Jun 21, 2012

Put Your Best Digital Footprint Forward

The phrase “digital footprint” might not mean much to you right now, but it should. Digital or viral footprint refers to the mass of content on the Internet that can be linked to you and, therefore, located by anyone doing a search on you. The list of possible places for content to be visible is seemingly endless: your wedding video on YouTube, an article mentioning your car accident, spring break photos you might want to forget about…the list goes on. And, most likely, this content will be accessed at some point in your life by an outside source doing an assessment of your character.

A number of user content-based websites have become useful instruments in hiring, making decisions on school admissions, dating choices, purchasing and a number of other important arenas. In fact, CareerBuilder reports that 37% of employers are using social media searches when considering candidates. Facebook posts and Tweets, for example, can now also be used in criminal courts. Simply put, the Internet has a memory, and it never forgets. That can make anything mentioning an individual very important.

More sites are offering stringent privacy settings that allow people to keep their profiles private, or to hide personal information. However useful, and important, these settings are, they don’t do anything to help what you might have already posted.

With so much of our information in so many places online, can we do anything to take care of or clean up our digital footprints?

There are two general areas you’ll want to look when it comes to your viral footprint: the past and the future.

Out with the old: Given that it is the world’s biggest search engine, Google is a great place to start when assessing and fixing your digital footprint. Google yourself and see what comes up. Don’t like something you see? Check out this recent CNET article for instructions to remove unwanted content from Google. This can be a great tool, but remember that this only removes cached content—not live content—from Google search results. It does not remove the actual page from the web. Google also offers services and tools to track and manage reputations, including removal of objectionable content. If you find something on a website about you that you don’t like, directly contact the webmaster and ask for it to be removed.

In with the new: Judging good content from bad isn’t always as easy as it would seem. Companies such as Reputation.com, Veribo and ViralLock are taking new approaches to online reputations. ViralLock, for instance, performs extensive evaluations of various websites for their clients. Then, the experts at ViralLock provide recommendations and continued monitoring to ensure that a young person’s viral footprint reflects what the person wants it to and showcases their good characteristics.

Here are some tips to ensure that your digital footprint is worth seeing:

  • Remember our simple rule of thumb: only post content that you would be ok with showing to your grandmother.
  • Ask before you tag: remind friends and family to be careful when tagging you in photos, or consider asking them not to tag you at all.
  • Follow your gut: if it seems like a bad idea to post a piece of information, it probably is.
  • Own your own privacy: keep your privacy settings up to date and maintain good password security for all the sites you use to ensure nothing illicit is posted using your account.

So next time you post, remember that good online hygiene is essential to keeping your reputation clean and your digital footprints worth following.

Jun 15, 2012

Keeping Dad Happy and Your Wallet Safe

Father’s Day is rapidly approaching. This means we can expect great celebrations, barbeques and great gifts. Many of us will hunt for the best gifts for dad online looking for everything from gadgets to clothes.  Unfortunately, gift giving holidays like Father’s Day also tend to bring out fraudsters and online scammers.

There are thousands of places to find great gifts for dad online and it can be easy to find a great gift on the wrong site.  As we have reported in other blogs about online shopping, carefully choosing sites and methods of transactions can help you ensure that you stay safe and secure online.  Helping all of us, the Better Business Bureau is providing tips on safer shopping that are worth looking at.

According to the annual report on crime and crime statistics by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Americans lost about $485 million last year to scams perpetrated online. Two of the top five crimes reported are connected to shopping online: advanced payment scams and non-delivery of auction items.   An advanced payment scam is when someone pays in advance for an item or service but does not receive anything of value in return. A non-delivery scam is when a consumer purchases something from a site like eBay and does not actually receive the item.

As consumers, we are responsible for making good choices online, but businesses are also responsible for keeping their sites safe. As I wrote in a piece for The Huffington Post last year, there are a number of steps that businesses can take to make sure their sites are secure.  Check to see if the company you are doing business with is doing some of these things.

And here are some tips for you to shop safely:

  • Check addresses carefully. Scammers can fake URLs and web addresses so that they mimic legitimate sites. Check and double check that the URLs are legitimate.
  • Check with the BBB. Run a search for the website you’re thinking of using on The Better Business Bureau’s website to see if the site is known for shady business practices.
  • Consider using payment protection: Using services like PayPal can help keep your information and money secure.
  • Research and use online security tools and services. Some of them are free — a good example is BillGuard, which scans your credit card bills for questionable charges.
  • Do your research. Most scams are talked about on the Internet somewhere. Check out sites and services that track scams like Snopes and scambook.
  • Go with your gut. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Happy holiday shopping!

For more info on online safety, security, and privacy, check back here every week or visit my website.

Jun 8, 2012

LinkedIn Reminds Us – A Different Password for Every Site is Critical

Recent attacks on LinkedIn and eHarmony highlight the importance of different passwords for different sites.  LinkedIn confirmed that there had been a breach in their security whereby hackers stole approximately 6.5 million encrypted passwords.  eHarmony has also announced a breach in their security where 1.5 million passwords were stolen in the attack. Large scale attacks such as these are becoming more common.   Epsilon and a number of other companies, as we have discussed in previous blogs, fell victim to theft as well. In all of this hacking activity, there is one simple lesson – if all your passwords are the same on each site you use and someone fraudulently obtains your login info for one site, they will have obtained access to all your sites in one small coup.

Case in point.  A colleague of mine recently learned a difficult lesson when her computer was stolen from her car. At first, she was mostly concerned about having lost all of the work (she’s a writer) that was stored on her machine. Sadly, there was a lot more than poetry at stake: her entire identity was at risk.

While using one password for all the secure sites she visited seemed smart at the time, it turned out to be a disaster. It was anything but smart. One little password gave the thief access to literally every aspect of her life: banking records, bills, medical records, emails, social networks and more. A simple trick of creating a new password for every important, secure site you visit can keep you from this kind of tragedy.

To put this in perspective, think of what we already do in the real world. We have a different key for everything that matters – house, car, safe-deposit box, gym locker, work, file cabinet, desk drawers, etc. And yet, many of us do what my colleague did — use the same password across multiple websites.

The good news is that creating a more secure cyber life for yourself is not that hard.  Exercise caution in choosing passwords by selecting passwords that can’ t easily be connected to you, like names of loved ones or important dates. If you have a laptop you frequently take out of the house, consider turning off your browsers’ password storage function. You’ll likely find this function in the Tools or Preference menus.

Most importantly, use a different password for every site that matters, just like you do with your keys. Examples of sites that matter are sites for banking, mortgage payments, bill pay services, online shopping, and social media sites. Choosing passwords with combinations of letters and numbers is a good idea.

As I said in a recent Washington Post article talking about the LinkedIn breach, companies also have a role to play in protecting user information.  Companies must think about security and privacy from the moment they begin designing their products to better head-off hacker attacks, particularly as policy-makers push for data breach legislation. If they can make accessing their data too difficult, criminals will head elsewhere.

Thanks to mobile apps, websites and add-ons, tracking so many passwords doesn’t have to be daunting. For example, try using software like Password Locker and the app SecureSafe are great examples of methods to save passwords.

Choosing hack-proof passwords and different log-ins for different sites have saved thousands of people money, time, and hassle by making their personal and financial information that much more secure.

And we can all appreciate a little more security and peace of mind online.

For more of Hemu’s thoughts on safety, security, and privacy, please visit www.hemunigam.com.