Sunday, 1 February 2015

5 Things You Should Already Know About Staying Safe Online

I wish I had known how important The Internet was going to be when I was 14 and first got it in my bedroom. I was pretty lucky at the time and the only one of my friends that had the Holy Grail of technology at the time, an uninterrupted ADSL internet connection in my actual bedroom. To myself. I have a vague memory of an initial half-hour limit but I don't think that stuck and I was soon browsing all day and night, sucking up everything the internet at the time had to offer. Which was mostly forums, porn and Tampax themed chat rooms. I briefly had an online romance with someone who, in retrospect, was probably a 56 year old man from Utah. No offense, was the username that finally gave it away.

Now I'm much more internet savvy. I don't post pictures of my boobs online (hello, annoying ebay incident that won't go away), I don't talk to anyone who isn't verifiable. I have a list of things in my mind to look out for before I download or even click unfamiliar links. I delete my cookies.

Here are five things you should DEFINITELY already be doing, and if not, do them right away. 

1. Sort out your passwords.

So lame! How many times have you heard this? You might think you are safe with your first ever password plus a combination of one capital and the number '1' on the end, but you aren't. I have actual real life friends who have their passwords written next to their computer. You can tell it's their passwords because some of them have a '1' at the end. Here's an easy tip for thinking up a new password if you are really stuck.
  • Look around the room, pick something slightly odd. 
  • Capitalise one letter (not the first) If you think you might struggle to remember which one, you could always capitalise the second letter in every password. Or use your birthday, so I would capitalise the 8th letter (I don't)
  • Add the days date on the end.
  • I'm pretty confident noone will be able to guess "scHoolnewsletter1/2/15"
This works well because a) you will usually have a visual reminder of your password (extra points if you are able to locate an object that appears in more than one place you use a computer, i.e work and home) b) if you forget it, many sites will say things like "You changed your password on 1/2/15" Another little clue!

2. Log the hell out of Google.

Sorry, fellow internet-savvy preachers, but I know this one won't go down well. I'm probably belong to a slightly more paranoid class of person than you, but I will tell you a story about a situation that made me deeply uncomfortable this week. Whilst browsing a blog at work, I came across a link to a pasta maker. I have been interested in what pasta makers actually do (just buy some pasta, you foodie weirdos). I clicked the link. I looked at the pasta maker for all of thirty seconds, came to my conclusion that some people have too much time on their hands, and left the webpage.

Maybe someone could explain to me then, why three months later and on a total different computer, what do I see popping up in the Facebook ad bar? A little ad for the very same pasta maker. The same thing happened with an M&S mirror the very same week. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my internet browsing to NOT be used as a way of targeting me to buy pasta makers and mirrors that I simply do not need and cannot afford anyway. What a waste of an algorithm - I'll be logging out before I start my browsing sessions from now on.

3. Update all your information

Here's an amusing (read - depressing) story. My mobile recently stopped working. I use my mobile to verify access to my hotmail account from a different computer than usual. I recently sold my laptop and replaced it with a PC. Now I can't get into my email, because the alternative email address that I used was a work email from a role I haven't worked in for over two years. I saw that address come up every single day when I logged in "Is this email still right?" yes yes, get lost annoying pop-up, I want to see if I have been accepted for Deal or No Deal. 

How I wish I had updated that information to an email I actually have access to, as I now have to wait 30 freakin' days before I can get back into my account. Plus, as I can't remember my password to a certain job site where I stored my most recent CV, I now have no access to that either. What a dumb-dumb.

4. Check your old accounts privacy settings. Especially Image Hosting.

I use Photobucket, as many children of the 90's (Is that right? I mean, I was a child IN the nineties, but I was actually born in the 80's.) to store my images that I wanted to share on forums. Little did I know, Photobucket and many other image hosting sites, expect you to notice there is a tiny option to have your account 'private' or 'public'. What this means is, PEOPLE CAN LOOK AT YOUR SHIT. Okay, so not many people wanted to look at my self-created Neopets fan art. But a few (weird) people DID want to look at the 20 alternative shots I took the one time I decided to post my boobs online. 

I'd like to thank a certain weirdo for bringing this to my attention recently. Thankfully, no one will ever believe those boobs are mine since I subsequently breastfeed a child for 8 months. Still, I've gone back over everything I can remember and made sure it isn't public access.

5. Be conscience.

15 years ago during those first explorations of the net, I didn't realise how absolutely everything the internet would be. I wish I had. There are some pretty outrageous comments I have made, things I have posted, sites I have joined that I kind of wish didn't make up my digital history. I made a promise to myself to be as mindful as possible about what I post. You think things are bad now? Who knows how much further the net and everything you have ever done on it will be integrated into our lives in the future? I'm going to be very careful of my cyber trail from now on, and while I don't think it's sensible to be overly paranoid (even though I am the type of person who won't have a loyalty card because I don't want shops to be collecting all that data on what I buy and when, it's not your business when I have period, Tesco.) it's certainly worth being mindful of what you are adding to your personal digital trail.

Stay safe online!!

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