Life with MS

Privacy and Security in the Digital Age

By Joanne Fortunato
Identity theft is a major concern in today's digital world. Whether you shop online or not, it’s possible that companies have and store your information online. And although you do not have control over how these institutions use your data, you do have control over how you use and store your data on your mobile device. Here are some simple steps to make your information more secure, starting with your home Internet connection. Keep in mind, using the Internet at coffee shops, stores, and other commercial places has risks, and while there is no foolproof way to be one hundred percent secure, there are ways to minimize your risk.
How your home connection works
Only special computers called servers can connect directly to the World Wide Web. You pay TimeWarner, Dish or other Internet service providers for this service, usually per month. To connect to an ISP, you need a modem that connects via cable or satellite. The modem is connected to the ISP and then directly to a computer. If you want to use wireless connections and connect to more than one device, the modem connects to a router directly. The router will send the connection to other devices, such as phones, tablets, and computers.  
Making your home connection more secure
You can change settings on hardware and software to ensure that the information travels securely from your home to the ISP. This starts with the routers that are typically preset to reasonably secure settings. To make your router more secure, research instructions on your particular router. This is especially important if you buy your own.
The software that allows you to surf the web is called a browser. Most browsers are set to allow information about you and your surfing habits to be shared easily. This is one way companies make money.  A few of the popular and common browsers are Google Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, and FireFox. Each browser has pros and cons.
Security settings
There are common security settings in most browsers. While they perform the same function, each browser will have a unique way to implement these functions.

When you surf the Internet, a trail, called cookies, is created using the sites you visit. Cookies are stored on your devices and can easily be obtained by anyone who has an interest in finding out what sites you frequent. All browsers allow you to turn off cookies or decide if you want to accept them from certain types of sites. Use the most restrictive cookie setting that works for your surfing needs.
Auto fill
While it might be more convenient to have your personal data automatically filled in to save time, it is not a good idea. This allows the data to be stored on your device and makes it easier to steal.
As you surf, the sites you visit are stored. You can erase the history when you are done browsing. In addition, features such as private browsing turn off history so that it is not stored. It is safer to use private browsing, but there will be no record of your surfing. If you want to revisit a site, bookmarking or tagging it would be a better way to go back to the site.
Plugins and extensions
These programs add functionality. Extensions add functionality to your browser. Plugins are limited to a simple task, usually embedded in a particular site. Examples of plugins are programs that allow movies to play, such as Flash or QuickTime. Extensions are much more likely to be hacked because they have readable code that can be changed.  With extensions and plugins you have to weigh usefulness versus risk. Err on the side of caution and only load extensions and plugins from companies that are reliable.
Pop-up blocking
Windows that appear out of nowhere are called pop-ups. Pop-ups often cause problems such as viruses and malware. Pop-up blockers should be turned on to prevent attacks.
A few simple email rules can prevent a host of problems:
Be cautious of unsolicited email from companies. requesting information. Imposters may disguise email as though it is coming from a reputable company in order to get your information. This is known as phishing. If you receive an email that appears to be from your bank or another institution with which you have an account requesting information, avoid using links within the email. Call the company or go directly to their secure website instead.
Do not open mail unless you recognize the sender. Even then, use caution. Email address books are often hacked and what looks like an email from someone you know can be spam or junk.
If available, use the feature that scans email attachments for problems before you open it.
Email lives forever. Even when you think you deleted it, it is probably stored on a server somewhere. Think before you send.
Email that you think is free, such as Yahoo and Gmail, has ads and hidden programs.

Joanne Fortunato, BS, MA is a retired computer technology teacher in Troy, N.Y. She has a master's degree in education and has been teaching technology to teachers and students for 30 years. She has published several articles and books on educational computer technology, including several articles with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). She was diagnosed with MS in 2006 and uses technology to aid in coping with the many difficulties that MS can present. She is excited to share this information with others that deal with the same and many other issues on a daily basis.