The rise of the Internet as an all-around tool is the most prominent development of the XXI century, and the new millennium. Each year, more and more households acquire a computer and a connection to access the World Wide Web.
However, some caveats come with the use of the Internet. Primarily, it puts you at risk of hacking attacks and privacy breaches. In this guide, we will list the seven most dangerous mistakes that put your Internet Privacy at risk:
1. Misuse of passwords
Passwords are supposed to be the primary filter of access of a delicate bit of information. Only those with privileges to enter what’s inside are supposed to have the passphrase; so it should be long, secure, easy for the person to remember and hard for strangers and external agents to guess.
Passwords are also supposed to be managed with responsibility. If you are using your social media outlets, or more importantly, your banking account, you should be aware of what you do with those little sentences you write to access them.
Establishing stupidly easy passwords such as “1234” or your birthday is a common mistake that often leads to online privacy risks. Also, users should log out of their accounts in all cases: avoid skipping this step.
If you are in a public place or even in your hotel room, don’t leave your sessions open or your devices unlocked because somebody can come in and inflict irreparable damage to your system or, worse, to your finances.
Don’t make it too straightforward for attackers to steal your digital assets or identity. Protect yourself with a strong password, two-factor authentication, finger ID, and good habits when it comes to your passphrase.
2. Putting too much information in and out-of-office message
If you want to take those long-awaited vacations, you need to make sure everything is in its right place at work before you leave. Letting people know who might try to reach you that you are not at your office and will be on an extended break is sometimes part of the job.
If you are a manager or a director in a company, then people are going to reach you all the time, which is why you need to establish an automatic reply message to every person trying to contact you.
However, you may want to be very selective in the data bits you share with people in your out-of-office message. History has proven that those that are very explicit and focused on details in these communications often say a little too much, making themselves vulnerable to malicious people trying to threaten their online privacy.
You may send your out-of-office message to the usual contact list; there may be a lot of people there, many of whom you don’t speak too frequently.
On top of that, anybody that wants to reach you, whether it is an acquaintance or not, will see your automatic note and all the information coming with it. Are you sure you want people to combine what you share there with everything you post on your social media outlets?
3. Posting status updates or photos to social media on vacation
We understand the social media boom. People are continually looking for ways to engage with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers by sharing pictures of their vacations in the Maldives or at the Swiss Alps, or videos about their trip to Australia, Fiji, or Latin America. They want to attain comments, likes, shares, and all types of social media interactions.
However, status updates and pictures can tell another side of the story: the online security and privacy one. You may be enjoying your vacation and letting the world know that you are away, which can be both a good and a bad thing: sure, you are engaging and sharing valuable content on social media. However, what about all the people having the chance to see your latest photo in Abu Dhabi and finding out your home is alone and vulnerable?
You may think that social media is harmless, but that is not the case. We are not saying that these outlets are bad or that you shouldn’t be using them. However, you do need to understand the potential pitfalls.
4. Ignoring privacy settings on social media content
If you decide to post pictures, videos, feelings, locations, and updates through your social media accounts; then you should know how to set up your preferred privacy settings, so you can have a hold on who sees your content and who can’t have access to it.
For example, imagine that you have a Facebook account and your privacy settings are configured to “public.” That means that your page will be available to anyone who may stumble on it over the above mentioned social network, whether you know him/her or not. That is not a good thing.
Selecting which groups and people can see what you post or share on social media is one of the most prominent steps towards a safe online experience. If you are going to use these revolutionary accounts and tools, at least do it the right way.
5. Uploading social media pictures with your house’s facade or personal documents
A common mistake that people incur more times than you would imagine is showing the front part, known as the façade, of their houses in pictures. More often than not, they do it because it is a complementary element of the picture: for example, a proud couple of newlyweds are taking a photo, and they want to show the home they built together to live “happily ever after.” That is a mistake.
Cybercriminals are continually looking for vulnerable people to steal identities, take advantage of social media passwords or credit card numbers and pounce. Usually, they look for little details that may seem harmless at first, such as the façade thing, but they can either identify the street and the house for future crimes or tell some partners in “crime” to take the “stealing” part to a physical plane.
The same goes for personal documents. Sure, we understand that you may be happy about receiving your driving’s license or your school ID. However, you shouldn’t tweet or post a photo of it. You would be telling criminals all over the Internet ALL they need to know about you!
6. Giving or over-sharing your personal information
Social media is about sharing little bits of your life with your follower’s community. However, you may want to be careful about not giving up too much information. Otherwise, unwanted people will have access to parts of your life you don’t want anyone involved.
You may innocently tweet that you hate your boss because he sent you tons of work with very tight deadlines, or just because you feel he doesn’t treat you all that well. However, you don’t know if he has a Twitter account or has somebody spying on his staff, so you may come to regret your little comment.
Twitter does not allow users to set privacy the way Facebook does. However, that doesn’t make the latter immune to cases like the one described in the previous paragraph. You may have your settings configured not to be public, but people have connections, and that is what Facebook is about.
Your personal information should be managed that way, as a personal belonging that only a few precious people can have access to. Think about your online security the next time you wish to say something compromising.
7. Giving out your location
One of the most basic rules of Internet privacy is avoiding sharing your current location whenever possible. You want to let the world know that you just landed in Tokio for two weeks of sightseeing and fun, but reality indicates that you should manage those things in a better way.
Try to be smart when posting a new status update; never share a location check-in or a geo-tagged photo. You don’t know who may want to inflict damage to your physical wellbeing in the place you are, or in the place you aren’t: your house or your office can be endangered as well.
Bonus tip: Don’t trust anyone on the Internet
Sure, your book club Internet blog can be a fun group to hang out with and comment on the meaning of a novel. However, that doesn’t mean that you should go ahead and trust anybody you meet online.
Everything from publishing Foursquare updates to tweeting carries some degree of danger and risk to your Internet privacy. Trusting that nobody will use the information you post against is one of the most dangerous mistakes you can make.
Recommendations for better Internet privacy
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi: They can save your life in a pinch, but public Wi-Fi hotspots can be extremely dangerous and put you in the same environment as hackers and feared cybercriminals.
- Responsible social media management: Be conscious of what you publish and who you choose to share it with. Try to stay away from letting people know your location or critical personal information.
- Use a VPN: Encryption tools, such as a Virtual Private Network, are excellent for privacy and anonymity while you browse the web. You can torrent, stream, or just read the daily news with no prying eyes looking to steal data or information from you.
- Use anti-malware software: No Internet security system is complete without the aid of antivirus or antimalware software. If you couple one of them with a VPN, you will be able to enjoy a nearly risk-free online experience.
Image courtesy of Flickr