Meadville Tribune

August 9, 2011

Smart surfing online: How to maintain your privacy

By Gillian Nicol
CNHI

BIRMINGHAM — With the News Corp hacking scandal sweeping international headlines, the importance of digital privacy is in the spotlight. Protecting yourself from hacking and identity theft doesn’t have to be a chore. You can easily follow these steps to keep yourself safe on the World Wide Web. 

Use strong passwords. Create strong passwords for your accounts that includes letters, numbers and symbols; do not use a password that directly correlates with your name or other obvious connections to your identity. By changing these passwords every six months or so, you will heighten the security of your account. Also, be sure to use separate passwords for different email and website accounts. 

Beware of scams. On sites such as craigslist, it is often hard to trust where your information is being sent when you are dealing with people that you don’t know. Craigslist warns against giving out financial information as well as the other scams that frequently appear on their website. Email is also a hot spot for con artists, who often create fake offers to work from home or obtain debt relief. Knowing what to look for will be key in preventing you from wasting your money. 

Get a separate account for your personal email. If you browse the web while on the job, it is good to know that most email and website interactions can be monitored by your employer. Avoid using a work email address for personal use and instead create a separate, private email address for your personal business.

Make sure that online transactions are secure. Always be sure before you send out your credit card information over the Internet that the website you are on is not a fake. Keep your information safe by using secure websites when shopping or banking online. Although it is not always legitimate, an easy way to determine whether the site you are on is secure is by the URL: it will start with "https" - the "s" indicating secure.

Be careful when using social networking sites. If you’re an avid Facebooker, you should definitely take the time to customize your privacy settings. Change your settings to “Friends Only” in an effort to keep your personal information under wraps. According to the Federal Trade Commission, millions of people become victims of identity theft every year. Your personal information can lead an identity thief directly to your financial accounts and credit records. 

Watch out for cookies. No, not the chocolate chip kind. Cookies keep track of your log-in information for various sites that you may frequent often and are harmless most of the time. There are cookie management systems that can delete old cookies and filter out the bad. Updating this type of protective software is often key to maintaining your privacy. 

Monitor your children. It is important to learn from a young age the guidelines for revealing personal information online. Teach your kids not to give out this type of information without your permission. Net Nanny, an Internet filtration software, provides both parental controls and computer cleaning to keep your kids and your computer safe. 

Information provided by getsafeonline.org and onguardonline.gov.