Today we are sharing more information about ourselves than ever before. Often, we provide personal information online without thinking twice about the potential risks of making our sensitive data available to anyone.
Although advances in technology created many benefits and conveniences for consumers, it is equally true that these benefits extend to cyber criminals who may wish to do harm. Alarmingly, crimes that once could only happen in-person are now facilitated online. Stalking, online fraud, identity theft, human trafficking, and trafficking in contraband and illegal weapons are all crimes that occur with ease online, according to the Department of Homeland Security and FBI.
Stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct targeted at a specific individual that results in them feeling reasonably afraid.
Cyberstalking (or online stalking) follows a similar pattern, only perpetrators use technology to harass their victims. Because cyber stalkers can use personal information they find about you online to carry out their crimes, limiting the amount of information you share about yourself online is key to protecting yourself from this and other cyber crimes, according to DHS.
Because you must share personal data to shop, bank, file taxes, apply for government benefits, and other necessary transactions, there will always be some information about you online, but you do have the power to control your digital footprint. DHS encourages all citizens to follow these steps when sharing personal information online:
- Review your privacy settings. Take advantage of privacy settings offered by most social media platforms and apps that allow users to control who can see their content or personal information. Take time to review your settings and place strict limits on who can see your content.
- Own your online presence. Think carefully about what you post online. Everything you put on the internet — photos, tweets and blogs — will be out there for people to see forever. Take ownership of your digital life by making sure that only what you want to be seen is posted.
- Secure your devices. Take advantage of lock screens, passwords and fingerprint capabilities to secure your smartphones, tablets and computers. It only takes a minute for a criminal to steal your device, and therefore all of your sensitive information is compromised.
For resources to protect yourself online, please visit www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.