If you did a quick Google search of yourself do you know what you’d find?
You could see pictures on the first results page linked to accounts you haven’t used for years.
There are so many ways you can leave a digital trail on the internet, from social media sites to company websites, online shopping sites to forums.
How careful are you when it comes to protecting your personal data? Perhaps you make a conscious effort to withhold sharing such information.
After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
Identity theft. Fraud. That’s the worst, and it isn’t pretty. So what can we do to prevent people from stealing and exploiting our data? Let’s take a look.
For the vast majority of us, we rely on the internet to shop for things, communicate with friends or family and access private information – such as our medical history or flight details.
To do all of these things, we must willingly provide data: name, date of birth, address, email address, bank or card details etc. Personal information that could end up in the wrong hands if we don’t take the necessary precautions to protect it.
Seb Graham, commercial director at San-iT offers a great tip for online shoppers looking to shield their data from identity thieves:
“When signing up to a new site, only give information that’s a forced requirement. These data fields are usually highlighted by a red asterisk (*).
“Also, use guest checkouts on e-commerce sites. That way, you don’t have to give all of your details and they aren’t kept on file.”
Also, always check to see if the e-commerce site is secure before submitting personal information. The tell-tale sign is a lock symbol in the URL bar. This means that the website you’re using is encrypted and any network lurkers won’t be able to see your password.
It can be tempting to save your log-in details in your browser for a speedier checkout or sign-in. But is this safe? Government site Stay Smart Online explains the dangers:
“Google has some good security features – like alerting you to unusual logins – but ultimately, if your Google account is compromised, so are all your passwords.
Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer offer no protection if a hacker gets hold of your physical device.”
Instead, San-iT solutions architect, Matthew Simmons, advocates a memorable password convention for each site:
“For example, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] etc. This way you know which site it’s for and it is much more secure.”
Another option is to download and use a reputable password manager, like 1Password, that encrypts your data masking it from hackers.
In March 2018, one of the most common internet searches was: ‘How do I protect my Facebook data?’ This was caused by a wave of public anxiety after Cambridge Analytica acquired the records of 50 million Facebook users.
Thankfully, the feature that enabled this crime has been disabled. But users still need to take action to further protect their personal details.
For instance, do you know exactly which apps you’ve authorised to access your Facebook data?
If not, go into your app settings in Facebook to bring up the list of apps under: “Logged in with Facebook”. If there’s any you don’t recognise, seriously consider deauthorising them.
You should also check the information you’ve submitted in your privacy settings (this is where Cambridge Analytica harvested users’ data). Uncheck any boxes next to information you’d rather not be public.
Viruses. Worms. Trojan horses. Spyware. Scareware. The amount of malware present in websites, emails or downloadable content that can damage and infiltrate your computer is frightening.
To defend your data from these threats, install anti-malware software from a reputable source, such as Norton Antivirus or Kaspersky. Conduct regular computer scans and always avoid clicking suspicious email links or unencrypted websites.
The dreaded message appears: ‘Updates are ready to be installed’. But it’s a necessary evil. These updates contain new patches that protect your computer against recently discovered threats. The time they take to install is nothing compared to the pain of being hacked; don’t postpone them if you can.
Leave the internet without a trace. It’s possible but only if you cover all your bases. That means digging up sites you might not have used for years and manually erasing your data. This is how:
Write down all of the shopping sites, social networks and web service accounts you’ve registered on. For each site, go into your account settings and hunt down the option to deactivate or remove your account. Or pay for a service like DeleteMe to do this for you.
Data brokers collect your information from your activity online and then sell it to interested parties (companies that want to advertise to you). To remove yourself from these databases (such as PeopleFinder), you’ll have to contact each site directly. Or, again, use a service like DeleteMe to do it for you.
If you’ve ever posted a comment on a forum or published a blog, to erase this information you’ll need to log back into the site and remove your post. If you don’t have the authority to remove posts, you’ll have to contact the webmaster of each site and ask if they can do it for you.
Leave this till last, as you’ll need it to log into other websites when deleting personal data. Sign into your account and locate the option to remove or close the account. If this isn’t clear, do a quick Google search and you should get a step by step guide.
Finding the balance between using the internet and protecting your data can be tricky. But hopefully, after reading this blog, you’re equipped with the information needed to guard against identity theft.
What steps will you take to regain control over your data? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this – send them to us on Twitter, and you never know, we might be able to help further!