By Marc-Anthony Signorino, IDESG Executive Director
If the increasingly connected world is any indicator, the ongoing technology boom is nothing short of extraordinary. Online resources for our day-to-day lives have never been more accessible, making former chores – like balancing a checkbook – almost effortless. But our rapidly digitized lives are also leaving behind a lot of personal information – data that people are always looking to exploit.
IDESG focuses on improving the way organizations protect your information online, since existing guidelines and structures to do so are far from perfect. For that reason, it’s important to be proactive about protecting yourself. Every once in awhile, touch base with your online life and consider some common sense reinforcements to protect your information. Here’s a few tips to get you started:
Clean out your digital footprint like you do your closet. Fashionistas regularly advise that cleaning out your closet should involve throwing out items that no longer fit, you haven’t worn in a year or are woefully out of fashion. Cleaning out your online footprint should follow the same pattern. Like your closet, the first step to take inventory of any devices, browsers and websites you’ve visited over the past year and that may be storing your information. This is where the fun starts!
- Throw out what no longer fits.
Think about why you’ve given personally identifying information to certain accounts. Delete it from those that don’t need it or that aren’t transparent about how it’s being used. If you’re planning to toss or resell your computer, tablet or mobile device, ask your device provider to help you wipe it of your information – or, better yet, take it to a disposal service that will grind it to bits in front of you. That crunching you hear is the sound of good cyber-hygiene.
- If you haven’t used it in a year, chuck it.
How do you know what sites you’ve visited over the past year? If you haven’t cleared out your cache (hint: you should), then that’s your first stop. Check out your cookies, to see what’s lurking there. Delete the ones you don’t recognize. Go through your bank statements, to see which sites are hitting you for recurring payments – they definitely have your personally identifiable information. As an added bonus, you may save some money by cancelling unnecessary services.
- Give the parachute pants the ol’ heave ho.
You know you’ve got accounts with sites you’d never admit to. That do-it-yourself website with the neon colors and garish fonts you set up for your garage band? The social networking account you set up just to watch your ex go bald? The Beanie Baby trading board? Visit them one last time, to delete your data, unsubscribe and wave goodbye.
Now you’ve got more room, let’s go on a shopping spree to restock your digital closet. This is where we start putting into action good cyber practices, to keep you well appointed this season.
Familiarize yourself with the privacy and security settings offered by your browser and online accounts you’ve decided to keep, and check out how they’re using your information. Give your personal information – like Social Security and credit card numbers – only to sites that adhere to strong data privacy and security policies. Some platforms offer different levels of protection that you may need to proactively adjust.
- Think of cookies as leaving the changing room curtains open.
On certain platforms, cutting off their tracking behavior is as simple as logging out of your account, but others are sneakier. If you want a good look at whom is following your online whereabouts, scrutinize the cookies stored by your web browser. Again, consider deleting the ones you don’t recognize or that are transmitting too much of your data.
- Better yet, station a guardian outside of your changing room.
Do your homework and invest in quality spyware and virus protection software, and be vigilant about keeping them updated. They’ll keep the undesirables from barging in on you, unannounced.
- Err of the side of modesty.
On social media, what you share is as important as how you share. Resourceful online criminals are known to troll people’s social media accounts for real life clues, to help them bypass your online accounts’ authentication questions. For instance, publicly listing your hometown on your Facebook profile could improve an identity thief’s ability to guess your birthplace, high school, or school mascot – all questions used to verify identity.
- Let’s try something a bit more mysterious this season.
Protecting passwords is really important, because they are really easy to hack. It’s best to assign complicated, unique passwords to each of your accounts, and consider using a password manager/digital wallet to keep track of them all.
The world has yet to see a failsafe method of protecting people's privacy online, but running regular check-ups on your digital footprint can significantly minimize the possibility that you’ll lose control of your personal information. Check back in with IDESG for updates on the innovative ways we’re working with consumers, governments, online businesses and others to create and spruce up privacy-and security-enhancing tools and techniques, helping to push them to the front lines of cyber-security fashion. And while you’re cleaning out your digital closet, you might also consider retiring that ‘Members Only’ jacket.
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