Today is Data Privacy Day, a global “holiday” aimed at raising awareness about online security and privacy.
it’s hard not to be aware of the constant threats that hammer on our
digital doors. The joy of the Internet is that we’re all connected to
each other, making it easy to share information and commerce. But
there’s also a dark side: Just as in the “real” world, the Net is full
of evildoers who want to take advantage of the less-than-vigilant among
Don’t be one of them. On Data Privacy Day, take some time to secure
your virtual borders. Here are five things you can do right now that
will give you peace of mind and make it little harder for the jerks who
want to steal your data, your identity and your cash.
• Change your passwords – This is the first thing
you should do, and it’s the most effective – so long as your passwords
are strong and effective. Change the passwords on all the accounts
associated with your personal information, and make each one different. A
strong password has a mix of letters, numbers and symbols, and ideally
it should be a pass phrase, rather than a single word.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with a tough password, there are sites that will make them for you. Try the PC Tools Password Generator – it’s owned by Symantec, so it’s trustworthy – which helps you build a strong, hard-to-crack password.
• Adjust your social media privacy settings – Social
networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn all let you control
what information you reveal and to whom. Facebook in particular has
fairly powerful privacy settings, but most people don’t change them,
either out of inertia or because they’re too intimidating.
You can find Facebook’s privacy controls here.
Pay particular attention to who can see the items you post – the
default is Public, which means everyone can see them – and “Limit the
audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or Public”. The
latter is confusing, but basically Facebook has reset old posts so only
your Friends can see them, even if you originally set them to Public or
Friends of Friends.
You can also use Facebook’s activity log to review all your items,
change individual settings and even delete some you now wish you hadn’t
• Get your credit report – Did you know you have the
right to get a free copy of your credit report once a year? The three
national credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion –
are required to give them to you as part of the Fair Credit Reporting
Act. By examining your report, you may be able to catch attempts at
identify theft, or even unauthorized credit accounts that have been
opened in your name.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the hassle of contacting
each one of the reporting agencies individually. The three have
cooperated to streamline the process. AnnualCreditReport.com
lets you request reports from all of them. If you’re old-school, you
can call 1-877-322-8228. You can find more information at this Federal
Trade Commission website.
• Update your antivirus software – Time and again,
when I hear from people whose PCs are infected with malware, it’s
because they let their security software subscription lapse. Paid
products like Norton and McAfee do continue to run on your PC even if
you don’t pay the annual subscription fee, but they lose their ability
to protect against any new threats. And since new viruses, Trojans and
spyware are being developed all the time, not keeping your security
software up to date instantly puts you at risk.
If you don’t want to pay an annual fee, install a free anti-malware program. There are several good ones, including Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG Free and Avast!. Macintosh users may want to consider the free Sophos Antivirus for Mac.
• Update your software – Cyberscum often rely on
flaws in software to put spyware and other evil code on your computer.
One of the best ways to prevent this is to make sure you operating
system and the apps that run on it are up to date.
Both Windows and Mac OS X update automatically by default, though
users can override that. A word of advice: Don’t. Many of those updates
have security fixes and not installing them puts you at risk.
Because operating system updates run automatically, the bad guys are
turning to flaws in the software that runs on the OSes. You may recall the serious flaw in Java
that had even the Department of Homeland Security urging swift action.
Because of this, it’s just as important to keep your applications
Today, launch each one of the apps you use most often and have it
check for updates. Some applications – particularly common plug-ins for
browsers, such as Flash – check automatically. When you see a popup from
an application that wants to update, don’t delay – let it run ASAP. The
data you save may be your own.
-Dwight Silverman Houston Chronicle TechBlog