Do I Really Need To Care About My Privacy Online?


When the privacy of your Internet activity is in question, be very afraid. Your information, be it financial or personal, is of high value to cybercriminals. In this era, consumers are more than willing to share their private information just for...

Author: Ian Musyoka
Category: Software
Author: Ian Musyoka
Category: Software



Online privacy seems almost non-existence when you factor in this age of likes, shares, tweets, and hashtags. Now more than ever, the activities of our daily lives are shared through social media. The worst part is that we are giving out this information voluntarily. 

 

When the privacy of your Internet activity is in question, be very afraid. Your information, be it financial or personal, is of high value to cybercriminals. In this era, consumers are more than willing to share their private information just for the convenience of using technology. Governments and corporations, at the same time, are monitoring our activities; this has already been accepted as a part of modern life. 

 Do I Really Need To Care About My Privacy Online?

Many people make the assumption that their browsing activity is what needs to be protected. This may carry some truth, but the most important thing to protect is your identity and your activities. In this article, I will explain some of the reasons why privacy is important, the fate of stolen data and methods of protecting your privacy. 

Do I Really Need To Care About My Privacy Online?

Why is Privacy Important?

 

Based on our human nature, we all have secrets. Secrets have many facets depending on the person; it could be sensitive data about your family, medical records, salary, drugs, or even your bank account details. Secrecy is not bad. There are a number of things that are better kept hidden than broadcasted for the whole world. This is why efforts to protect our privacy are important. 

 

Data is of high value on the internet; it is stolen, collected, analyzed, and sold. When your identity is stolen, hackers may be able to access your private information and even masquerade as you. Your data is used to prove who you are, from banking records, passports, home loans, and medical records among others. If this information is stolen, it can compromise your reputation as well as your identity. Yet, many data collection methods exist on the internet. Here are a few examples:

 

  • Online tracking- Almost all the prominent sites keep track of your online activities. This type of technology can track and compile your activities from site to site and store the information in a database. Real names are not used for tracking, numerical identifiers are. With this information, websites have the power to personalize the information they present to you online. 
  • Cookies- While visiting different websites, some might deposit information about your visit to your hard drive in a form called ‘cookies.’ These are bits of information that are sent to a user’s browser through a web server. Information contained in cookies includes user preferences, registration identification, login credentials, and shopping information among others. This information is saved by the browser and sent back to the server when you make another site visit. The cookies can then be used to either track different pages accessed by the user or for display customization. 
  • Fingerprinting- A summary of the hardware and software settings of a computer is the device fingerprint. Each device has a characteristic that makes it unique, from clock settings, software and fonts. Your computer broadcasts these details when you make an online visit. These details are then collected and connected to identify a unique ‘fingerprint’ for your device. When an identifying number is assigned to the fingerprint, it can be used for the same purpose as a cookie. 
  • Mobile applications- Mobile applications have replaced a lot of the uses Internet browsers were meant for. An app is a downloadable program that users can access directly on their devices. There is an app for almost anything you want to do or learn. Unfortunately, all sorts of data are collected by apps and transmitted to the maker and/or third-party companies. This data can be sold or shared. Examples of data collected by apps are calendar data, call logs, browsing data, location information, email and phone number, and device IDs. 

 

Some of the information carried by the aforementioned methods may not seem enough to trouble you. However, a combination of bits and pieces from each is enough to sink a business if it falls into the wrong hands. A hacker can easily gain access to this data and use it to carry out different types of exploits. 

 

The Fate of Stolen Data

 

As mentioned earlier, data is very valuable, thus expensive. It can also be sold legally too. Nowadays, a number of companies under the title ‘data brokers’ collect and preserve the data of millions of users. These companies analyze this data, package it, and sell it to companies without the knowledge or permission of the user. Data brokers do this for a number of reasons: direct marketing, credit risk assessment, and targeted advertisements. 

 

Cybercriminals can, however, decide to use this data for other purposes if they get a hold of it. It all depends on the type of information that was stolen. 

Do I Really Need To Care About My Privacy Online?

 

 

1. Personal Identifiable Information (PII)

 

This is data that can be used to locate, identify, or contact a specific target. PII can range from addresses, social security numbers, names, birth dates, phone numbers, and any data that may be useful in identifying a person. This is one of the most sought out data by cybercriminals because of its versatility. Once marketing firms get a hold of this information, the victim might be a target of spam campaigns. On the other hand, attackers may decide to impact the victim more directly. This can be through loan or credit card applications, and fraudulent tax returns via the victim’s name. 

 

2. Healthcare Information

 

This is data used by an individual to acquire medical services. It may hold information about or related to medical insurance and hospital records. Similar to PII, healthcare holds a lot of individual’s personal information. A hacker with this information can decide to buy prescription drugs using your name, especially the ones that are hard to get over the counter. Therefore, your name and private information can be used to fuel drug abuse without your knowledge. 



3. Financial Information

 

Financial information refers to data that is used to keep a record of the financial activities of both individuals and groups. Such information may include insurance details, billing accounts, banking information, or any information that is useful for the access and processing of monetary transactions. 

 

When this kind of information falls into the wrong hands, businesses and individuals can easily be run to the ground or sustain a lot of losses. Financial information can be used to perform fraudulent transactions, pay bills and transfer money to other bank accounts. Some cybercriminals go the extra mile of creating counterfeit credit cards from harvested information for their personal use. 

 

4. Payment Card Information

 

Data that is found in payment cards of individuals is known as payment card information. Examples of such information include debit card data, credit card data and other related information. Payment card information is similar to financial information; they can both greatly affect a user’s finances. However, this information may pose a greater danger than financial information because it can be used for online transactions and immediate purchases. The damage is greater based on the kind of purchase permissions the card has. 




5. User Credentials

 

This is data that is used to verify that the user is really who they claim to be. An example is email passwords and usernames, as well as login credentials of online shopping. Compared to PII, theft of private user credentials poses more risks because the online accounts of the victim are at risk of being used maliciously. Apart from the theft of intellectual property, social media accounts and emails can be used for phishing and spam attacks. 

 

All these types of information are interrelated. If a set of data is stolen from your healthcare records, there is a huge chance that other types of information (such as financial and user) have been compromised. 

 

How to Protect Your Privacy

 

Your password is the key to your digital existence. Hackers have multiple methods that they apply to try and crack them. Using strong, complex passwords makes this very difficult for them. You can do this by combining symbols, numbers, lower and uppercase letters, and ensuring your passwords are at least eight characters long. Making use of two-factor authentication to verify your identity is also a smart move. Moreover, regardless of the convenience and the time saves, never save your passwords on your device. 

 

Make sure you keep track of your digital footprint. Even if you delete the content you already posted online, the footprint will not be erased. A digital footprint can be compared to a paper trail. Anything you post online, from photos to videos to forum registrations leaves chunks of your personal data online. 

 

When using the different types of apps at your disposal, be sure to understand the privacy settings that come with it. This will give you an understanding of the amount and type of information that you are giving out. If possible, choose to share the least amount of data. Be cautious when revealing your name and location, and deny access to your camera and recorder. While using social media, beware of the people you share the information with. Most sites have the option of limiting the people you share the information with. Be sure to tune those settings to friends and people you trust. 

 

Do not overlook backing up your data. Hackers can use ransomware to hold your data from you. In addition, purchase a security software that protects you both offline and online. You can use Windows Defender or result in a third-party application. A good example is Norton Security. Phones need to be secured just as much as laptops and desktops, and the latter can do a good job at that as well. 

 

Do I Really Need To Care About My Privacy Online?

Conclusion

 

Your information is of high value to a hacker. Your browsing activity may be a target for cybercriminals but your identity matters more to them. Due to the nature of secrecy of humans, we need to protect some of the information we have. Your data is a summary of your identity; if this data is compromised, your reputation and identity might be ruined. Some of the methods used to collect data online include fingerprinting, cookies, mobile apps, and online tracking. You can protect your privacy by using strong passwords, backing up your data, monitoring your digital footprint, and being aware of your privacy settings.