Your information is out there. How do you protect yourself?
A family’s home is burglarized while they’re on vacation because they posted about it on Facebook. A scammer uses information gleaned from Instagram to impersonate a traveler in distress and extract money from his family. A woman looking at a friend’s Snapchat message doesn’t realize that she’s automatically revealed her location online, making her a target for robbery or assault.
You may think that only careless people become victims like this. Maybe you don’t post on social media, or you restrict access to your posts to your family and friends. But that’s not enough to protect you.
When you’re online, you leave a constant trail of “digital exhaust” in the form of cookies, GPS data, social network posts, browser searches and email exchanges. Services that you don’t even use have information about you.
All of that data is a gold mine for criminals. And you can’t just erase it later. As the saying goes, “Online is forever.” You have to start by not putting yourself at risk.
How to protect yourself and your information
Take control with these essential steps:
- Know what you are sharing. Check the privacy settings on all of your apps and social media accounts to ensure that they are set to share only what you want, with whom you want. Don’t rely on the default settings!
- Always remember that there are no secrets online. Even after you adjust your privacy settings, assume that any information you share online could be seen by anyone. Family or friends may share it without your knowledge, or there may be backdoor ways to access it that you can’t detect. Unless you’re comfortable with everyone in the world knowing something about you, don’t share it.
- Guard personal facts like your birth date and phone number. Key bits of data such as these are used for identity verification by financial institutions and other secure providers, so you should never share them publicly. If an online service or site asks you for personal information, consider whether it’s appropriate for them to know and whether it is worth the risk to you. Unless the site has a legally valid need for your information, you can protect yourself by using fake answers for security questions. For example, change your birth month and day to a major holiday like July 4. If asked where you were born, use a different city or a nonsense answer like “Darth Vader.”
- Use a unique password for each site. That way, if one of your passwords gets compromised, the others will still be safe. Use complex passwords and never share them with anyone. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever possible for a greater level of protection.
- Use a password manager. An encrypted password manager that stores your passwords makes it easier to use a complex, unique password for each site.
- Keep your work and personal lives separate online. Use different accounts for each and avoid mixing information between them.
- Take care of yourself and others, too. Don’t share information about or photos of family, friends or colleagues without getting their permission first. Ask that they do the same for you.
Check out these eight important cybersecurity habits to help protect your information, your family and your work.