable pop-ups to use some websites or to get access to all their features. You can do this through your browser on a site-by-site basis.
Protecting your privacy on social media
Social media encourages us to broadcast rather than target our communications. You may feel you are among friends, but your connections are bound to include more casual acquaintances. To be suitably selective about what you share and who with:
Encrypt your entire session. Many sites give you the option of enabling secure browsing in the security settings.
Learn how security and privacy works on the sites you use and set it at a level you’re comfortable with. Use the privacy settings to restrict how much data others can see, especially people who aren't your friends in the real world.
Be careful not to share personal details such as your date of birth, mother's maiden name, home address, previous address, employer, birthplace or school details. Banks often use these pieces of personal information to verify your identity and all of them are potentially valuable to criminals.
Be careful of random ‘friends’ or followers you don’t actually know, especially messages asking to join your network. If a criminal can become your friend, they can target your friends.
Think twice about posting anything in haste or anger. Jobs have been lost as a result of ill-judged comments made on social networks.