Tips for Protecting Your Identity Online, Featuring Aidan J Cassidy

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Commissioned News Story (Source: Aidan J Cassidy)

It seems that hardly a day goes by anymore that we don’t hear about some major security breach on the Internet. As the masses communicate and transact using their computers, smartphones, and tablets, more of our personal information is being transmitted over the interwebs than ever. Meanwhile, attacks are getting more sophisticated, leaving even some of the biggest companies, websites, and apps vulnerable.

How do you protect yourself from all of this? Can you protect yourself, or have online safety and privacy jumped the shark?

“We’re in a sharing culture now and people will share even the most private details of their lives on the Internet,” says Aidan J Cassidy, a former law enforcement officer. “It’s important to be aware of best practices from keeping your information out of the wrong hands.”

So just what are these best practices? It really depends on who you ask, but there are certainly some precautions anyone can take.

The first obvious thing is to have strong passwords. It’s annoying, but having different passwords for everything increases your security greatly. That way, if one password falls into the wrong hands, it doesn’t automatically compromise your info on everything else you use. Make each password complex. Services will often helpfully let you know if you’re giving them a weak or strong password. Always give them a strong one.

Make sure your Wi-Fi is on a secure network. Set it up with WPA or WPA2, as WEP is considered less secure. Of course, use a strong password for this as well. Details may vary from router to router, so search for steps to securing your network using the router you own. If you're a visual person, try searching on YouTube. There are tons of videos how-tos from people who will walk you right through the process.

Check your privacy settings on all of the social networks you use. This includes app settings. Only provide the info you really want or need to provide. You may be connected to a bunch of apps that you don’t use, just because you used them once. You may also be sharing personal info with the social networks’ users in general that you don’t wish to share.

Only give sites and apps the information required to get what you need out of them. If it’s not important, you can always make stuff up. Anonymity is still your friend in some parts of the Internet.

Use HTTPS sites as much as possible. This means the service has gone to lengths to make their site secure. It’s not flawless, but it’s better than non-HTTPS.

As Aidan J Cassidy advises, always be suspicious of unexpected emails from companies about your account, as well as those that encourage you to click a link to get some deal that seems too good to be true.

In fact, be suspicious if you get such messages from anywhere, including social media, and including direct messages from your friends. I’ve had messages from two separate accounts from personal friends of mine just in the past couple weeks trying to get me to fall for things like a “free iPad” scam. You just have to accept that nobody wants to give you a free iPad.

If you have children, make sure that they understand the dangers of the Internet, Aidan J Cassidy stresses. They may not only endanger themselves, but could inadvertently compromise your own information. If need be, protect yourself from them too.

Take advantage of features like "Supervised Users" in Chrome, which lets you lock SafeSearch on, and approve sites that your kids can visit. Always look at settings for your browser and the sites you and your kids use. There will often be additional privacy and/or parental control-related features that can be activated.

Heed Google’s warnings of suspicious search results. Google will alert you in search results if a search returns sites that have been hacked. You can still go to the site at your own discretion, but chances are, it’s not worth the risk.