How to Protect Your Online Privacy

Companies routinely collect information about you every time you go online, and hackers and other bad guys are always trying to access the personal information you share. Protecting your privacy and staying one step ahead of the data thieves is not easy. The only way to be 100 percent safe is to unplug from the Internet entirely, but that is not an option for most of us. The Internet provides a myriad of modern conveniences, and few of us are willing to give it up in the name of security and privacy.


You do not have to unplug your computer or live a totally offline life to keep your personal data private. There are some proven ways to safeguard your personal information while still enjoying everything the Internet has to offer.


Stick with Secure Connections

Using an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot for email, online banking and other private communications is the online equivalent of sharing your deepest secrets on a party line. Party lines were common in the early days of the telephone, and they allowed neighbors to listen in, and join in, on the conversations of friends and strangers alike. If you are doing your online banking at the local coffee shop, you are broadcasting your data in just the same way.


That is because hackers can easily listen in and capture traffic sent over a public Wi-Fi connection. The tools hackers need to tap into Wi-Fi connections are readily available, and it does not take a skilled hacker to bypass the basic security public sites use. Free Wi-Fi connections are fine for general web surfing, but you should avoid visiting any website that requires a password and sites that ask for personally identifiable data.


Watch What You Put in the Cloud

Cloud storage services like iCloud and DropBox are wonderful innovations, but they could also put your private data at risk. Users may assume that everything they upload to the cloud, from tax returns to corporate documents, are fully encrypted, but that is not necessarily the case.


Once you upload your documents to the cloud, you have very limited control over how they are stored. The documents may be securely encrypted, or they may sit on the company’s servers with no encryption at all. In the end, it is simply not worth the risk.


Cloud storage is great for some things, like vacation photos or general text documents, but be careful what you put there. Avoid storing documents of a highly personal nature, including anything that contains your Social Security number or other personal information. If you have already stored such documents in the cloud, removing them can protect your privacy in the event of a data breach.


Insist on Two-Layer Data Protection

When you set up an online banking application or request online access to your brokerage account, you should be asked to create a series of personal questions to verify identity. That extra layer of security helps safeguard your private information and prevent hackers from logging on even if they somehow get your password.


You can register your own computer with online banking and brokerage sites and bypass the security questions on subsequent logins. Be sure to make the answers to the security questions hard to guess; avoid obvious questions and others would know the answers to. The more care you put into the security questions, the safer you will be online.


It goes without saying that you need to use strong passwords with capital letters, special characters and other security features. You can check the strength of proposed passwords at a number of websites, and that can help you keep your data even more secure.