… doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you! This blog post may get me added to a list somewhere, but it is chock full of information everyone should know (quick shout out to my buddies at the NSA!). Recent events have spurred a renewed interest in privacy: Government data mining from U.S. Internet Companies, Arrest Caught on Google Glass Reignites Privacy Debate. And those aren’t even the most interesting stories!
While some believe that privacy is a trade off for security or that it’s nothing to freak out about, others are concerned about what this privacy invasion may mean for the future: is this a sign of eroding freedom? Not that we’re paranoid or anything, but the NSA has ears everywhere: in your google searches, in your android devices (maybe!), all over the internet (reports say Facebook, AOL, Apple, and more are subject to NSA data collecting), and even overseas.
But it’s not just the big government agencies you have to hide from; Nordstrom, Facebook, Google, AT&T, and even your local grocery or retail stores are all in on the act, too. And that list doesn’t even begin to account for all the nameless entities out there buying and selling your personal data or the hoards of people who might someday be recording their every waking moment (and possibly yours) with Google glass or their smart phones .
Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, your privacy is more or less in your hands. The two biggest steps you can take to ensure your privacy and data security are to secure your personal devices and don’t hand over your data (even unknowingly!). One of my coworkers often quotes,
“The only secure computer is one that is turned off, locked in a safe, and buried twenty feet down in a secret location –and I’m not completely confident of that one, either.”
So what can you do to protect your privacy? While it’s simply not feasible for most people to unplug completely and go “off the grid,” here are 20 tips to make your personal information more secure:
Securing your device (Computer, Smart Phone, Tablet, etc)
- Lock your device with a passcode.
- Set an idle timeout to automatically lock your device.
- Keep all software and apps up to date.
- Install an anti-theft app/software for mobile devices and laptops.
- Get an antivirus for your device. Avast! has a free anti-virus for Windows, Mac, and Android (the Android app also come with anti-theft protection), but there any many options out there to fit your needs.
- Beware of unknown software and apps and don’t click on unfamiliar links. Installing untrusted apps or software on your device can enable others to access your personal information, your location, or your contacts.
- Check your permissions to see what data your apps are accessing. Revoke permissions for apps that don’t need access to your data. Your devices wi-fi and GPS can also be used by some apps to “check-in,” broadcasting your location to potential thieves.
- Turn off your wi-fi, GPS, and Bluetooth when not in use and turn off file sharing when on public networks and disable automatic connections to wi-fi networks. These are all avenues that others can use to snoop on your data or manipulate your device. It will also save precious battery life on your mobile device.
- If your phone goes missing, utilize any anti-theft measures you have on your device and/or report it to your wireless provider so they can disable your device. When you’re ready to upgrade to a new device, make sure you wipe your old device before you discard it or give it away.
- Treat your mobile devices like your wallet: don’t leave it laying around, don’t let others access it, only keep in it what you need to minimize losses if your device does get stolen, and don’t save your PIN/password in them!
Securing your personal information
- Don’t transmit sensitive data over open/public networks. Avoid using unsecured wi-fi for important data exchange.
- Don’t save your log on information and always sign out of your accounts when you’re done. Don’t sign in to important accounts on public computers. Even taking steps to clear your tracks can’t protect you against keyloggers.
- Change your passwords regularly and make them complex and difficult to guess. Your important accounts (including your email accounts) should all have different passwords. For your important accounts, you may want to consider making your username more complex than your real name as well, and don’t use the same username for all of your accounts.
- Have multiple email accounts: one secret-ish email address that you only use for important accounts you want to keep secure (banking, utility accounts, World of Warcraft or Steam account… you know, the important stuff!), one public email address for people/accounts you trust but aren’t tied to you financially (Facebook, Twitter, your mom/kids), and another for junk (signing up for social forums, sweepstakes, etc. ). Don’t use the same username/password for these accounts. (For a good tale-of-caution, check out Mat Honan’s account of how his entire digital life was destroyed- within an hour- partially due to his online accounts all being linked to each other.)
- When signing up for websites, don’t supply your real identifying information. If the information is not required for an account, skip it. If it is required, give a fake name, fake birthday, fake mother’s maiden name, fake high school, etc or choose security questions that don’t divulge important personal details.
- Check your privacy settings for your social media accounts. Make sure access to your profile is limited to only people you add as friends. Don’t add your cell phone number, super secret email address (you already made one of these right?), address or birthday. Check out 10 ways Facebook can ruin your life.
- Use incognito mode in your browser (incognito in Google Chrome, also called “in-private browsing” in Internet Explorer, and “private browsing” in Firefox.) While it doesn’t make your traffic anonymous or protect you from keyloggers or spyware, it allows you to browse the internet without saving any information about which sites and pages you’ve visited including visited pages, searches, passwords, downloads, cookies or cached web content.
- Use browser plugins to stop trackers.
- Use https:// (HTTP Secure) (Why you should always use HTTPS) so your traffic is encrypted and use a VPN (virtual private network) or proxy server to protect your identity and your information.
- Delete all old or unused accounts. Those accounts may become compromised and provide your personal information to someone who can use it to access your other accounts — yet another reason why it’s important to vary your usernames, use different passwords for each account, and never provide more personal details than you need to.