Protecting Your Online Identity and Information

“The internet is a worldwide platform for sharing information. It is a community of common interests. No country is immune to such global challenges as cyber-crime, hacking, and invasion of privacy” – Lu Wei
Life is obviously getting easier for most people and businesses due to the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in our personal life, business processes and decision making. The over reliance on ICT for collecting, processing and storing information makes users vulnerable to a lot of risks even though it makes life easier. One of such risk is online identity theft.
Online identity theft is the conscious use of someone’s identity, usually as a way to obtain credit, gain financial advantage and other benefits in the person’s name without their consent. It is considered as a serious issue that has been victimizing a lot of people in the past 15 years. It has cost people huge amounts of money, property and credit as thieves benefit from such privileges through fraud.
Keeping your financial, passwords and other information protected and safe from fraudsters and hackers has been an ongoing conversation for businesses for some time. It is also critical that individuals and businesses heed to data protection advice, regulations and adopt sound measures to keep sensitive information safe and secure all the time. There are a lot of information available on the internet for people and businesses on how to protect their passwords, information and adequately secure their computers, mobiles devices, servers etc from hackers and malware attacks in order to use the internet safely.
Online identity theft is not common in Ghana. Online data protection can be confusing people and businesses that are not tech-savvy. However, it is good for such group to put in place precautionary measures to protect the information collected, processed and stored. We will discuss some best practices and tips for keeping your information private and protect your devices from threats in the paragraphs below.
Be careful when giving out personal information. This applies to both online and offline activities. You should know who is asking for your personal information, i.e. passport and driving license, social security number or credit/debit card information? Why they need it? How they will use it? What security measures they have in place to ensure that information collected, processed and stored remains private? Know who you’re giving out the information to, and not share information that is not necessary. When in doubt, withhold information if possible.
One has to know and understand what their personal identifiable information is? This usually includes information such as your email address, browsing history and search history. Personal identifiable information can be used to predict a person’s behaviour and consumption patterns.
Avoid faxing sensitive information unless absolutely necessary. Faxing is a convenient way to send information quickly, but there is no guarantee that the intended recipient is the person who will receive the document on the other end (the information will not be visible to someone else in the process of transmitting to the recipient. Sensitive information should not be sent by fax unless it is necessary to transmit the information quickly. However, sufficient precautions should be taken to ensure that the information is received only by the intended recipient.
Old documents and statements should be shredded. Keep your old computer and mobile devices clean as a good practice to ensure usability. Keep only data you need for daily business transactions. Most people receive a lot of mails mostly considered junk/spam. Debit/credit card and financial statements, behaviour and consumption patterns, loan offers. While online access to accounts has made printed statements practically unnecessary, many people simply throw these items out when they receive them. But doing so without first shredding them could put your personal information in the hands of thieves.

Watch out for impersonators. There are many people who try to trick unsuspecting consumers into giving out their sensitive personal information by pretending to be their bank, creditors, doctors and nurses. This usually happens on phone or online, via phishing emails or websites designed to mimic the authentic company’s look and feel. Be certain you know who is taking your personal information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with. If a company that claims that you have an account with them sends an email asking for personal information, don’t click on the links in the email. Instead, type the name of the company into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through their customer service line or call the customer service number listed on your account statement.
Never write your passwords down. It is tempting in most cases to keep a written list of passwords in a notebook or a sticky note. This is a bad idea, as it makes it easy for someone else to steal your login information and access your accounts without your permission. However, if you must write down something, it should be a hint that will help jog your memory or store the written password in a secure, locked place.
Secured passwords should be used at all times. The best passwords contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. You should avoid using easily guessed words or alphanumeric combinations, such as the names of children or pets, birth dates, social security numbers, phone numbers, addresses, and similar information that can be easily guessed by someone looking at your profile or through a Google search. “A strong password should be more than eight characters in length, and contain both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non alphabetical character.
Share your passwords carefully. This has been emphasized by many security experts, yet there are a lot of people who fail to follow this advice. Families need to share passwords to bank accounts and other online services with spouses, and many share a single login. In the workplace, there are abundant reasons why co-workers may need to share login credentials. You shouldn’t give out passwords without concern; rather, determine when another person legitimately requires access to your personal information or account and grant access on a case-by-case basis. If another person needs access for a single, isolated purpose, change your password when the task is completed and they no longer require access. Another option is to use a password manager that can share single login credentials with other people without them actually being able to view or interpret the login information.
It is obvious that data collection, processing and storage has come to stay and it is incumbent on us to protect the data we collect on our customers to protect their privacy and security.
Watch out for my next article on how to protect your data on mobile devices.

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