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7 Things You Should Never Do Online

Think you’re staying safe online? The head of Intel’s enterprise security initiatives thinks you might be wrong.

7 Things You Should Never Do Online
[Photo: Flickr user Montecruz Foto]

Most of us are familiar with the conventional wisdom about protecting our privacy online: Don’t enter personal or credit card information into sketchy web sites. Hide birthdates and other information scammers can use to steal your identity.

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But, like a game of Whack-a-Mole, new privacy concerns pop up virtually every day. As the the senior vice president and general manager for the Intel Security’s Endpoint Security Business, it’s part of Candace Worley’s job to identify those threats and help people and enterprises avoid them.

“It’s astonishing what people will do online that they’d never do if a live person was standing there,” Worley says.

She adds that people hand over information about themselves freely, even when they should know better—it even happens in her family despite her job title and frequent reminders. If you want to shore up your online privacy protection, she says it’s important to avoid engaging in these seven risky behaviors.

1. Posting sensitive photos

We all love to post photos of our vacations, children, and happy times in our lives, with little regard for the price we pay in compromised privacy, Worley says. But you need to think about the price you might potentially pay for being so open. Photos posted while you’re on vacation announce to your community that you’re not home. And photos of children may end up in unsavory places. Worley points to reports about a Utah woman who posted family photographs of her children on Instagram, only to find they had been stolen and posted on child pornography web sites.

2. Downloading grabby apps

If there’s an app for that, it might know more about you than you’d like, Worley says. A February 2014 Intel report found that:

  • 82% of apps were reading the device identification
  • 64% knew who your carrier was
  • 59% track you last known location
  • 55% were continuously tracking your location
  • 26% run the apps you use
  • 26% knew your SIM card number
  • 36% knew your account number for your account information

Be sure you know what the app is reading and, if it’s gaining access to too much information, don’t download it, she says.

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3. Letting Your Kids Go Online, Then Paying Your Bills

If the kids use your computer to explore gaming, free music, or other sites that are known for malware and then you do your online banking, you may put your accounts at risk, Worley says. If you bank or manage investment accounts online, she recommends using a designated computer that isn’t online constantly, which also increases the risk of hacking and possible identity theft.

4. Clicking on email message links

Worley and her husband were waiting for a shipment of garden equipment when they got an email message from FedEx. Or, so it seemed. When he clicked on the link, it took him to a different web site that downloaded a root kit—typically malicious software that can give hackers access to your computer and information. She was able to find and eradicate it, but it just goes to show that you must be vigilant, she says. Instead of clicking on links, which might not take you to the site indicated by the hyperlink text, copy and paste the text into a browser, even if you trust the sender, she says.

5. Sharing vices

That shot of you smoking on your last girls’ night out or the shot of you and your buddies out for a night of cocktails? It’s not a great idea to make those public, she says. Sure, people might not think it’s a big deal now, but as more data is stored about you by various companies, you never know what the long-term consequences might be, she says.

“If a certain food type would have caused health issues, [data storage companies] will be able to draw some of those conclusions about you, and it could have consequences for individuals,” she says. (Think: Higher rates on life insurance, for example.)

6. Taking quizzes

What Disney princess are you? What historical figure were you in a past life? While quizzes can be a fun diversion, there are reports that some are collecting more than your goodwill. By revealing information about yourself and your personal preferences, you may be inadvertently feeding information about yourself to marketers and data companies, Worley says. If you can’t resist, be sure you look at who created the quiz. If the quiz asking “What Game of Thrones” character are you?” is on the HBO home page, the information is probably being used more appropriately than if some unknown developer created the quiz.

7. Using free Wi-Fi

The next time you log on to the coffee shop’s free Wi-Fi, don’t ignore that little notice that tells you others might be able to see what you’re viewing, because that’s true, Worley says. If you log on to a free wifi account and then do your banking or buy something online, you may put yourself at risk for being scammed. Worley says she always uses her phone as a mobile hot spot when she’s conducting bank or other sensitive transactions on the go.

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Most of all, Worley says, trust your gut. If a web site or email message looks sketchy, ditch it and scan for viruses and malware, she says.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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