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Protecting your Online Identity

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GMA News posted an article on keeping your identity safe in the online world.  The article covers the basics such as checking websites out for legitimacy before signing in and putting your personal information into their database, using strong passwords, and avoiding phishing schemes to nab your login and password information.  The digital world is more relevant to our every day lives and we must be careful about who we give our information out to.

While the article advocates learning about a company before joining their website, this isn’t always possible.  Smaller message boards dedicated to niche interests aren’t usually owned by a company and don’t usually have a large enough following to gain a significant pool audience.  Thankfully, there are workarounds to such situations.  The best thing to do is to search around the site and see what it’s all about.  Most message boards are open enough for unregistered users to see most of the posts.  It’s up to your personal judgement to decide if joining the site is a good idea.  Be wary of websites that hide everything behind closed doors.  Try to find information outside of the website to see if there’s anything to it.  You can always wait until the website becomes popular and established like Facebook before joining.

The amount of personal information put on a website is up to the individual user.  Some users like to put everything out in the open for everyone to see while others put up as little as possible, but most users fall somewhere in between.  Keep in mind that many websites can use the data for advertising or other purposes.  Joining the Regal Crown Club online asks for information such as name and address, which are certainly necessary to receive the membership card, but they also ask for phone numbers, earnings, marital status, family statistics and other pieces of information which aren’t necessary to join a rewards program.  Sometimes it’s nice to fill out extra information, but that doesn’t mean that every website you join needs to know everything about you.  Be thoughtful about what information you put out and remember that sometimes the minimum is just fine.

Security is the biggest concern when it comes to identity theft.  The worst case scenario is someone hacking into your established profiles and making a mess of your account.  The best way to prevent being hacked is to create a powerful password.  The best passwords are at least eight characters long and contain lower and upper case letters as well as numbers and symbols.  Avoid using words, names, or numbers associated with you and don’t use the same password for more than one website.  Creating memorable passwords isn’t hard, just take one or two random words out of a book and substitute some uppercase letters numbers and symbols into something you can remember.  You can also use few words and add some numbers and symbols between them, but be careful, some password breaking algorithms take this into account.

You should also be careful when accessing public wi-fi.  Check the web-address bar at the top as you log into your favorite websites.  The login page will have “https://” at the front, meaning that the page is secure from outside tampering.  Unfortunately, many websites switch over to the standard “http://” after the login process.  This means that anyone on a public network can see exactly what you can see from your account with the right know-how.  Try looking into VPNs or avoid logging into websites that don’t use https:// while you’re logged in when using public wi-fi.

Phishing schemes involve a contact informing you that your profile or account has been compromised and requests that you log in by clicking on a link provided with the message.  The link usually leads to a website pretending to be the real one and logs your account login information before kicking you out of the system.  Sometimes the links even contain viruses that grab as much personal information from your computer as possible.  Check suspicious contacts about compromised accounts carefully and use your own method of getting to the website in question.  Log in through known channels if you’re worried about the account being hacked and never click on a link provided by such emails.

It’s also advisable to search for your name online occasionally to see what comes up.  It’s a good way to see how you are viewed by people that do similar searches.  Try to grab your usual username at as many big websites as possible if you’re worried about people with the same name that make you look bad.

Those are just some of the basic things you can do to protect yourself online.

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Written by Christopher Siler

2011/07/25 at 21:32

Posted in Uncategorized

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