Along with good internet security software, your level of safety when surfing or shopping online depends on maintaining good browsing habits, controlling what information you share online, and reducing the information others collect about you. Here are some simple but important ways enhance your online security and privacy.
To a significant extent, how how safely and privately you browse and shop depends on careful viewing and computer maintenance habits.
Make Sure Your PC, Laptop or Handheld Devices Always has Appropriate Security Software with the Latest Security Updates
Forget about how rushed you are! Always take the time to update your security settings. Depending on your computer use, this could be once a day or once a week.
There are also times that you should double-check that all of your security is the latest available:
Always check for security updates before going online for any online financial transaction, or a transaction when you will be providing personal information, such as renewing your licence or automobile registration
If you get have access to a new application, update your security settings before downloading it. This will lower the chances of downloading an app with nosey or malicious code embedded into it.
Watch Your Cookie Settings
Most cookies are innocuous, but many companies not only information about where you may have visited any given day, other cookies can track your surfing habits for as long as they remain on computer.
It’s no coincidence that search engine results ads and sometimes results often mirror the site’s you’ve recently or regularly visited. Some companies maintain tracking data for several years based on a cookie that may have been on your harddrive for only a few hours. It’s called data mining and the databases are stocked fill with information.
Here are some ways to reduce how much your activities are tracked online:
Limit your Cookie Settings
Most browsers give you the option of downloading “all cookies,” “no cookies,” or a combination of “First Party” and “Third Party” cookes. First Party cookies are generally used by the primary site, but you should turn off automatic download of Third Party Cookies. Most of them are downloaded by advertisers or affiliated parties of the site you visited.
Regularly clear out your internet cache, which includes deleting all cookies, every time you initiate and right after you complete an online purchase or online banking or payment transaction.
It’s a good idea to just delete all cookies every time you close a browsing session. These cookies just clutter up your computer and provide additional information to others. They have no positive impact on you in any way.
Even though regularly cleaning out cookies vastly reduces the amount of information anyone can learn about you, computers around the world (and most certainly at Google) know a lot about your viewing patterns.
This includes what sites you visit, how often you visit, what news sites you like, and your general age, location and sex. And if you’ve ever provided it to anyone, they may also know your average household income.
Which brings us to the next good security habit: be vigilant with your personal data.
Use Caution When Giving Out Personal or Financial Info
They can ask whatever they want, but you control your answers. Think before you disclose information. Once you give it out, it could be available to a variety of parties for a very long time.
Think about who you are giving the information to.
Why do they want it?
How will it be used?
With whom can this information be shared?
Do they really even NEED this information?
Bottom Line: Unless there is a legitimate and business reason that a company needs information (such as a store needing your credit card data, address, phone number and email) don’t provide it.
And, you should NEVER provide information that makes you the least bit uncomfortable. Some information is necessary, most is not.
For example, lots of sites such as Facebook and email services, ask your age. This makes sense because there are age limits for services.
On the other hand, you’ll often be asked for information that service providers and marketers would love to know. But, you don’t need to tell them and they can’t make you.
If you look closely at any online registration form, you’ll note that some questions are subtly marked as required, the others are subtly marked as optional.
The optional information is not required, but many people just fill the answers in without thinking about what will happen to the data. Here are some examples of common questions you should think about before answering.
Ethnicity or religion
Marital /Relationship Status
Personal or household income
Number of children in the home
Household education levels
Other information that you should be very wary about sharing includes your social security number, or any banking information.
There are very few things online that can only available in one place. Any information requests that make you uncomfortable mean it’s time to leave the site. And make sure you delete your cookies after you do!
Submit Financial or Private Info Only on Secure Sites with HTTPS Prefix
This one is pretty easy if you look at the address bar of your browser.
Servers with secure socket layer protection, encryption and other critical measures that protect your information as it flies through cyberspace should start with HTTPS.
Here’s an example: you are viewing a website and for most of your visit the browser begins with “HTTP.” When you choose your product and start entering your purchase information, look back at the address bar to make sure that the new address begins with “HTTPS.”
Note: Merchants that process payment cards are severely limited to the information they share about customers. Along with stringent security measures, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) require that merchants protect information such as customer names, payment preferences, addresses and email addresses, for example.
Don’t Expect Your Emails to Remain Private
No matter how secure your computer, email is inherently an unsafe way to transmit certain information. The most extreme caution: never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want your boss, mother, son, or husband to read.
On the serious side, some things just should not be transmitted or stored in emails. These included:
Banking information, including routing and account numbers, but especially online banking user names and passwords
Credit Card information, including numbers, expiration dates or security codes and passwords to your other email accounts
Passwords to any online accounts.
Another note: many faxes these days actually end up in an email inbox, which may or may not be better than laying on an unattended desk.
If you’re faxing information, know who is monitoring the machine at the other end and ask that they call to let you know they have safely retrieved and stored the information transmitted.
If they can’t do this, send the information by certified mail or FedEx.
Don’t Stay Logged to Online Sites Or Store User Names/Passwords Online
It’s sure convenient to stay logged into to your favorite sites without having to remember your user name and password on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, it’s not that safe and it’s a habit to avoid. Hackers and others can piggyback these accounts, and take advantage of any lapses in your security to access other accounts.
Know Who You’re Doing Business With
Alway be especially cautious when you provide information to any site that does not provide contact information clearly on their website. (Our recommendation: if they don’t give you a name, email or phone number, don’t give these to the site.)
And don’t rely on a contact form. Make sure you see a telephone number and an email address.
Never worked with the company before? No big deal, just email them or give them a call and see what type of response you get. A company you want to do business with will gladly speak with its customers, before and after any sales.
If you’re calling a smaller store, you may not get in touch with a human right away, but odds you’ll hear from their soon enough and should be able to answer any questions you have about the products you’re buying and why they need any information that you might not usually provide.
And if you don’t like what you hear, just move along.
AM McElroy has over 20 years experience in corporate communications, technical writing and marketing/sales within the banking/US payments, civil/environmental engineering, internet security, and natural sciences (physics) arenas.
She has an e-commerce sites, http://www.SolarFlairLighting.com and a blog on solar and other renewable energy http://www.SolarLightingSmart.com.
Copyright 2012, AM McElroy, SolarFlairLighting and SolarLightingSmart.
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