Everyone who uses the Internet has an Online Identity. Every time you use an online app, simply visit a website or run a search, you leave digital footprints.
Working from home and travel restrictions caused by the pandemic significantly increased online activity. As a result, criminal behaviour in general, especially ransomware, network attacks, and ID theft, have increased in the last few years. This can cause concern and increases the need for good Online Security.
The effects of online ID theft can be severe. Protecting your Online Identity is now vital. One way is to operate anonymously and hide your online identity.
However, having said that, deleting yourself entirely from the internet and operating in an anonymous mode is not really possible, as it is almost impossible to completely erase all online traces of you and your activities. There may be cases where you need to display your identity, for example on employment websites.
However, there are some steps you can take to minimize your online presence and hide your identity.
The first step in improving your online security is to invest in a high-quality anti-malware application for your desktop or smart device. They usually have a basic level, sometimes free, with additional chargeable options. The free version does not usually have ID protection, so you may need to invest in an additional module. AVG, for example, has an add-on module that protects personal data.
One point to emphasise is that new malware and attack vectors appear almost daily. It is vital to keep the application and malware signature files up to date. Most have an auto-update option. Do not switch it off.
There are several other actions that you can take to improve your Online Security:
Do not use the same login information for different websites. In particular, use unique, non-guessable strong passwords for each. It might be easiest to use a desktop password manager to generate and record strong passwords for you.
Delete personal and financial information
Start by removing any personal information from your social media accounts and other online profiles. This includes your full name, home address, phone number, and email address. In general, only provide that information to anyone if it is a mandatory requirement.
A particular target of thieves is financial information such as bank account numbers and login information for financial sites. They can use the information themselves or sell it for others to use. Use only reputable financial institutions.
In regard to financial websites, be aware of phishing attacks. Do not use email links in emails looking like they came from your financial institution. There are many cases where they take you to fake websites where the intention is to capture your login information.
One trick is to hover your mouse pointer over the email link to the website. This displays the link address. If it looks odd or is obviously not the institutional website, do not click.
Use a pseudonym
If you are wary about providing personal information, consider using a pseudonym or alternate online identity for social media or other online activity. This can help you maintain privacy and avoid unwanted attention.
A particularly irritating consequence of internet activity is receiving spam mail and other unwanted content. Email addresses and other contact information is collected automatically from email and websites and used to create mailing lists and groups on social media. These lists are used directly or sold to marketing companies.
Social Media Invitations
As you use social media platforms, you can be invited to approve a “friend” or asked to join a focus group.
Friends can be anything but. They can be created automatically by software, or actual users. In both cases, they want to extract information about you, with the intention of stealing from you at a later date.
Be very careful, and only accept invitations from someone you know, or is recommended by someone you already know.
Periodically, review your “friends” and group membership lists and delete friends and groups you no longer want.
Delete inactive accounts
Another useful habit is to delete inactive accounts on social media platforms or other websites you no longer use. This can help reduce the number of personal details that are available online.
Opt-out of data brokers
Opt-out of data brokers that collect and sell personal information. You can use online tools such as DeleteMe or PrivacyDuck to help you identify and opt out of data broker websites.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can help you hide your IP address and encrypt your online activity. This can help protect your online privacy and make it harder for websites to track your location and identity.
Be mindful of your online activity
Think twice before posting anything online and take care over the personal information you share. To be anonymous, avoid using your real name or other identifying details, especially in public forums or social media. Remember that email and online blogs are postcards, not letters.
Use privacy settings
Adjust your privacy settings on social media and other online profiles to restrict who can see your posts and personal information. Put as little information as possible on your online profile. That may not be possible in all cases, for example on employment websites.
Remember, while these steps can help minimize your online presence, it is almost impossible to completely erase all traces of your online activity. It’s essential to be careful and thoughtful about what you share online and to take steps to protect your privacy whenever possible.