Safety Tips While Interacting Online

Did you know that online interactive conversations such as instant messaging can be archived and stored just like emails? With millions of users on social networks, the Internet is a great place to make new friends. However, sharing too much personal information can be detrimental and make you vulnerable to hack attacks.

With so much focus on Internet safety for children and teens, it might be easy to overlook the risks that exist for adults as they go online. Personal information shared on digital résumé, blogs and social networks can be compromised by predators who are seeking to steal your identify and use your personal data to their advantage. Online engagement has become a way of life for many Internet users, which can cause us to overlook the dangers of sharing too much personal about our lives online.

According to Privacy Rights Clearing House (PRC), the following Internet activities reveal your personal information:

  • Signing up for Internet serviceCompus
  • Email and list-serves
  • Browsing the Internet
  • Managing your financial accounts and online banking and more.

Essentially, everything we do online can, to some degree, be tracked or stored by an Internet service providers, government agencies, marketers and more. Navigating the Internet via search engines can also compromise online safety. Search engines have the ability to:

  • track and store your information
  • record your IP address
  • Sstore the search terms you use
  • document the time of your search

The PRC suggests that users avoid downloading search engine toolbars. According to the PRC, toolbars may permit permission of collection of information regarding your web surfing routine. Another piece of advice particularly Google users: Disable automatic sign ins. To disable this feature, visit Google’s automatic disable feature page.

It is important to understand that not all web browsers are secure. Many of the default web browsers installed on computers do not have a secure configuration. The most widely used web browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer. According to a recent study, Google Chrome ranks as the most secure web browser. However, even using secure browsers to surf the Internet, we should take every necessary precaution to secure our online browsing and be mindful of how we share our information online.

Users may control disclosure of personal information by taking precautions while interacting online:

  • Always log off and shut down your computer when not in use
  • Install anti-virus/anti-spyware programs
  • Use complex passwords that include a variety of special characters and numbers and are fairly lengthy
  • Do not share personal information or conduct online banking on public computers
  • Clear cookies and browsing data after each use
  • Don’t share personal information in chat rooms
  • Avoid clicking emails that aren’t verified
  • Do not install free software without checking its validity

There are many facets to Internet security, some of which are not included in this post. The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon has prepared an extensive paper on how to configure your web browser for safer surfing. The paper addresses the importance of securing your web browser and web browser’s features and risks. It’s long, but it’s definitely worth the read.

The Federal Trade Commission also advises consumers to put passwords on all accounts; including but not limited to credit card, bank and phone accounts.

While there will always be a level of risk when engaging online, you can minimize your risk by taking a few extra precautions to secure your personal data.

This post was originally published on the New York Women in Communications blog Aloud.

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