Monday, January 28, 2019

How Anonymous Are You Online? Tips for Protecting Yourself

Have you ever wondered how something you briefly look at on one website pops up as an advertisement on a completely different website? This is because each website you visit collects information about you, allowing the next site you visit to display advertisements based on the information that was collected. Usually this is done by companies to better advertise to you as well as collect data on their customers, but this can be a privacy concern or used for malicious purposes.

Some information that can be collected about you from websites can include: your IP address, how long and how often you visit particular pages, other websites that you visit, the browser you are using, and in some cases the type and version of the operating system on your device.

There are several steps you can take to prevent this information about you from being collected.
  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network): There are many different VPNs that you can download and use. Some are free, some are not. A VPN provides you with an encrypted tunnel to access the internet, which can increase your security and anonymity online.
  • Limit or disable cookies: Most websites use cookies to track the users that visit their sites. Cookies enable websites to find out about your browsing habits. Because cookies can store personal data, limiting or disabling them can be a good idea.
  • Use HTTPS Links: Be cautious of any site URL without HTTPS in the URL. HTTPS is more secure than HTTP.
  • A Big No to Public Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient, but when accessing your personal accounts, be cautious. Make sure you never log in to your accounts, particularly bank accounts, when using a public Wi-Fi network. Someone using the same network could intercept the data that you have provided online (e.g., your bank details, passwords, emails, etc.) If you must use a public Wi-Fi network, do so with a VPN.
  • Password Manager: Like VPN products, there are many password managers that you can download and use. Password managers store your passwords, and they also suggest good, complex passwords to use for each of your accounts. This is a great step to take to help prevent your online accounts from being compromised.
  • Look out for phishing: A very easy method that attackers use to collect your personal data is phishing. The attacker will send out emails, text messages, and sometimes even phone calls pretending to be your bank or cell phone company. The email or text will provide a link for you to click and will take you to a website requesting your personal information. Always be wary of requests for personal data and trust your instincts if something seems “phishy.” 

Today's blog comes from Chelsey Vance, OIT Risk and Compliance, Senior Risk Analyst.