Each day, millions of Internet users browse the virtual landscape of cyberspace with
little more than a rudimentary regard for their own privacy. Although they may not
haphazardly partake information, they may be unaware of the many risks involved:
*The potential for your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to provide personal information
you do not want shared.
*Cookies, particularly third-party cookies that reveal your information to online
*Search engines that can and will monitor your browsing habits.
*Instant messaging programs that automatically archive your conversations.
*Emails containing information that is not only available to the recipient but to
governmental agencies, your employer, and other unknown parties.
*Browsers that give your IP address and other information to web site operators.
*Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace which, while offering
privacy settings, may not necessarily ensure that your profile is safe from general
access by strangers.
*The use of web beacons on sites such as those for electronic greeting cards, which
enables them to inform you of pickup notifications by tracking the individuals who
are viewing their pages.
*Online journals, otherwise known as "blogs" or "vblogs" (video diaries such as those
featured on Youtube and similar websites) where personal information can result in
potential job loss.
*Domain names. The personal information you provide to register your site is available
to the general public.
*Public records, such as divorce lawsuits, property tax files, and convictions can
be accessed for a small fee (or even at no cost) via the Internet.
*Spyware. Without or without your consent, this software may be downloaded onto your
computer in order to track your movements and even your keystrokes.
*Various forms of online auction fraud, such as false advertising of the true nature
or condition of a product.
*Scammers searching for unsuspecting victims.
*Phishing, which involves an individual (or individuals) sending emails or instant
messages to users in order to direct them to convincing, albeit fake, facsimiles of
generally reliable websites for the sole purpose of acquiring personal information,
which they will in turn utilize for fraudulent purposes.
*Pharming, which occurs when a hacker redirects you from a legitimate website to a
*The potential for your information to be misused when conducting important business
transactions, such as online banking.
Considering these potential dangers, what can be done to secure our personal information
online? There are several practical measures one can take:
*Always remember that deleting a file does not mean it can no longer be retrieved.
Although it may not be visible, it can be extracted from your hard drive. In order
to permanently delete files, you must overwrite them. There are free software programs
available that can accomplish this.
Also realize that, depending upon privacy policies, third parties may retain your
deleted messages for a time.
*Always read privacy policies. This is the only way you can ascertain that your information
is being protected as you wish. It will also inform you of your rights should the
company fail to uphold its promises to you.
*Before providing personal information, make certain that the websites you are conducting
business on are secure. Your information should be encrypted. Evidence of this will
be a letter "s" following the "http" in the address line. There should also be a security
certificate at the bottom right of the screen in the form of an unbroken padlock.
Check whether or not it is current by right-clicking on it. If it is not, your information
is not safe.
*Protect your computer. Educate yourself on the use of anti-spy ware, anti-virus software,
firewalls, and cookie deletion. Several of these programs can be found online and
downloaded free of charge.
*Although you must pay a fee, privatize your domain name.
*Always keep in mind that your employer may be monitoring your emails, instant messages,
and browsing habits. They might also conduct a search for any social networking sites
you belong to (e.g. MySpace and Facebook.) There have been more than several cases
of individuals losing their employment due to incriminating evidence discovered on
their social networking pages.
*Do not use your web-based mail's site as your search engine. For example, if you
have an account with Google mail, use the Yahoo search engine instead for your browsing.
This will decrease the risk of your information being stored by any one website.
*Never make a payment to any seller using wire transfers. By doing so, you are putting
yourself in a position of no recourse should you not receive your item(s).
*If you have a blog and it is viewable by the general public, consider the possibility
that any increased popularity will make you more vulnerable to those who wish to unveil
your identity. A pseudonym may help you in this regard, yet it is no guarantee of
privacy. You may want to limit your audience by making your blog viewable only by
password. You can also request that your blog not be listed in search engines. In
the case of video blogs, privacy settings will allow you to exercise control over
who views your content. For example, YouTube offers the option of setting your vlog
to private, which would make it viewable by up to 25 people.
When blogging, do not offer information that could be used to identify your location.
If you are writing entries regarding your workplace, do not use the real names of
your colleagues or any other information that can be traced back to you, and never
blog at work. Employees have been fired for such activities.
*Read your email offline to combat web beacons.
Although these practical steps may seem borderine extreme to some, it is unwise to
assume that you could never be the victim of an Internet crime. It is best to be safe