If you grew up in the digital age, you know all too well about the negative side effects of cyberbullying, identity theft, catfishing and hacking. We are constantly reminded that technology and the media can bring out undesired after-effects. The internet and its affiliated apps and extensions can make for very dangerous technology.
For example, in the case of Kim Kardashian‘s 2016 robbery, the suspect admitted how easy it was to research Kim’s whereabouts with minimal information, as well as how much her Snapchat and Instagram photos informed the criminal gang’s knowledge of her jewelry and personal items.
Even more terrifying, a Grindr user recently came forward with allegations that his date from 2015 began opening up accounts using his name, photos and addresses, inviting random strangers to come to his home, which led to aggressive threats of rape and murder, all orchestrated by a catfish and basically ignored by Grindr’s security team.
Social media and dating websites that involve personal accounts and information aren’t invincible and are often vulnerable to data breaches on a daily basis. In many cases, erasing and deleting doesn’t necessarily mean forever… Just in case you haven’t learned this lesson from watching Pretty Little Liars.
With technology constantly evolving, we’re all becoming more at risk. The tips and tricks span beyond the obvious things like not giving personal information to strangers or being cautious about whoever someone claims to be online. It’s also about vigilantly protecting your identity. When you surf the web (yes, even as you’re reading this!) you’re leaving behind a technological footprint. Here are the eight best ways to protect your identity.
1. Make sure you have strong passwords.
We get it, memorizing passwords is the worst and it sucks being locked out of an account. But you’re only setting yourself up if you use something that’s easily hacked, like “123456,” or “password1.” Some other bad habits to break? Don’t use consecutive numbers or even repetitive phrases, for that matter. If you’re using personal info, make sure it’s something that others (even friends or family) don’t know, like the date you achieved a lifelong goal. Another tip is alternating lower and upper cases. Another negative tendency? Re-using passwords makes you vulnerable if one of your accounts gets hacked. It’s also best to change passwords on a consistent basis, especially for financial or personal accounts. If an account ever offers two-factor authentication, use it.
2. Tighten the security of your social media accounts.
Your Instagram photos may seem harmless. You post personal photos of your aesthetically pleasing brunch and group shots of your gal pals. You may like having your account public because it opens the possibility of gaining more followers and likes, but you’re also inviting complete strangers to have a look at your life. You never know who could be looking at your photos and videos and simultaneously analyzing every post, gathering info about the area you live or the places you go to to find patterns in your lifestyle and possibly target you.
3. Keep an eye out for ‘phishing’ emails.
You’ll usually be able to tell if an email is going to give your device a virus before you even click on it. But make sure you’re cautious about emails that relate to your life. Whether it’s a notification from your bank or an organization you’re involved in, it could just be a third party posing as something it’s not. Some common things to look out for are spelling mistakes, and most importantly, the email address. You’ll immediately know whether or not it’s an official address just by clicking on the contact. Red flag: if the email asks you for personal info or money in a harmless way that’s seemingly looking out for you, it’s usually a scam.
4. Remember to log out of your accounts.
Even if you’re using a personal computer, log out of your accounts once you’re done using them and limit multi-tasking while you’re on the web. Keeping Facebook open, though easily accessible, could also open the possibility of being hacked or even having info on your browsing history being gathered.
5. Utilize security sites.
The site HaveIBeenPwned allows you to search your email addresses or usernames to verify whether they’ve been compromised in a data hack. AnnualCreditReport gives you three free credit reports a year so you’re able to see if your credit profile is being used without your knowledge. Downloading a program like Tor lets you surf online anonymously, but you may also risk some sites not working properly.
6. Be cautious in social and dating apps.
With the popularity of Grindr, Tinder and Bumble, you could potentially meet a significant other or a best friend. But with so many cases of catfishing or dates gone wrong, take extra care with who you’re potentially meeting. Don’t link your social media account to your profile and always make sure a friend knows where you are if you do plan on meeting someone from an app in person. Also, what you see is not always what you get.
7. Stay away from public Wi-Fi.
But where else can you get work done other than Starbucks, you ask? Public Wi-Fi is notorious for being insecure and hackers can easily see your browsing history and potentially access your accounts. Hold off on doing work until you’re home or use the data connection on your phone instead. Remember to elevate the Wi-Fi in your home, too. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, more than 40% of people don’t reset the factory password that their wireless router came with. You should probably also make sure that the Wi-Fi name doesn’t include your name or anything else that’s personal.
8. Disable cookies whenever you can.
Not the dessert you might be thinking of, but a tracker cookie is a text file stored by a browser and that can be used to track one’s online activity. While they’re required for most sites, you can set up your browser to only accept first-party cookies so you’ll still be able to log into accounts, though disabling them whenever you can protects your privacy, and can even save you money. If you’re doing research for a vacation, an advertiser can easily detect your travel intentions based on your history and intentionally point you towards sites with expensive rates.