Tag Archives: online safety

Secure Your Data with a Password Manager

By Tracey Dowdy

Still using your birthday as your password? Your child’s birthday? Your anniversary? That’s what a friend of mine that works in online security refers to as “One, two, three, four, come on hackers, open the door” kind of protection. 

During this season when so many of us are working from home, secure passwords are more important than ever. If you’ve been online for years, the prospect of securing all those accounts may seem daunting. But, the risk of leaving your personal information vulnerable to hackers far outweighs any potential cost or inconvenience. That’s why you need to start using a Password Manager which serves as an encrypted database of all your passwords. Instead of writing them on post-it notes you’ll lose or saving hem in a note or memo on your phone which could be lost, stolen, or hacked, do yourself a favor and remember one – the one that unlocks the vault – your password manager. 

Here are three of the best options out there. 

LastPass remembers all your passwords across devices for free. It’s particularly useful for online shopping as once you’re logged in, LastPass auto-populates all the necessary fields, and allows you to store more than just passwords to your online accounts – you can store insurance cards, memberships, and Wi-Fi passwords and safely share passwords and notes with sensitive information with anyone via encrypted text. There are paid versions, but the free version offers everything the average user will need. 

Zoho Vault is great if you have to share access within a workgroup. Passwords are encrypted with the strongest encryption standard (AES-256); enables you to provide passwords to users and groups in bulk while instantly denying access to any user who is removed; enables direct connection to websites and apps without having to manually enter login credentials; allows you to grant different access privileges to select individuals; and generates reports to keep track of which users have access to various passwords. There are free and paid versions with a 15-day free trial on paid editions.

Dashlane syncs across all your Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices, provides all the essential and advanced password management features of many pricier versions, includes VPN protection, and will even scan the Dark Web for compromised accounts and capture your online shopping receipts. The biggest downside is the cost. Though there is a free version, some of the features users really want are only included in the paid versions, and there is limited support for Internet Explorer users. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Beware Facebook Quizzes

By Tracey Dowdy

Which Disney mom are you? Which Hogwarts house do you belong in? Only a true genius will score 100 percent on this quiz. 

How many times a day do you see a quiz like this pop up in your Facebook feed? You may have even been tempted to test your knowledge or play along because the topis piques your interest. That’s no coincidence. Facebook’s complex algorithms and data-gathering technology have been gathering information on users since it’s inception, and one of the most effective ways is through quizzes. 

According to CBC Information Morning tech columnist Nur Zincir-Heywood, though these quizzes may seem innocuous and fun, taking them leaves you vulnerable to identity theft or fraud. “Never do these,” said Zincir-Heywood, a cybersecurity expert who teaches in the computer science department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

But it’s not just Facebook itself that’s gathering information. Security experts, media literacy groups, The Better Business Bureau, and law enforcement agencies across the country warn that hackers and scammers – not Facebook itself – are behind many of these social media quizzes, collecting, using and profiting from the personal information you share.

Zincir-Heywood cautions that social media quizzes often ask the same questions your financial organizations use for security purposes to verify your identity when you need to change your password or access your account without a password such as your mother’s maiden name or the name of your first pet.

Though the different questions may not all be on the same quiz, multiple quizzes can collect enough information to enable a cybercriminal to access your banking or credit card information.

“Maybe they are watching [your] social media in general, they know your location, they know other things about you,” Zincir-Heywood said. “All of these then put together is a way to collect your information and, in your name, maybe open another account or use your account to buy their own things. It can go really bad.”

She offers the following tips to protect yourself from their more nefarious side of social media quizzes: 

  • Be careful. Just like in real life, nothing is ever really free. Those quizzes offered on social media actually aren’t free, they come with a hefty cost – your personal information is data mined for companies to use in targeted advertising, or for cybercriminals to sell on the dark web.
  • If you can’t resist the temptation, use fake information, especially for sections that ask for similar information to security questions used by your financial institutions. For example, if you are asked, ‘What’s the name of your childhood best friend,’ use a fake name.
  • Remember, once you take these quizzes, you can’t take back the information you’ve provided. Keep a close eye on your online transactions for unusual or unauthorized banking or credit card activity.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Your Smart TV is Watching You

A recent study of smart TV privacy and security by Consumer Reports asked, “How much does your Smart TV know about you?” They looked at several major TV brands: LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL—which use the Roku TV smart TV platform—and Vizio.

Smart TVs connect to the internet, allowing users to stream videos from services such as Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix. Consumer Reports found that all smart TVs can collect and share considerable amounts of personal information about their viewers. Not only that, so can the countless third-party apps that work within the platforms. 

The Oregon office of the FBI released a warning back in December cautioning consumers that some smart TVs are vulnerable to hacking and a number of them have built-in video cameras. The good news is that newer models have eliminated the cameras – Consumer Reports’ labs haven’t seen one in any of the hundreds of new TVs tested in the past two years.

However, privacy concerns are still an issue. Researchers at Northeastern University and Imperial College London discovered that many smart TVs and other internet-connected devices send data to Amazon, Facebook, and Doubleclick, Google’s advertising business. Nearly all of them sent data to Netflix –  even if the app wasn’t installed – or the owner hadn’t activated it. 

A third study, this one conducted by researchers at Princeton and the University of Chicago, looked at Roku and Amazon Fire TV, two of the more popular set-top streaming devices. Testing found the TV’s tracking what their owners were watching and relaying it back to the TV maker and/or its business partners, using a technology called ACR, or “automated content recognition.” There were trackers on 69% of Roku’s channels and 89% of Fire TV’s channels – the numbers are likely to be the same for smart TVs that have Roku’s and Amazon’s native platforms. 

Testing found the TV’s tracking what their owners were watching and relaying it back to the TV maker and/or its business partners, using a technology called ACR, or “automated content recognition.”

On the surface, we love the technology behind ACR because it’s what makes our systems intuitive and recommend other shows we might enjoy watching. The downside is that the same information can be used for targeted advertising or be bundled with other aspects of our personal information to sold to other marketers. 

Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, says “For years, consumers have had their behavior tracked when they’re online or using their smartphones. But I don’t think a lot of people expect their television to be watching what they do.”

If you have privacy concerns about your Smart TV, check the manual on how to revert the device TV to factory settings and set them up again. Be sure to decline to have your viewing data collected.

For a more detailed analysis and instruction on protecting your privacy, check out Consumer Reports story How to Turn Off Smart TV Snooping Features.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Is Google Big Brother-ing You?

By Tracey Dowdy

Did you know that everything you do while you’re signed in to your Google account – and even some things you do when you’re logged off are part of your Google profile? 

That doesn’t just include your Google searches, it includes every song you listen to, Twitter rabbit hole you fall into, cooking video you watch, and even whether you’re using an Android or iOS smartphone. Perhaps even more concerning, Google Maps tracks you wherever you go, remembers the route you take, when you arrive and what time you leave, even if you don’t open the app. 

With everyone from Facebook to Dunkin Donuts admitting they’ve fallen victim to data breaches, Google announced they had created a privacy hub that allows users to access, delete, and limit the data Google can collect from you. The downside is that navigating all the terms and conditions, sorting through what you need and don’t need, and deciding if the features you’ve turned off leave you vulnerable, can be confusing, to say the least. 

These tips will help you sort through the jargon and limit what – and with whom – you’re sharing information.

The first step is to find out what information you consider private GooglTracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.e considers public. 

To see what Google is sharing about you: 

CNET suggests that if your goal is “to exert more control over your data but you still want Google services like search and maps to personalize your results, we recommend setting your data to autodelete after three months. Otherwise, feel free to delete all your data and set Google to stop tracking you. For most of the day-to-day things you do with Google, you won’t even notice the difference.”

  • Open a browser window and navigate to your Google Account page.
  • Enter your username
  • From the menu bar, select Personal info and review the information. At this point, you can change or delete your photo, name, birthday, gender, password, and any other email addresses and the phone number connected to your account. 
  • If you’d like to see what of your information is public, scroll to the bottom and select Go to About me. From here you can edit and delete, though there’s no way to make your account private. 

To review Google’s record of your online activity:

  • Sign in to your Google Account and choose Data & Personalization from the navigation bar.
  • Scroll to Activity Controls and select Web & App Activity to see a list of all your activities that Google has logged.
  • If you want Google to stop tracking your web and image searches, browser history, map searches and directions, and interactions with Google Assistant, uncheck both boxes. Otherwise, move on to the next step.
  • Next, click Manage Activity. This page displays all the information Google has collected on you from the activities mentioned in the previous step, dating back to when created your account.
  • You can set Google to automatically delete this kind of data either every three or every 18 months by selecting “Choose to delete automatically” and choose your timeframe. 
  • You can opt to delete part of all of your activity history manually. On the activity bar, go to Delete activity and choose either Last hour, Last day, All-time or set a Custom range.
  • Once you choose an autodelete setting or manually select which data you want to be deleted, a popup will appear and ask you to confirm.
  • To make sure your new settings are saved, go to Manage Activity and make sure whatever’s there (remember, if you deleted it all there shouldn’t be anything there) only goes back the three or 18 months depending on what timeframe you selected in step 5.

Access Google’s record of your location history

  • Sign in to your Google Account and choose Data & Personalization from the navigation bar.
  • Scroll to Activity controls and select Location History to see a list of all your location data that Google has logged.
  • If you want Google to stop tracking your location, toggle off.
  • Next, click Manage Activity. This page displays all the location information Google has collected on you as a timeline and a map, including places you’ve visited, the route you took there and back, as well as frequency and dates of visits.
  • To permanently delete all location history, click on the trash can icon and choose Delete Location History when prompted.
  • If you want to be sure your location data disappeared, start over with Activity Controls in step 2, then after Manage Activity in set 4 make sure the timeline in the upper left corner is empty and there are no dots on the map indicating your previous locations.

Manage your YouTube search and watch history

Again, CNET recommends setting YouTube “to purge your data every three months. That’s just long enough that YouTube’s recommendations will stay fresh, but doesn’t leave a years-long trail of personal data lingering behind.”

 

  • 1. Sign in to your Google Account and choose Data & Personalization from the navigation bar.

 

  • Scroll to Activity controls and select YouTube History to see a list of all your location data that Google has logged.
  • If you want Google to stop tracking your YouTube search and viewing history completely, turn off the toggle on this page.
  • Next, click Manage Activity – a comprehensive list of every search you’ve ever made and every video you’ve ever watched 
  • To set Google to automatically delete your YouTube data either every three or every 18 months, select “Choose to delete automatically” and select your timeframe.
  • To delete part or all of your activity history, on the navigation bar choose “Delete activity by” and choose either “Last hour,” “Last Day,” “All time” or “Custom range.”
  • Once you choose which data to delete, a popup will appear and ask you to confirm. 
  • To make sure your YouTube data is gone, start over with Activity Controls in step 2, then after Manage Activity in step 4 make sure whatever’s there (remember, if you deleted it all there should be nothing) only goes back the three or 18 months you selected in step 5.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

 

Just How Safe Are You When You Go Online?

By Megan Valente

I’d say that my bed is easily my favorite place in the world. It’s where I get a lot of my work done, a good night’s sleep, and binge watch all of my Netflix. However, I’ve slowly come to realize over the years that I might not even be safe in my own room. People can remotely access all of your information that you unknowingly give out online, even if you’re innocently clicking away at your keyboard in the comfort of your own room. Take a few extra steps to stay safe this holiday season:

Privacy
Keep your public life private. Yes it is ironic, but also extremely important. Someone can easily click onto your social media page and know everything about you and your family within the first 120 seconds. They can see your friends, where you went to school, your interests, and where/when you travel if you like to ‘check-in’ to places. Hmm, that’s not creepy at all.

Passwords
Once upon a time, all of my passwords were the same. It wasn’t until I got an email from a company telling me someone was trying to hack my accounts that I realized how dangerous that was. A great method to create a good password is to come up with a sentence you’ll remember, but only use the first letter of each word. Now all of my passwords are unique and secure, Just make sure to write them down so you don’t forget them all like I did!

Webcams
Apparently webcam hacking is a thing, but this scares me the least of all. Go ahead, hack into my webcam. All you’ll see is me aggressively staring at my screen for hours, writing a paper or crying about said paper. But if you do actually care about that sort of thing, webcam covers are sold and suggested. If you don’t want to spend the money on that, you can even use part of a sticky note. Pick a neon color to add some style to your safety!

Photos
You shouldn’t only be worrying about the unflattering double-chin photo you were tagged in last week. Someone can type your name at random into the search bar and find out what you look like, who your friends are (by who is in the photo), and countless other things about you. A picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure you know what those words say before posting anything online.

Public Internet
You know that little pop-up notice about a server not being secure on a w-fi network? Everyone I know quickly dismisses it so they can log onto their Facebook page faster, but it is indeed there for a reason. As much as I don’t care about someone seeing that I’m looking at pictures of dogs on public Wi-Fi, I do care when I pull things up with sensitive information. There is a time and a place for everything, so do your e-banking at home.

Are we really as safe as we would like to think? Don’t let someone steal your identity because you didn’t set some time aside to protect yourself. May your passwords be strong, your Wi-Fi secure, and your bed as safe as ever!

Megan Valente is a lifestyle blogger and barista and is currently attending Montclair State University. Follow her on Twitter at @TheDayILived

 

Dealing With Sexting

May I say how glad I am that there were no smartphones when I was a teenager. A cell phone? Sure, that would have been great, but a smartphone with a camera? I shudder at the thought. Fortunately for my generation, most of our bad decisions are just foggy memories or yellowing photos forgotten in a shoe box.

Not so for this generation. Cell phones are in the hands, backpacks or pockets of 78 percent of American teens. And not just any old cell phones. At least 47 percent are smartphones, which translates to having the Internet in all its unfiltered glory in those hands, backpacks and pockets. Teens are free to search and send anything – literally anything – they choose, including sexually explicit texts and images.

So, what do you do if you discover your child has been involved in sexting? First of all, if you suspect your teen is using his/her phone for sexting, do something. You are the parent and it is your responsibility to protect your child whether they are the one sending the inappropriate content or receiving it from friends. You do your best to monitor your home computer, the movies they see, and the games they play. Why is their phone exempt from the same level of scrutiny? Respect for privacy is important, but safety is a much greater priority.

Start with a conversation. Don’t lecture or accuse, but be honest about the risks and responsibilities. Agree to setting boundaries, with the understanding that you’ll be checking in from time to time. And don’t be afraid to follow up. Fear that mom or dad will find out isn’t the best reason for making a decision, but it’s saved more than one child from making poor decisions.

Second, if your suspicions are true and your child has been sexting, don’t panic. You were once a teenager and made mistakes. Teens make impulsive choices all the time, this one just has more potential for serious trouble.

Use this as a teachable moment. When your children were little, you disciplined to change behavior, not just punish, and the same rules apply here. You want to help them not to make the same mistake again. Accountability is crucial. They may not be able to undo what they’ve already done, but they can take responsibility for their actions.

It’s important that impulse-driven teens learn consequences. If the situation warrants, consider taking away the smartphone. If you’re uncomfortable with your teen being less accessible, give them a phone without internet access or texting capability. It may feel like a life threatening loss to them, but it’s a lesson not soon forgotten.

If you know sexting is a problem and you’ve exhausted other options, software is available that allows you to monitor your child’s cell phone activity remotely. All incoming and outgoing calls, texts, email and web browsing activities are tracked.

Next, if the content is shared, act quickly. If it’s been shared via social media, contact the site and report it. If the images have been shared at school, contact the principal and other authorities, so they are fully aware of the situation and can act in accordance with school policies. Be aware of the laws in your state. Sharing sexually explicit images of underage individuals is a serious crime. If the image has gone viral, contact local law enforcement so they too can act.

If your child is the victim, track everything. Take screen shots of messages on social media, chat rooms, or via text. You will want a virtual paper trail of the harassment so you have evidence for the authorities.

Also, if your child is the victim, encourage your child not to respond to the abuse. It rarely helps and often leads to further harassment. Don’t reply to emails or texts. Block those who are engaging in the bullying and take down your child’s social media profiles. Stay offline. Later, at a time when you and your child feel safe, you can start over with a fresh profile with stringent privacy settings.

Finally, if it’s all too much and you or your child feels overwhelmed, get help. The constant abuse and bullying may result in anxiety and depression, leaving scars that last a lifetime.

Parenting is a whole new game than when our parents were raising us. Who knew the 70’s and 80’s would seem like the 50’s did for our parents? Each generation faces challenges unheard of for the generation before. If our kids are going to be ready for the challenges of raising our grandkids, it’s up to us to start planting those seeds of common sense and restraint now.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.