It’s a Jungle Out There! Privacy and Security in the Digital Age

Choose Privacy logoNo, I’m not talking about the Amazon  jungle or your home security system. I’m talking about our everyday experience with modern technology: a smart phone, a tablet or a computer. Actually, before we go any further, let me ask you a question. Are you concerned about your Internet privacy and security? Do you worry about putting too much personal information online? If you said “Yes,” chances are that you’re (like me) a middle-aged person. If you said “No,” you are more likely to be younger than me (and probably much, much younger :-)). Still, despite our age differences, we are in the same “digital boat,” my friends, even if you do not think so.

Consider this: computers can permanently store every message, every photo and every update. Microsoft reports that 75 percent of its U.S. recruiters and human resources officers now do online research about candidates, often using information provided by search engines, social-networking sites, photo/video-sharing sites, personal websites, blogs and Twitter. So, if you brag about your “night life” on the Internet, it can potentially catch up with you when you need it the least. And what about those special announcements? You got engaged? Congratulations! You bought a $10,000 engagement ring for your bride and posted a picture of it on Facebook? Not a wise move, considering your future wife’s security and also the fact that you may have to ask your friends (or relatives) for money one day :-(. Now, put this together with the fact that many commonly used communication devices may be mapping your every move, and you have a true nightmare scenario.

Well, I do not want to scare anybody. I just want to bring the issue of Internet privacy and security to your attention, as well as inform you that the week of May 1-7 is “Choose Privacy Week,” sponsored by the American Library Association. Why do libraries care about patron privacy? Because we always have, even before the Internet. In fact, to help our patrons navigate this “virtual” world, the library offers a “Surf the Web Safely” program. The next one is happening on June 5. Can’t make it that day? Let me give you a quick run-down.

Let’s start with your computer. Do you have any anti-virus and anti-spam software on your Windows computer? If you don’t, consider installing Microsoft Security Essentials, a free anti-virus and anti-spam program. Also, take a look at Spybot Search & Destroy, free anti-malware software. Worried about your smart phone or tablet? Your iPad is safe when it comes to viruses, although you have to be careful connecting to a strange Wi-Fi network. If you have an Android device, you may need “Lookout Security and Antivirus,” a free app from Google Play, and you should also read this post from AndroidForums.

Now that we’ve discussed how to protect your devices, let’s talk about your Internet practices. Is your password secure? A good place to learn about choosing a good password is the Microsoft Safety and Security Center. As for securing your personal information, don’t forget to protect yourself from phishing. How? NEVER respond to an email requesting personally identifiable information, like your password, your PIN number, etc. NEVER click on the link provided in an unsolicited email. And NEVER fill out a web form included in an email message.

Pharming is another thing you need to be aware of. What to do about that? Well, check your (and the sender’s) spelling and grammar and don’t run programs from untrusted sources. Develop good email etiquette, too: strip out addresses when forwarding and NEVER open attachments from people you don’t know. Don’t be a spammer, either. Do not forward messages without checking (this way you won’t be spreading hoax information) and NEVER EVER click “unsubscribe” in an email you suspect to be spam.

And, last but not least, report security incidents to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and, of course, always use your common sense. As the proverb goes, “A handful of common sense is worth of a bushel of learning.”

Special thanks to MOREnet (Missouri Research and Education Network) for many of the security tips provided in this article.

About Svetlana Grobman

Svetlana is a librarian and a freelance writer. Find more about Svetlana at
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