Computers can pose a significant threat to personal privacy -- especially shared computers in Internet cafes, libraries and other public locations. Computers are commonly used to communicate personal information, such as conversations between individuals, banking information, usernames and passwords and other sensitive data. Computer usage can also open the door to identity theft and fraud, so it's important to always be vigilant when conducting transactions online.
If you use public computers to log in to email, online banking, instant messaging or any other personal account, ensure that you log out completely before leaving the computer. Other people can easily access personal information if you leave your accounts logged in, change your password and even steal personal information. Clear your Internet history or browse the Web in private mode if you must use a public computer to access personal information. Never leave a public computer if you're still logged in to any personal account.
Public Internet Connections
If you connect your personal computer to an open Wi-Fi network, you take the chance of exposing personal information to the public. Unsecured wireless networks can be used to steal passwords, banking information, Social Security numbers and other information that can be used for identity theft. When connecting to a public hot spot, ensure that the network has a password unique for your Internet session, even if you have to pay for access. If you have access to a virtual private network, connect to the VPN to encrypt the data that's sent and received over the public network. If possible, don't conduct any financial transactions over a public network; save them for when you have access to a secured Internet connection at home.
Viruses, Malware and Spyware
Always make sure you have a firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware protection on any personal computer you connect to the Internet. Viruses, malware and spyware programs can make their way onto your computer without your knowledge when you download email attachments, browse unsafe websites or install untrusted software. These security threats can give hackers access to your usernames and passwords, financial information and personal files stored on your hard drive. The information can be used to steal your identity, access personal websites or aid in sending spam. Keep your anti-virus definitions updated and run a full virus scan on a regular basis.
Protecting your privacy on the computer and Internet will take some work on your part. In addition to installing a firewall and anti-virus software, change your passwords on a regular basis. Don't use common words found in the dictionary or birthdays for personal passwords; they're too easy for hackers to guess. Stick to random upper and lowercase characters, numbers and symbols, and don't use the same password across multiple sites. Keep your computer's operating system updated, and don't connect to unsecured open Wi-Fi networks without using a VPN.
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