National Correspondent Katie Kenny has gathered some tips to help you and your family stay safe online this silly season.
Most of us could be doing more to keep ourselves safe on the internet. The Christmas break is both an information sharing minefield and an opportunity to improve our online security.
We’re all being tracked. Every time we swipe our bank card, upload a photo to Facebook, watch a video on YouTube, use a loyalty discount, hand over a prescription, read an article online, we’re giving ourselves away. This detailed, digital record of our lives is a valuable commodity. It can also threaten our safety if it’s misused or gets into the wrong hands.
When he first started as a private investigator 18 years ago, Reon Viles, of Wellington Investigations, spent a lot of time searching through physical documents for clues about his targets. Today, he grabs his smartphone and asks for a first and last name. Any name. Within seconds, he’s tracked down a stranger’s current and previous addresses. (She doesn’t own a home and has never dealt with the Tenancy Tribunal.)
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“These are just online forms that the person we’re looking for has filled in without knowing where that information is going to end up,” Viles says. It’s a reminder to always ask, when handing over personal details, why those details are needed and who will have access to them.
“Ask what they’re going to do with your information and how they’re going to look after it,” he says. “The more precautions you take, the safer you’re going to be in the long run.”
When asked how often he comes across someone without an online footprint, he says: “Never.”
As an investigator, he has access to more sources of information than the average person. But most of us underestimate how much our social media accounts and other publicly available documents reveal, he says. “I fully recommend people at least make some attempt to lock down their information.”
PASSWORDS AND PRIVACY SETTINGS
When it comes to improving your online security, it’s vital to start with strong, unique passwords.
Analysis by the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre found “123456” was the most widely used password on breached accounts, appearing in more than 23 million passwords. The second most popular string was “123456789” and others in the top five included “qwerty”, “password”, and “1111111”.
It should go without saying, but, don’t be like those people.
Just as bad is using the same password — no matter how strong — across multiple sites. Mastercard country manager Ruth Riviere recommends using a password manager to generate and store different passwords. A good password manager, such as 1Password or LastPass, will also offer automated breach alerts.
You unlock your manager with a so-called master password. Without going into details, it’s worth knowing that even if 1Password or LastPass get hacked, your passwords will remain encrypted (unreadable) to anyone who doesn’t have your master password.
While we’re on the subject of passwords; try to enable two-factor authentication where possible.
Two-factor authentication simply adds another layer of security if your password becomes compromised. For example, step one is entering your log-in details on a website and step two is entering a code sent to your phone via text message, mobile app, or security key. Last year, Google revealed more than 90 per cent of its Gmail users don’t use two-factor authentication.
If you have some down-time, perhaps spend it doing privacy and security audits on your social media accounts. Explore the settings and see if you can further lock down things like who can see your posts, friends lists, and tag you in images.
While online shopping is “fantastic” in that it gives Kiwis access to a wider range of products and services, Riviere says fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated in how they operate.
“Don’t give details to parties you don’t recognise, and check your transactions regularly,” she advises. “And if you think you’ve been scammed, get in touch with your bank and change your password as soon as possible.”
The Domain Name Commission’s ShopSafeNZ campaign aims to raise awareness of fake webshops during the Christmas shopping period. Commissioner Brent Carey has three top tips for online shoppers. First, check the validity of the website via the internet’s archive known as the Wayback Machine. If the website’s homepage vastly differs over time, that can be a warning sign.
Second, look at whether the domain name matches the service or product for sale. For example, why would “Maria’s Christmas Deli” be selling sunglasses?
Finally, search the domain name at dnc.org.nz and check for red flags in the registrant’s personal information fields (especially discrepancies between where a website says it’s based and the country listed).
Before spending up large, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards encourages Kiwis to check the accuracy of their credit records. (There are three main credit reporting companies in New Zealand: Centrix, Equifax and Illion.)
SHARE LESS, STRESS LESS
Edwards’ second point is simple but often hard to follow, especially when we’re wanting to share Christmas celebrations: “Think before you post. About yourself and others. Yes, it might be funny, but would you want it shared online if it was about you?”
The holidays are also a good time to educate children about appropriate use of social media, says Department of Internal Affairs digital safety director Jolene Armadoros. “The internet brings a lot of benefit, but there are also risks. Taking responsibility for your child’s online activity can help minimise these risks and ensure your kids have positive online experiences.”
Set boundaries for children and make a plan so they know what to do if something goes wrong.
“The best way to ensure your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they’re doing. Spend time with your children while they’re online, have them show you what they do and ask them to teach you how to access the services.”
As for Viles’ top tip for safer online behaviour? Stop taking so many selfies. A quick outfit snap before heading out can reveal more than intended through background details such as certificates on walls, mail on tables, even clothing brands and sizes.
“That can give you a little bit of information about where they’ve been and what they do. You’re just heightening the chances that someone’s going to build a relationship with you that you have no relationship with.”
TELL SCAMS TO SCRAM
Scams abound at this time of year. As with shopping online, stick with reputable websites when booking holidays, NetSafe says. And use payment systems rather than paying individuals directly on sites such as Airbnb.
Scammers take advantage of the season of giving by misusing legitimate charities’ names or by creating bogus ones. To make sure your money is going to a real charity, check it’s listed in the Charities Register.
NetSafe also recommends telling your friends and family of your holiday plans (privately, of course) so they’re not at risk of falling for “I’m stuck in Egypt please send money” social media scams.
And any offer that seems too good to be true, probably is.
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