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Protecting Your Privacy

Maintaining privacy whilst online is essential to avoid identity theft and fraud. There are certain things you should look for when browsing websites to check how your privacy is being protected.

Privacy Policy

All websites should have a privacy policy within the website, which states how your information will be used and whether it will be distributed to other organisations. Sometimes companies share information with third parties who may offer related products/services or options to subscribe to mailing lists.

Before submitting your name, email address, or other personal information on a website, review the site’s privacy policy. Check how your information will be used and look for indications that you will be added to mailing lists by default. If you don’t deselect those options this may lead to unwanted spam.

If you cannot find a privacy policy on a website, you may want to contact the company to inquire about their policy, or find an alternate site.

Encryption

To protect cyber attackers from hijacking your information, any personal information you submit online must be encrypted so that only the appropriate recipient can read it.

Many websites use SSL, or secure sockets layer, to encrypt information. Websites that use SSL will have a URL that begins with “https:” instead of “http:” and there will be a lock icon in the bottom right corner of the window.

Some sites also indicate whether the data is encrypted when it is stored. If data is encrypted in transit but stored insecurely, it is still vulnerable to an attacker if they are able to break into the vendor’s system.

How to Protect Your Privacy

There are several steps you can take to protect your privacy:

  • Avoid using one primary email address – using the same primary email address for all online submissions could result in spam. Consider opening an additional email account for use online. This will cut down spam in your primary email inbox and limit the damage if the email account you use online is hacked.
  • Avoid submitting credit card information online – pay over the phone rather than transacting online if possible. Whilst not entirely failsafe it is preferable and eliminates the possibility that attackers will be able to hijack your card during the payment submission process.
  • Avoid using debit cards for online purchases – Unlike credit cards, debit cards offer little protection against identity theft. The charges are immediately deducted from your account so an attacker who obtains your account information may empty your bank account before you even realise it. If you must pay online use a credit rather than debit card.
  • Devote one credit card to online purchases – to minimise the potential damage of an attacker gaining access to your credit card information you could open a credit card account for online use only. Keep a minimum credit line on the account to limit the amount of charges an attacker can accumulate.
  • Do business with credible companies – before you supply any information online, consider whether the business is credible and trustworthy.
  • Avoid ‘remember password’ option – allowing a website to remember your password is convenient but unsafe. If your password is saved on your computer, your profile and any account information you have provided on that site will be easily available if an attacker gains access to your computer.
  • Restrict access to certain information – evaluate your settings on social media sites and limit who can see what information.