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Protecting Your Privacy

Every day, you give away personal information about yourself, sometimes without even realizing it. You do this when you bookmark a page on the Internet, add an item to an eCommerce “wish list,” or complete an “All About Me” quiz on a social network. Your online activity is recorded; and the information, comments and photos you post are permanent – and public. Your posts might be shared by a friend or sold to a business. Think about it: “What does your online activity reveal about you?” 

Although you can’t control how the information you provide online is used by others, you CAN control your online behavior, and in that way, protect your online privacy. Continue reading below for some additional tips on how to strengthen and better protect your information when using the web.
Be Cautious of Public Wi-Fi

Wi-fi is becoming more of the norm for most places you visit these days, from airports, to coffee shops, and even fast food joints. It’s extremely convenient when we’re on the go, but it can make your private information vulnerable. Without getting into specific technical information, hackers use these typically unsecured networks to gain easy access to passwords, banking information, etc.

Always verify that you’re connecting to the actual wi-fi network that’s been set up by the owner of whatever place you are at. Fraudsters often go to places and set up fake networks in order to get you to login to them. By doing so, you become an easy target to steal information from. Always double check the network you’re joining — this most often simply means going up to the counter and asking what their wi-fi network and password is.

Make it a practice to never access sensitive information from public wi-fi. This would include banking sites, social media, e-mail, and really any other site that requires you to enter a username/password. Public wi-fi is not secure, and should be used with great caution.

Creating Strong Passwords

Passwords are necessary to keep your accounts safe and to prove that you are who you say you are. The most efficient password should be strong enough to thwart hackers, yet easy enough for you to remember. 

Your confidential information is probably not safe unless you use at least an 8-digit randomized password. If you use less than 8 characters, and you restrict your characters to only alphabetic letters, it can be cracked in minutes. Many systems now require passwords to be at least 8 characters in length. Studies reveal that the longer and more complex the password, the harder it is to crack.

A strong password should:
  • Be at least 8 characters in length
  • Contain both upper and lowercase alphabetic characters (e.g. A-Z, a-z)
  • Have at least one numerical character (e.g. 0-9)
  • Have at least one special character (e.g. ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) - _ + =)

A strong password should not:
  • Spell a word or series of words that can be found in a standard dictionary (e.g. angrybirds, mypassword, daisymae)
  • Spell a word with a number added to the beginning and/or the end (e.g. johnsmith1, password123, daisy8703)
  • Be based on any personal information such as user id, family name, pet, birthday, etc. (e.g. johnsmith, mydogrover, 10311978)
  • Be based on a keyboard pattern (e.g. qwerty) or duplicate characters (e.g. asdfgh, aabbccdd, 456789)

Use a passphrase or a nonsensical word 

Rather than trying to remember a password created using various character types which is also not a word from the dictionary, you can use a passphrase. Think up a sentence or a line from a song or poem that you like and create a password using the first letter from each word.

Each system or application may have different password restrictions or requirements. Unfortunately, some systems don’t allow the use of special characters (e.g. ~ ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) - _ + =), so when you’re confined to letters and numbers, you’ll need to make extra sure the password you create is complex enough.

Using Public Computers

Sometimes you may need or want to use a computer when away from home or office. There are computer kiosks in every airport, hotel, library, and in many coffee shops, but beware when using public computers. Any computer that you do not own or control should be treated as if it is infected with viruses and other malicious programs and should never be trusted. If you must use a computer other than your own, follow these few simple rules:

  1. Never use public computers to make financial transactions or to enter personal information. Public computers may have programs that log keystrokes (key loggers), as well as other spyware that snatches sensitive information. Wait to make your Internet transactions until you get home.

  2. Disable the feature that stores login information and passwords. Uncheck the box on the login page so that no one can log in as you.

  3. Always log out of websites by clicking "log out" on the site. It's not enough to simply close the browser window or type in another address.

  4. Erase your tracks. Delete your temporary Internet files and your browsing history.

  5. Watch for over-the-shoulder snoops. When you use a public computer, be on the lookout for thieves who look over your shoulder or watch what you’re doing.

The more you know about how to use a public computer, the less likely it is you will encounter problems.

Protect Yourself From Malware

Your computer: It's something you simply can’t live without. If you're like most people, you store years of memories in its picture files. It gives you instant access to a wide range of knowledge, both from your saved files and online. You've got those research papers and work projects on there too. Bottom Line: You rely on in day in and day out like a good friend. So what if something were to happen to it? The cold truth is that it’s a real possibility, and when it happens, it's never a pleasant experience.

Malware is a vicious software intended to damage or destroy computers. Malware is used by hackers and other online criminals to conduct scams and obtain confidential information. Some criminals watch your every move to get into your bank account, while others are looking to hack into your computer and send out spam or illegal materials from it. Others still are hoping to imitate an anti-virus program and trick you into making a payment. Scary, right?

The good news is that there are some things you can do to protect yourself from becoming their next victim. Here are a few ways to protect yourself from malware.

Beware of Pop-Up Windows
Pop-Up windows are those annoying little advertisements that come onto your screen without your permission. In other words, you didn't click on anything to make them appear. Be extremely careful with these, particularly if they prompt you to download something. The window may lead you to believe your computer has been infected and that it carries anti-virus protection. This is not true. This pop-up window may very well carry a virus itself. It's a good idea not to click on it. Simply exit out immediately.

Watch for Suspicious Emails and Links
Same thing goes for emails and links. If you don't know the source of an email or you aren't sure where a link may send you, the best bet is to avoid it. Hackers often send out emails with links that are sure to send malware your way and hack into your important information. Better to delete the email than to suffer the consequences of opening it.

Make Sure Your Computer is Updated and Secure
Because computer protection software is imperfect, it's important for you to update it regularly. Companies who produce these protective programs are constantly working to make them more secure and safe for computer users. But they are not yet perfect. Therefore, it's wise to continually update your anti-virus protection. You should also always run Internet security checks.

Be Careful When It Comes to File-Sharing
It's very easy to share files and information with others online these days. Programs and websites are set up just for this purpose. But often, these sites are not protected like you may assume, and as a result, they leave you wide open for problems with online criminals. So if you choose to use sites like this, just be careful. Watch for potential advanced malware threats, which can disguise themselves as popular movies, albums, or programs. If something seems wrong to you, exit the site.

While you can't control every move of a hacker, you can definitely use these tips to protect yourself from merciless online crimes. They are simple ways to keep you, and your personal information, out of harm's way.

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