13 November 2016

Control and Protect Your Online Identity (Part 2)

In part 1 of this post, we talked about why we need to control what we post online. Having active online accounts in social media means you have an online presence. While of course it is not who you are in your entirety in real life, what you do share with the world is what you advertise about yourself. Therefore, it is totally within your control to shape your online profile.

If you haven't read part 1, check it out here now before reading on below.

Let's move on to part 2.

Protect Your Online Profile 

"Using a smartphone without taking the necessary precautions has become riskier than ever," declares Eric Schwartzman, who created Udemy's Mobile Cybersecurity Awareness course. Most of us use our mobile devices nowadays to access our social network via mobile apps, which are generally easy to use. They're sometimes too easy to use, making them also easy to abuse and misuse. We should never dismiss the reality of cybersecurity, especially since protecting ourselves while using online services is actually simple and doesn't take a lot of time to do.

The tips listed below are based largely on the Mobile Cybersecurity Awareness course, and I highly encourage also checking and following these common sense security guidelines.

  • Activate security settings in your mobile devices and applications

    Let's get it out of our heads right now that our mobile devices and applications are 100% secure against cyber attacks. It would also be prudent to never believe that, despite what developers say, these will never become invulnerable to security issues. This is not to negate their hard work, but coming from doing work that dealt consistently with cybersecurity, I personally believe it would be arrogant and myopic to leave all security-related responsibilities to technology developers.

    Some wise decisions to make are installing AV software and, more importantly, activating the built-in security features of your mobile devices.

  • Use 2-step verification

    An increasing number of online services are now using multiple-factor verification methods to further protect your accounts against unauthorized access. A lot of these send unique verification codes (most expire within 5 minutes of being sent) to the mobile number you registered in your account.

    Learn how to activate multi-factor authentication by watching this video.

  • Level up your passwords' strength

    Passwords are such pesky little things, aren't they? Well, yes, especially if you don't make them strong enough to guard your precious digital data! One of the easiest ways to strengthen your password is to use a phrase, plus a combination of uppercase and lowercase alphanumeric characters, to make it hard to crack.

    For example:
    "thatssofetch" --> "Th@ts$0f3tch"

    Learn more by checking this other great course on Cybersecurity Awareness.

  • Turn off location settings; don't publish your location all the time

    There are times when tagging locations to a certain post (like on Instagram) adds useful and helpful information. However, it is not at all necessary to tell people where you are each time. This is especially true for while you are home or in other places where security is a priority (e.g. embassy, bank, school, police station). This article will tell you more about why you should secure your location data.

    Start protecting your location data by having the location setting in your mobile device and applications turned off by default. Activate it only when necessary (e.g. using Google Maps). Make sure that you do not accidentally allow any application to collect and publish your location data.

  • Use public access wi-fi with caution

    There's this meme that shows a "revised" Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs, where the new basic need that trumps physical needs is internet access. It's funny because it's partly true. So if you find a public wifi access and you want to use it, make sure to do at least these two things:

    1. Activate your device's security settings. Look at my first bullet on this list.

    2. Check if the public wifi has a login page and expiry. The login page assures you that the wifi is secure and valid (instead of being some hacker's bag of tricks for stealing your private data), while the expiry ensures a fair use of the wifi connection.

    Personally, if I had to, I would use a coffeeshop's wifi because it usually requires a password (along with a purchase because, come on, be nice). Additional brownie points if the password changes every day. 

  • Use chargers and accessories (USB, data transfer cables) accredited or made by your device's manufacturers

    According to the Mobile Cybersecurity Awareness course, your data can be stolen when you recharge your mobile devices' batteries using someone else's chargers or cables. Admittedly, I didn't know that this was possible. But then, I remembered that when you charge on your laptop, for example, a connection screen usually comes up and asks if you would like to access your device from the laptop. Doing the same on someone else's laptop opens you up to a vulnerability if you forget to protect your data and/or device as it recharges.

    Get the full details on this guideline by watching this video.

  • Turn on and configure the privacy settings

    This almost goes without saying but, in this day and age, many people still do not check and configure their privacy settings right after installing a new application.

    Your privacy settings don't only give you additional protection over what third-party apps can collect from you, they can also be used to block unwanted information and attention.

    As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, you can control what you share about yourself. Doing this can be further simplified by making your privacy settings aligned to how and what you want to protect about yourself online.

  • Check the ad settings

    This guideline is not in the Mobile Cybersecurity Awareness course, but I'm adding it to the list because it's related to the types of information that you want to be retained about you, thereby making it a privacy-related issue.

    In case you haven't noticed, the ads and other "push" content that shows up on your online accounts (e.g. Gmail, Facebook, Twitter) are based on your online behavior, such as searches and site visits. If, for example, you consistently visit websites about beach vacations, then you will likely see more ads that specifically address that topic. Recently, I got an ad in my Gmail from a bank that was directly competing with one of the banks I currently use. The targeted approach was made possible by Google's ad settings.

    A number of online services nowadays also use analytics-based methods to push ads to users; the ad settings is a marketing machine that has already created a consumer profile for you based on your online behavior. Thankfully, you can usually find the ad-related settings under the privacy and/or security controls of most apps, so that you can control this machine and choose what it can advertise to you. You can also just turn it off entirely.

  • Be mindful of what you're sharing and with whom

    I want to emphasize again that it is totally within your control how you shape your online identity. It will make a lot of difference to remember that what you share could be used against you. When your online profile inadvertently becomes an open book, you could become vulnerable to exploitation through social engineering. So take advantage of those access levels and share selectively, e.g. maybe some thoughts or opinions are best shared in private discussion groups.

    As Schwartzman repeatedly warns in his cybersecurity courses, publishing is relinquishing your own safety, especially when you publish indiscreetly about yourself publicly.

Final food for thought: you don't actually have to post everything on anything all the time. Your online profile is not the totality of you and vice versa. So put your mind at ease by having a clear understanding of your digital tools and use them in the right way at the right time.

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