As the Internet becomes more and more of a requirement for people to connect with each other, conduct business and shop, so, too, does keeping track of what information you put online and then taking the correct steps to keep not only that personal information protected, but private, as well. The rise of technology like Wi-Fi hot spots and the accompanying practice of businesses offering free Wi-Fi to their customers also means that it’s becoming increasingly easy for us to use and connect to the Internet when we’re away from home.
The rise of the Internet does have a downside, though: this increased convenience has made many Internet-goers careless of how they protect their personal information and safeguard their privacy, leaving them open to hackers stealing their passwords or credit card information, someone making fraudulent purchases or even wholesale identity theft.
What constitutes personal information? Your personal information is anything that can be used to identify you, including:
- a name or address
- credit, debit or bank account numbers
- your Social Security number
- numbers for medical accounts, such as life or health insurance
So how do you go about protecting your personal information?
Ways to Protect Your Personal Information Online
When it comes to personal information and privacy, there many ways to keep your personal information safe while at the same time protecting your privacy online.
The first question you want to ask yourself is this: who has access to the personal information that you post online? You might think that not many people do, but in reality, the list is quite long:
- Your Internet service provider (ISP). Everything you do on the Internet, from answering an email to purchasing on Amazon, is logged by your ISP.
- Corporations and advertising agencies. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram — if you’ve got an account with any of them, chances are they have some slice of your personal information, even if it’s just a name and an email.
- The government. Spying on domestic citizens in the United States by the government began just months after September 11, 2001, and has continued since. Today, the government can demand your information from any company that has it, including Google and your ISP.
Now that you know who has access to your personal information and what you post online, here’s what you can do when it comes to protecting your privacy online.
1. Assess your online activities. What personal information do you keep online? Offline? How is it stored? Figure out what you’re posting, where you’ve posted it, and then take a look at those sites or devices. The biggest takeaway from this is an overall risk assessment — i.e. what are the consequences if I can’t protect my personal information?
2. Be careful about what information you share on social media. One of the easiest ways to protect your privacy online is to just be mindful about what you’re posting. Many companies, like Facebook, leverage your personal information and sell it to other advertising companies.
3. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your browsing session. Using programs like Kaspersky and Avast can protect your computer against viruses, but a VPN is what will enable you to encrypt your web sessions, protecting both your privacy and your personal information.
These steps will help protect your personal information online, but what about offline? There are many ways that you can keep your personal information — and your privacy — safe online. Some of them are pretty common sense, like shredding receipts and credit cards after you cease to need them, but there are a couple of which you might not have thought.
Less-common ways to protect your personal information offline include:
- Lock any records in a safe place at home, or rent a safety deposit box at your bank to do the same.
- Take only what you need when you go out. If you don’t need a certain credit card, leave it at home. Make copies of your insurance cards and black out the last four numbers. Only carry the original unless you need the card for a doctor’s visit.
- Before sharing information with a workplace or at school, ask why the information is needed and how it will be safeguarded.
- Black out or destroy all of the labels on your pill and prescription bottles before you dispose of them. Don’t share your information with anyone who promises free health services.
- When you receive mail, get it promptly. Deposit any outgoing mail in the correct deposit boxes, and request a vacation hold on your mail if you will be away from home for an extended period.
These are just some of the many ways you can protect your personal information — and your privacy — both on and offline. The most important component when it comes to protecting your information is you: it’s you who has to take the steps and follow the guidelines to make sure that your information remains safe.
If you’re interested in learning more about working with and safeguarding information online, consider enrolling in an information technology degree course from Vista College. More and more, businesses are looking to the internet as a vital part of their means to operate smoothly, and the demand for graduates with information technology knowledge is growing more and more with each passing year. To take a look at some of the programs that Vista College offers, visit our website for more information.