How much is too much? When it comes to sharing personal information online, less is more

Jan 26, 2012 9:30am


By William F. Pelgrin of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center

In today’s hyper-connected society, it seems that everyone knows just about everything about everyone. The amount of personal information we share online is staggering.  

Does the world really need to know that you and your family are vacationing in the Bahamas next month?  … that your favorite color is hot pink? … or who your closest five friends are? 

To a cyber criminal, these types of personal details can be used to harvest data about you for possible social engineering attacks, identity theft or other scams.  

When it comes to sharing personal information online, less is more.  The less you share, the more you can protect your privacy and minimize the chances of becoming a victim. 

In addition to limiting the amount of personal data you share, there are many other steps you can take to help protect your information and privacy.  In recognition of annual Data Privacy Day on January 28, take a few minutes to review these best practices:

  • Be sure to have a firewall installed and enabled on your computer.
  • Use anti-spyware/anti-adware protection software. This software is designed to protect you against spyware or malware, which can extract private information from your computer without your knowledge. Make sure you keep these programs updated.
  • Periodically check your Internet browser settings (e.g. Security and Privacy) to ensure that the settings are adequate for your level and type of Internet activity.
  • Use encryption software if you store private data on your laptop or other portable electronic devices.  This will help protect your private data in the event the device is lost or stolen.
  • Be sure to read the privacy statement on websites you are visiting prior to providing any personal information, to understand that entity's policy regarding protection of data.
  • Check if GPS location data is being stored when you upload pictures to your social media site from your mobile device and disable it if you don’t want the world to know exactly where the picture was taken.
  • Guard the security of your transactions when shopping online by ensuring the transaction is submitted securely. When submitting your purchase information, look for the "lock" icon on the browser's status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.  Also be sure “https” appears in the website’s address bar before making an online purchase. The "s" stands for "secure” and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted.
  • Use strong passwords on all your accounts, such as a minimum of eight characters and a mix of special symbols, letters and numbers. Use separate passwords for each account.
  • Always question someone who is asking you to reveal any personably identifiable information. Find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others.

For more resources about online security, visit the Center for Internet Security.

William F. Pelgrin is the founder and chair of the MS-ISAC and is a nationally-recognized expert in cyber security.