You Passed!: A Non-Techies Guide to Online Privacy

We are all aware that we need to be cautious when it comes to sharing our personal details online. However this is harder in practise than in principle – especially if you are not overly au fait with technology. If you still think that cookies are soft chewy baked treats or that encryption is a burial ritual practised by ancient civilisations then this blog post is for you!

Creating Strong Passwords

Whether it is your pets name, your birth date or (worst of all) ‘Password1’, we all tend to gravitate towards certain passwords. To make matters even worse we then tend to use the same passwords for all of our online accounts. There are several factors to consider when trying to create a strong password combination.

The general rule is that the longer the password the better. Most sites will have a minimum requirement but ideally you should aim for at least 12 characters (even if the minimum requirement is 8). Avoid using typical combinations in your password such as 1234 or ABCD. A good tip is to take a memorable phrase and use the first (or last) letter of each word as the basis for your password. The phrase could be ‘happy birthday to you’ which would give you ‘hbty’ as a starting point. Next you could switch out the t of to for a number 2 – hb2y. Next add the type of the site the password is for – hb2yemail. Finally you could add a significant year into the mix (graduation, dads birthday, passed driving test) – hb2y2001email. You could then change the account type depending on the site the password is for– hb2y2001faceb or hb2y2001dropb for Facebook and Dropbox.

Two Step Verification

Two step verification (also called two factor verification) requires you to demonstrate something that you know (a password) and something that you have (your phone) before allowing you to access your accounts. Normally you would go to your log in screen as normal and enter your password. This will prompt a text message to be sent to your phone which contains a PIN number. Only once you have entered both your password and the PIN number will you be granted access to your account. Here is a list of some of the most popular sites that offer two step verification:

-Gmail: Click here to get started with two step for your Gmail account.

-Facebook: Called ‘Log In Approval’, you will be asked to enter a PIN number sent to your phone when accessing Facebook from a new machine. Click here to turn log in approval on.

-Dropbox: As with Facebook, two step verification is prompted when logging into Dropbox on a new machine. Simply go to the security tab in your account setting to turn it on.

Other sites include PayPal, Twitter and Apple.

Last Pass

Last Pass describes itself as an “easy and secure data management service that allows you to effortlessly save, organise and access your log in data”. It is great for those who have trouble remembering lengthy password combinations. Last Pass also allows for secure auto fill of online forms and automatic log in to specified sites. Your account contents are all fully encrypted (converted into secure code and concealed) and Last Pass will even help you to identify any weak security passwords.

Monitor Your Privacy Settings

YouTube – YouTube actually allows you to set your videos as ‘public’, ‘unlisted’ or ‘private’.  All videos are public by default once uploaded. Change the settings by going to ‘video manager’ and ‘privacy settings’ in your account to ensure that only the videos you specify can be seen by everyone.

Facebook – As a default, certain information such as your name, gender, profile picture and account number can be seen by everyone including non-friends. However you can use the ‘audience selector’ tool when editing this information to make it private.

Browser- Depending on what is outlined in their privacy policy, your browser (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and so on) will store certain information about you. Most commonly this will be your IP address (‘a unique identifying number assigned to a device on a computer network’), your browsing history and any search queries you have made. Most browsers will have a setting that can be activated so that your browsing history will be automatically cleared after each session. Another option is to use private browsing so that data about you is not even stored in the first place. In Chrome this is called Incognito, in Internet Explorer it is InPrivate and Private Browsing for those using Firefox.