As 2011 comes to a close our thoughts move to 2012 and what it has in store for us. Leaving aside the customary promises of diets and to be better, we should each take a moment to consider the digital footprint we left in 2011 and how we can better protect our privacy (and the privacy of our families) during 2012. The coming year will see greater battles for online privacy than any previous year. Social networking will continue to dominate and I predict that there will be at least two major online privacy scandals during the next twelve months.
The legislative outlook is bleak for 2012. The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary is currently considering the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or H.R. 3261 as it is officially known. Although the act is well intentioned (in that it wants to stop piracy), the act is badly put together. Its broad language allows almost any attempt by a private individual to protect his or hers online privacy as an attempt to cover illegal activities. Today, GoDaddy announced it was withdrawing its support for SOPA in response to a boycott urging users to migrate away from the domain name register. GoDaddy now joins a long list of those objecting to SOPA. Earlier this year Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn wrote a letter to important members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, saying SOPA poses “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.” Also the European Parliament has adopted a resolution stressing “the need to protect the integrity of the global Internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names.”
While the politicians blunder about, there are many things that each individual can do, so here are our top privacy tips for 2012:
- Time to change your passwords. Been using the same password for the last few years? It is time to change. Your password is the single barrier between you and online criminals. Should they manage to break into your email, eBay or PayPal accounts (not to mention any online financial services you use) they will be able to duplicate your identity as well as steal money from your accounts. Make sure your password are strong and contain more than just letters (e.g. good passwords contain letters, numbers, and symbols).
- Shutdown any unused accounts. Did you sign up for a website for service in 2011 and in fact don’t use it. Close the account. Unused online accounts are a liability and could be used by hackers as a stepping stone to your more important accounts.
- Become more unfriendly! The “problem” with social networks is that everyone wants to be your friend. Do you really want an ex-colleague from a place where you worked 10 years ago to see your family photos? The pressure is to accept all and any friend invitations. Don’t. Go through your list and remove anyone that isn’t close or can’t be trusted 100% with your holiday snaps.
- Start 2012 with the aim to minimize personal information sharing. Only fill in the mandatory fields on any web form. Many forms ask for lost of unnecessary information, but only certain fields are mandatory (normally marked with an asterisk). Don’t trust websites with your personal information (just look at the mess Facebook has made of its users privacy). Don’t give more information than needed.
- Make sure your online shopping is encrypted. Make sure you are using the latest version of your web browser and check that you are using a secure site if you need to enter your credit card details. Look for a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window and check that the website address begins with ‘https://’. Modern browsers (like Chrome and Mozilla) support Extended Validation SSL Certificates, and the address bar willturn green when you are on a secure site.
- Beware of identity theft attempts during 2012’s big events. There are lots of big global events scheduled for 2012 including Super Bowl XLVI, the London Olympics, and the 57th US presidential election. It is “traditional” for cyber criminals to launch phishing scams during these events. Beware of bogus retailers setup for identity theft attempts or email scams that contain links or attachments which take users to malicious websites or spread malware.
- Enhance your PC’s security. Use privacy tools like Hide My IP, Cookie Crumble and Firewall Fortify to protect your online privacy. You should also strongly consider using a virtual private network (VPN) like FoxyVPN.