Online Security & Safety Measures

Protecting Your Information Online

Because of it's accessibility and wealth of information, the internet is a popular resource for communicating,researching topics, and finding out information about people or businesses. There is a sense of anonymity when interacting online that may seem less intimidating than communicating with others on a more personal level. As a result, it's very typical for us to share information about ourselves online that we wouldn't otherwise disclose to strangers we meet everyday in our daily routine. What you may not realize is that when you are online, it's just as easy for people to find out information about you as it is for you to find information about them. 

ID theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission, millions of people become victims every year. To an identity thief, your personal information can provide instant access to your financial accounts, your credit record, and other assets. Keeping your personal information from falling into the wrong hands will help you from becoming another identity theft victim.

Follow these steps to protect your personal information online:
  • Take stock. Know what personal information you have in your files and on your computers.
  • Back up key files. If you have important files stored on your computer, copy them onto a removable disc and store it in a safe place.
  • Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Keep them properly configured and up to date. New threats are discovered every day, and keeping your software updated is one of the easier ways to protect yourself from an attack.
  • Set your computer to automatically update for you. Use security software that updates automatically.
  • Install a firewall and keep it properly configured
  • Regularly install updates for your computer's operating system
  • If you are shopping online, don't provide your personal or financial information through a company's website until you have checked for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a website URL that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure").
  • Read website privacy policies. They should explain what personal information the website collects, how the information is used, and whether it is provided to third parties.  
  • Use passwords that have at least eight characters and include numbers or symbols. The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack. A 12-character password is stronger than one with eight characters.
    • Avoid common words: some hackers use programs that can try every word in the dictionary.
    • Don't use your personal information, your login name, or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords.
    • Change your passwords regularly (at a minimum, every 90 days).
    • Don't use the same password for each online account you access.

Use the internet as a tool to keep yourself well informed of ways in which people may be able  to access your personal information and accounts through means such as:

Spyware: A software program that may be installed on your computer without your consent to monitor your use, send pop-up ads, redirect your computer to certain websites, or record keystrokes, which could lead to identity theft. Clues that spyware is on a computer may include a barrage of pop-ups, a browser that takes you to sites you don't want, unexpected toolbars or icons on your computer screen, keys that don't work, random error messages, and sluggish performance when opening programs or saving files. In some cases, there may be no symptoms at all.

To lower your risk of spyware infections:
  • Update your operating system and Web browser software, and set your browser security high enough to detect unauthorized downloads.
  •  Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly. 
  • Download free software only from sites you know and trust. Enticing free software downloads frequently bundle other software, including spyware.
  •  Don't click on links inside pop-ups.
  •  Don't click on links in spam or pop-ups that claim to offer anti-spyware software; you may unintentionally be installing spyware.
  • If you think your computer might have spyware on it, immediately stop shopping, banking, or doing any other online activity that involves user names, passwords, or other sensitive information. Confirm that your security software is active and current and run it to scan your computer for viruses and spyware, deleting anything the program identifies as a problem.

Phishing: A scam in which criminals send email, text, or pop-up messages that appear to come from your bank, a government agency, an online seller or another organization with which you do business. The message asks you to click to a website or call a phone number to update your account information or claim a prize or benefit. It might suggest something bad will happen if you don't respond quickly with your personal information. In reality, legitimate businesses should never use email, pop-ups, or text messages to ask for your personal information.
To avoid phishing scams: 
  • Don't reply to an email, text, or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, and don't click on links in the message. If you want to go to a bank or business's website, type the web address into your browser yourself.
  • Don't respond if you get a message – by email, text, pop-up or phone – that asks you to call a phone number to update your account or give your personal information to access a refund. If you need to reach an organization with which you do business, call the number on your financial statement, or use a telephone directory.

* If you believe you've been scammed, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at, and then visit the FTC's identity theft website at of phishing can become victims of identity theft.

As a general practice, let your common sense guide your decisions about what to post online. Before you publish something on the internet, determine what value it provides and consider the implications of having the information available to the public. 

*October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, to bring attention to the importance of protecting your information online. Visit the FAQ at to learn about common online threats and resources for protecting your privacy and security.


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