WASHINGTON — We’re concerned about online privacy, yet we willingly give up so much personal information that we’re unknowingly putting our privacy and security at risk.
But there are ways to hack the hackers.
Online auto marketplace Instamotor said 87 percent of those it recently surveyed believe online data privacy is “very important” to them and 51 percent are concerned about identity theft.
Instamotor suggests several easy steps we can all take to protect our privacy that most of us never think of. One of them has to do with those security questions site registrations often require users to submit answers to — questions like “Where did you go to high school?” or “In what city were you born?”
Make up the answers.
“The reason that they use security questions is because they are easy for you to remember, but if they’re easy for you to remember, then it’s easy for someone to either guess or actually find out that information about you,” said Valintin Gui at Instamotor.
“There’s nothing wrong with putting different information in there. That’s actually going to keep your account more secure than if you put in the real information,” he said.
Even “Your first dog’s name” is sometimes easy for hackers to guess, with a try or two, if it’s common. Of course, the trick is remembering what answers you made up.
Another tip is to always turn on private browsing. All the big browsers have had this feature for years, but few people actually use it.
“Private browsing is really just turning it on and it will delete your cookies and all the data that you’re downloading on your browser when you’re going around,” Gui said. “It’s something that people should be using, but they don’t know about it.”
Another commonly asked verification requirement in online customer service transactions is providing the last four digits of your Social Security number.
While that sounds like you’re not giving up much, Gui said those are actually the worst four numbers to give up.
“The first five digits of a Social Security number are assigned based on the area where you were born, so it’s a lot easier to figure out those numbers. The last four are randomized numbers, and that’s why companies want to use it because it’s unique across a number of people, but by giving it out you’re actually making it much easier for yourself to be identified,” Gui said.
And, when it comes to social media, it’s best not to fill out your profile.
Instamotor said the more information you share online, the easier it is going to be for someone to find it, even if it’s not all in one place. The people who need to know your birth date, email address and phone number already have them.
One more tip about protecting your privacy offline, even if just from marketers, is to say “no” to the cashier.
Stores often ask for your ZIP code when you’re checking out with a credit card. Don’t give it to them, Instamotor advises, unless you want to donate your details to a marketing database. By matching your name with your ZIP code, companies can mine more information about you and match it with your shopping patterns.
This all may sound extreme, but 19 percent of the people in Instamotor’s poll even go as far as to cover up their laptop camera lens. That may not be paranoia. Even Mark Zuckerberg does that.