30 Sep Protect Your Privacy Online: Ten Easy Steps for Starters

by Brenda McCafferty, Sr. Financial Literacy Trainer, ECMC

Recently on NBC Nightly News, James B. Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was interviewed about what he does to protect his privacy online. To my amazement, his response included a piece of tape across his camera on his laptop. Yes, you heard that right. With today’s technology, one of the first steps is still to cover the camera on your computer. Here are ten easy steps to protect your privacy online.

  1. Never connect your personal computer to an unsecure Wi-Fi. Internet is free at most restaurants, coffee shops, hotels and even airports, but that doesn’t mean we should just assume they are safe connections.
  2. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) if you are going to use a public Wi-Fi. VPNs will normally block your ISP activity from going directly to tracking sites by being an encrypted tunnel that protects your personal data from the bad guys. There are VPNs that are available for a small monthly fee.
  3. Caution! Beware of what you save and leave open in the cloud. Dropbox, SkyDive and Google Docs have opened the door to convenience for sharing information and data, but with that comes an increase need for awareness. Remember to not save personal data, passwords and banking information to the cloud. However, no matter what is saved and shared, secure the information with a password and an authenticator. This is known as two-factor authentication.
  4. Don’t give out your zip code to merchants when you are making a purchase in their store. Gas stations are different; it’s part of the card authentication. Often information collected in stores is sold to marketing agencies. Sharing your zip code increases your junk mail, which also increases your chances for identity theft.
  5. Question why someone might be asking for just the four digits of your Social Security number (SSN). This may be a quick way for some vendors to verify identity, but it is also increasing the opportunities for untrustworthy people to gain access to your financial information. Ask what other information can be provided other than the last four of your SSN.
  6. Change your passwords often. Everyone has several passwords and the easy way out is to use slightly altered versions of the same password. If it’s easy for you, then most likely it’s easy for an identity thief. Be creative and include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and other symbols (if allowed).
  7. Remove Java from your computer. Java is used for websites to incorporate your information into their system, but is rarely needed anymore. Having Java installed allows holes in your computer’s security.
  8. Fibbing is okay. Yes, don’t answer all of the security questions truthfully when setting up an online account. For instance, if your mom is your friend on Facebook and that’s an answer to a security question to get greater access into you banking account, you just unlocked the deadbolt. Have your own answers to the security questions, but not one that is easily accessible to hackers.
  9. Don’t put off updating your operating system or your computer’s security. Online security is a tough job; system upgrade improvements have been made to protect you. Additionally, you are less protected when you don’t keep your security updated.
  10. And yes, number ten, keep the camera covered on your personal computer. Even when cameras are turned off, they can be hacked. If that happens, you leave yourself open for private photos to be taken. Simply put a piece of tape across your camera and only remove it when you are video chatting with someone. Simply replace the tape as soon as you are finished.


The list of ways to protect yourself is endless. Most of these tips are encouraged for personal computers, but there are serious precautions that should be made to protect your cellular device. If nothing else, at least turn off your location except for when you are using a particular app. We remind our children to beware of strangers, so why would we allow ourselves to open up access to our personal finances, secure information and home to strangers? Protect yourself and continuously monitor new ways to protect your privacy.