1. Strategies for protecting your privacy online

BE SAFE

Get to know technology and find out how you can take steps to make your online experience a safer one. Here are some tips and ideas on how you can protect your privacy while browsing and communicating online.

1. Strategies for protecting your privacy online

If your computer is connected to the internet, or is shared between a few people, always imagine that there is a road that can connect others into your computer. Sometimes we put in a lot of information about who we are and what we do, on our computers and on the internet, too, in social networking sites, our blogs, or even in "cloud" or internet storage sites. In order to protect our privacy, we need to think about what information we produce and share about ourselves and others.  Protecting our privacy is as much about taking care of our data as it is protecting our identity.

First, think about who or what you need to protect your data from, and also where information about you can be found.  Obviously, a lot of information can be found on the computers we use but increasingly we store information about ourselves on the internet - in online email, instant messaging and social networking services. Our photos, our home videos, even our daily agenda, might all be stored online.  Another place we may keep a lot of information about ourselves is on mobile phones, or memory sticks. Protecting our privacy entails examining our practices of communicating and saving information, and the many tools we use and spaces we occupy in that process.

Protecting data on our computers

When we think about protecting the computers we use, concerns could range from random virus attacks to spyware (basically an annoying programme that attaches itself into your computer without your permission and gets information from it) to people who have physical access to your machine snooping through your files or even installing programmes to track your activity. Once you know who or what you need to protect your data from, you are able to take more specific steps to address different kinds of potential vulnerability.

  • Set up a guest account on your computer and let other people use your machine with that guest account. By doing this, you keep them away from your own files and data.
  • Password-protect access to your computer, and activate it even if you step away just for a moment.
  • Password-protect directories, folders and files that contain sensitive information.
  • Sometimes having passwords can also arouse suspicion if you live in a vulnerable situation. It may be safer to keep sensitive information on a portable memory drive (which you can also password-protect or encrypt.)
  • Encrypting data (encryption means you scramble the data so that it is not understandable) that can only be decrypted (unscrambled) with an encryption programme and special password, is a much stronger solution than using regular password-protected files.  Truecrypt is a free and open source software that makes encryption easy.

Get more information about password protection, risks and good practice.

Protecting against computer viruses

  • Use an operating system other than Windows. All of the malicious computer virus out there are built for Windows machine. If you shift to another operating system (Linux, BSD, Mac OS), the most common computer virus will not be able to do anything with your machine.
  • But if you choose to remain a Windows user, you must have a reliable anti-virus softare. One that regularly updates its libraries to be able to track the latest computer virus infecting the Internet. One such anti-virus software is AVG Antivirus.
  • Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and schedule daily virus checks on your machine. (handy tip: schedule your anti-virus check up during your lunchbreak so it doesn't interrupt your work). Make sure that your anti-virus checks incoming email and downloads automatically.
  • Never open email attachments unless you're absolutely sure that the file is not infected.
  • Whenever you use a CD or thumb drive that's been used on a different machine, run your anti-virus software on it first to make sure that it's clean.
  • Back up your data regularly. Make it a habit to do so at the very least, once a month.
  • All operating systems issue regular updates or patches, keep your computer's operating system up-to-date.

Protecting your identity

  • Be careful what personal information you share online including in email, on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and chat rooms. It is very easy to glean information about where you live, the places you love to go to in your area and the people you care about from posts and pictures. Also be careful about the email you include as you register for any online sites.
  • Create a different email account for registering in social networking sites and other online spaces. It will help avoid spam and your personal email won´t be revealed if the online service doesn’t have a good privacy practice.
  • Do not feel obligated to fill out all fields when registering online or provide identifying information such as birthdates and place in required fields.
  • Consider using a name that is not your real name or a nickname as your email name, screen name or user ID. Instead, pick a name that is gender- and age-neutral. Use secure passwords.
  • Read website privacy agreements to find out how they are going to use the information about you, for example, if they will share them with 3rd parties etc.
  • Use proxy tools like Privoxy. This allows you to anonymously surf the web.
  • Use encryption software like Pretty Good Privacy on your machine.

Being secure online means examining all of our online spaces and practices. Explore the different sections of Be Safe to learn about secure online communications.

Resources

Here are some online resources and organisations that can give you more information, including legal guidelines, regarding privacy: