As the Internet becomes an increasingly integral part of daily life, questions about privacy and security on the Internet are on the rise. Keeping your personal information, private data and finances safe can be difficult, but by following a few tips, you can avoid the vast majority of scams, spyware and privacy breaches.
The best tool to avoid spyware and stay safe on the Internet is your own brain. Free software with no potential upgrades or strings attached, websites that are covered in flashy ads, and free Wi-Fi in an unexpected place are all signs that something may be wrong, and ignoring that intuition can get you in trouble. By staying aware of what you are doing, and thinking about your security while you live your online life, you stand a better chance of avoiding potentially dangerous situations.
The Internet can be dangerous because so many websites require your personal information to either log in to your account or to complete a transaction. Hackers, thieves and spyware programmers realize this and often try to intercept your information during these transactions, so make sure you are always dealing with secure websites and companies. First, only provide your information to reputable businesses, then ensure that the company's website uses a Web address that starts with "https" and has a padlock symbol either in the address bar or at the bottom of the browser. This means that the site encrypts your information, making the data nearly useless to any thieves or hackers who may intercept the transmission.
For most people, a password is the strongest protection to ward off hackers and thieves, and yet so many choose passwords that are barely worth the time it takes to enter them. When creating a password, always use a mix of letters and numbers, and include a symbol if the website allows it. While more difficult to remember, this will make your password almost impossible to guess.
More importantly, you have to use different passwords for different websites. Think about how often you use the same username and password for many online accounts. Hackers specifically target low-security sites to gain access to large lists of usernames and corresponding passwords, knowing that many people use the same combination of credentials for things like online banking.
Additionally, take advantage of any two-factor authentication offered by these sites. This requires not only a password to log in, but a code that's sent to a dedicated device or to your smartphone as an SMS message. This makes it very difficult for a third party to hack into your account.
Spyware probably poses the biggest threat to privacy and security on the Internet, yet so few people really know what it is or how it works. Put simply, spyware is any piece of software that records your actions or information without your knowledge. Some spyware is fairly benign, tracking browsing history and keeping the data it receives anonymous, while other spyware is specifically designed to get your online banking credentials so thieves can clean out your accounts.
Because it's almost impossible to avoid spyware on your own, having anti-spware and antivirus programs running on your computer is a must. These programs will automatically scan any piece of incoming software for malicious signatures and block the installation if the program looks suspect. They'll also scan existing files and monitor Internet traffic to ensure that spyware isn't hiding somewhere on the machine and sending your information to some hacker's terminal.
There are free anti-spyware programs out there, but you have to be careful when trying to save a buck or two — quite a few of these programs are really Trojan horses in disguise, looking to infect your machine instead of protect it. Instead, your best option is to go with an industry leader. These companies have no interest in scamming you, and are big enough to ensure that their databases are constantly updated as new threats emerge. The best options also offer a free trial, so you can see the anti-spyware program in action before paying some of your hard-earned cash.
With all this talk about spyware, hackers and Internet security, it's important to remember that most people with privacy issues on the Internet put themselves in that position. Think about social networking sites and just how much personal information you have posted there. If someone were trying to steal your identity and needed your father's middle name or where you went to elementary school — two commonly used security questions — you need to think about how a thief could locate those facts. If you're concerned about Internet privacy, you have to consider staying away from social networking sites, minimizing the information you put out there, or maximizing privacy settings on these sites.
Complete privacy and security on the Internet is a tough goal to reach, these tips will help you go a long way toward keeping yourself safe. Millions of people use the Internet, and thieves will inevitably go for easy targets. People who give even the smallest amount of thought to security and privacy, and take steps in that regard, will find themselves passed over as thieves search out greener pastures.