7 Quick Tips to Protect Yourself Before You Connect Yourself

The internet is an amazing, fantastic, vibrant place. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you don’t need me to tell you that. As a culture we use free online services to talk to old friends, buy everything from furniture to food, and distract ourselves by sharing funny pictures of cats.

Do you remember not long ago, when people were terrified of buying anything online for fear of having their identity stolen? Somewhere in there we got collectively lazier about our privacy, and we got comfortable trusting websites with more and more of our personal data. These days, we let retailers store our credit cards, trade our email address for “free” programs or eBooks, and overshare personal information on public social networks that track our every move.

Because of the sheer amount of data stored online, there are many places where unethical hackers, data miners, and webmasters can attempt to access your personal information and use it for their own ends. Potential security exploits can include your home network, your computer’s hard drives, and your stored social networking data. A weak link in any of these areas can lead to unwanted parties accessing your personal data.

Consider the alarming story of Mat Honan, senior writer at Wired. Within 2 hours his entire online presence was compromised and taken down through several exploits of weak links in his online accounts. And Mat is much more knowledgeable about internet safety than your average Joe. Read his full story here.

On a less extreme note, we all know someone who has overshared personal information and had it come back to bite them, downloaded a virus on their computer, or had one of their accounts compromised by keyloggers or random strangers. These cases don’t all end in full-blown identity theft like Mat’s did, but the reality is they happen, and unless you take some precautions it could happen to you next.

At Sgrouples, we’re all about protecting personal privacy and keeping your information secure.

In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, here are 7 quick tips to Protect Yourself Before You Connect Yourself:

1. Protect Your Network

Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can track every action you make through the internet connection on your house. This is typically used to track illegal activity, which is a good thing. The bad news is most home wireless networks are easily cracked, meaning someone next door or in a car outside your house can use your network for illegal activity, leaving the blame on you.

Even worse, it is possible for someone on your wireless network to access other devices connected to the network, which is a serious security breach. For step-by-step instructions check out How to Secure Your Wifi Network.

 2. Get a Good Antivirus Software

The next step is to safeguard your computer against virus and malware attacks that can target your personal information and erase your saved data. Some more innocuous malware programs simply track your behavior and bombard you with ads & pop ups and slow your computer down.

Having a good antivirus program in place can save you a lot of headache by catching threats early. Check out PCMag’s Best (Paid) Antivirus Software and Best Free Antivirus Software of 2012.

One final note: Even the best antivirus can’t save you 100% of the time. Viruses and malware come from the “shady neighborhoods” of the web; gambling, pop culture, pharmaceutical, and adult sites in particular. Be aware of what you’re clicking on; don’t download or open something unless you know what you’re getting into. A little precaution goes a long ways.

 3. Protect Your Passwords

These days we have more passwords to remember than ever – Facebook, Twitter, Online banking, eBay, not to mention multiple email accounts. You know what I’m going to say before I say it: Make sure your passwords are different for each account!

At the very least, keep them separate for your important accounts (like email, bank accounts, Amazon etc). Keep your passwords offline on your hard drive, or if you want to be even more secure, keep them on a physical notepad you keep near your desk. There are also some secure software programs for just this purpose here.

In terms of picking a secure password, you could try this method:

Lastly, no matter how good your password is, if someone can figure out your security questions and change your password it’s all moot. Don’t make your security question “What is the name of my favorite pet” when you regularly upload pictures of your adorable dog Scruffles all over your Facebook for all to see.

4. Stop Tracking Cookies

Have you ever noticed how eerily precise the Facebook ads you see are to your exact interests? It’s no coincidence – Facebook is tracking all your likes and hobbies, and then selling that data to advertisers who post those ads. It’s not that ads are necessarily a bad thing – it’s the way websites spy on your behavior to sell those ads.

Let’s be honest – whenever you click a link and are immediately bombarded by a popup ad, life gets a little bit worse.

A simple solution is to download the Do Not Track extension for your browser, which requests that websites do not collect information about you. However Do Not Track is simply a request for sites to not track you, and has varying degrees of effectiveness. For even more control over who can access your information, Abine’s Do Not Track+ and the Ghostery plugin can both stop invisible ad networks from spying on you. HTTPS Everywhere is also a great tool for privatizing your browsing through basic https encryption.

5. Practice Safe Sharing

This is about to sound like a cheesy safe sex ad, but the best way to be absolutely sure that information you post online stays secure is to not post it in the first place. It’s all too easy to accidentally share confidential information publicly or to put up too many personal details without realizing who has access to that information.

But let’s be realistic here – we’re not going to stop sharing even the most intimate parts of our lives online. We’re addicted to it. That’s why, instead of abstinence, we believe people need to Practice Safe Sharing and educate themselves on the dangers of oversharing on social media. That means properly setting up your privacy settings and lists on social networks you engage on. Here’s some great guides on privacy settings for popular social networks:

Facebook privacy

Google+ privacy

Twitter privacy

Or, you could just set up a private group with your friends at Sgrouples with the peace of mind provided by our Privacy Bill of Rights.

6. Don’t Daisy Chain Your Accounts

Remember Mat Honan, the guy that had his online identity hacked to get access to his Twitter account? One of the reasons hackers were able to do that was all his social profiles were connected to one-another, meaning if one profile is compromised the others are likely to be as well.

As with everything related to privacy, there’s a fundamental tradeoff between ease of access and security. Connecting accounts makes it easier for you to log in once and have access to all your social networks. But it’s much less secure than if you had separate passwords for all your social media accounts and kept them separate from one-another.

This is a judgement call; determine how often you’re likely to use certain web apps and ask yourself if you really need to connect yet another 3rd party app to your facebook page. And keep in mind, the more apps you have connected to your accounts the more potential weak points there are in your security.

Not that kind of daisy chain...

7. Set Up 2-factor Authentication

2-factor authentication  for your Google account is a great technological advancement that can help your Gmail and other services to be incredibly secure, as well as immunize them against identity theft and security breaches. In short, it requires both a password and a device to access your accounts. So even if someone does hack your vital account passwords, they still can’t access your accounts without your phone or secure backup device.

See the following video for more information on how to set up 2-factor authentication.

Dropbox has also now enabled 2 step verification.


Images from: http://www.webpronews.com/facebook-privacy-ftc-2011-11, http://www.getmorepc.com/2011/05/09/how-to-tell-if-your-computer-is-sick/, http://xkcd.com/936/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Daisy_chain.JPG