Top 3 Tips for protecting your online identity

January 26, 2015 | Hamilton
Contributed by Ken Owen

keyboard-279664_640It’s really tough being a private person in today’s digital economy. Identity thieves have tons of tactics.

The key to modern cyber privacy is vigilance and awareness. No one is 100% safe but you can lower your risk by monitoring and confusing the cyber-environment around you. Here are some tips to help protect yourself.

1) Be tech smart!

Use strong passwords with lots of mixed letters numbers and symbols. Avoid common strings like “12345” or the use of dictionary words (regardless of language). Don’t include information in your passwords that can be associated with you like your dog’s name. Separate e-mails for social, work, shopping, etc. By doing this you spread the risk of exposing too much personal information if an account is compromised. Scrutinize vendors when buying online. Do they have a real location? Is there feedback or comments floating elsewhere on the internet about this company. Google phone numbers. Use Google street view to verify locations. Mind you, if you are that unsure, don’t shop there. Finally, don’t use public Wi-Fi for personal private stuff. Assume all Wi-Fi is open and compromised.

2) Think about what you are posting on the internet.

Keep your social media profile as small as possible. Don’t share everything. Also think about how your various bits of information might look if collected from all over the internet. You mother may never have told you this but it’s ok to lie on the internet, in fact it’s a good idea. How much information do you really need to fill out on forms? Lie whenever you can. Imagine a bad guy gets your information and tries to amalgamate it with other information they have. If they have three birth dates for you and none of them are right, you’re making their work harder and they will move to easier targets. Never share identifying information online that could be used authenticate your identity, such as, social insurance number, student ID, driver’s license, date of birth, etc.

3) Become a narcissist.

Google yourself. See how you look from the internet’s perspective. Pay attention to information you did not post yourself. Don’t limit yourself to web pages, use Google images as well. Tweek social media privacy settings down as tight as possible. If you decide to abandon a social site delete as much as you can and alter as much of the details that remain.

Ken Owen is a DeGroote PhD student who studies information security and the role of hackers in our society. His research interests are focused around the interface between humans and their data, and the interfaces they use to turn that data into a valuable asset in a business.

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