In the Internet era, most people seem resigned to being monitored by corporations and governments.
One thing emphasising the need for Online Security is the upsurge in online scams and data thefts over the last couple of years, particularly around the Festive Season. In short, unless you take proactive steps to update your Online Security, you have no online privacy.
Why You Should Be Concerned
It is important when discussing privacy issues and online security to understand the background and why you should be concerned.
It is not a new issue. The concept of Internet Privacy and the consequent need for online security has been around for a long time. In parallel with changes in social mores and increased Internet usage, it has stepped up in importance, particularly since the pandemic:
We have seen the cult of immediacy dictating our lives and our use of Social Media and email. We tend nowadays to leap to the keyboard or voicemail to leave an instant response without considering the form and content of the response. This means that we continually read responses that are intemperate, inaccurate, irrelevant, and probably should never have been written in the first place.
Targeted surveillance is now the norm. Special Interest groups use web-bots and what have been described as zombie armies to create large numbers of seemingly legitimate Social Media postings and personalised emails. They contain fake news or push a specific agenda.
Linked to AI and Big Data, they have been used in the US Presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum to sway popular opinion and influence the outcome of democratic elections.
We are living in what has been described as a post-privacy world in which it is virtually impossible to manage the privacy settings of all the many interactive platforms we use.
Both immediacy and fake news have had an impact on reputation management. You don’t need to be a celebrity to be concerned about how you are perceived based on your Internet footprint. Recruiters regularly scan Social Media to gain an impression of candidates, and whether they should proceed in the hiring process.
Some companies regularly monitor their employee Social Media activities. There have been cases where employees have been dismissed because of their Social Media postings.
Be careful, you can cause yourself serious reputational damage by ill-considered rantings on Social Media.
Beyond your personal activities, hackers are after your personal information, either for ID-Theft or to gain access to your finances to steal your money.
Finally, it never goes away. There are archival repositories of emails, websites and Social Media postings going back many years. As many politicians have found, they can come back to haunt you.
You must understand that public postings are the opposite of privacy. Postcards, not letters.
You should be concerned about Online Security and Internet Privacy. You might not notice, but many people have eyes on you.
What to Do About it
Improving your online security is a no-brainer, You need to take steps to do so:
Think before you post
As noted above, rushing to the keyboard can result in internet postings and emails that can damage your online reputation. In the past, you had to find a pen and paper, a stamp, write the message and then post it. That gave you time to consider the response and whether you should in fact send it.
With today’s culture of immediacy, you rush to the keyboard without time to reflect. It’s easy to post something you later regret.
On a related note, be careful with “reply all”. Spammers harvest email addresses to create mailing lists for phishing exploits, and to hijack your email address.
Check your Privacy Settings
You must check the privacy settings of all the online applications you use like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. Review your settings and make them the minimum consistent with your planned usage. Be especially careful of Facebook and Twitter.
Make Sure your Friends Understand the Need
One of the biggest issues is that emails you send or postings you make that are forwarded by your friends follow their privacy settings, not yours. Friends and people down the forwarding chain are often the biggest privacy leaks.
Clear Your Cookies
We are all very familiar with the “accept cookies” request when visiting a website. Cookies can be picked up and used by third parties to blow a hole in internet privacy. Clear your cookie cache regularly, if possible, at the end of every browsing session.
Use a Proxy Server
Your IP address is logged every time you visit a website. This enables hackers to create focused attacks on you, and for surveillance actors to track you around the Internet.
Use a proxy server to hide your real address. This can also bring the benefits of being able to avoid geo-restrictions on services like Netflix.
Take online security seriously.