Online Identity: Understanding and Keeping It Secure

Online Identity: Understanding and Keeping It Secure

With the proliferation of the internet over the past several years, the term “online identity” has become commonplace and is practically a buzzword. However, lots of people do not have a full grasp of what an online identity is and its significance in our Internet-driven world.

Simply put, your online identity is a digital composite generated by websites based on your interactions online. Websites build an online identity based on your activity on a website as well as any personal information (name, date of birth, social security number) that you may have entered. Most websites also install cookies on your computer when you visit them; cookies enable the websites to track your behavior online. Using cookies, websites are better able to build up and save your online identity. The use of cookies by websites is sometimes beneficial because it enhances your online experience; for example, shopping online is easier because there is no need to enter all your information every time you visit the same website.

The preponderance of personal information over the internet has presented an attractive target for unscrupulous individuals. Hackers spend time and money to compromise the data of innocent internet users. When compromised, this data is often used for malicious purposes. Stories abound of people who had their online identity compromised and stolen. Some of the consequences of a stolen online identity include:

  • Decreased job prospects: Some employers check the credit history of potential employees. A poor credit history due to online identity theft may hamper your chances of getting that desired job.
  • Financial losses: Hackers can use your stolen identity to steal money from your bank account, open credit cards, or make purchases in your name. Any of these can leave you with a negative financial impact. In 2016, customers lost more than $16 billion as a result of online identity theft.
  • Emotional impact: The theft of your online identity may leave you emotionally vulnerable as you try to re-establish and regain your online identity.

Given the importance of your online identity, it is important that measures are taken to keep it protected. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your online identity most of which are relatively inexpensive. Some ways to protect your identity online include:

  • Responsible browsing: As much as possible, browse on websites that are secure. “HTTPS” in the web address bar usually denotes that a website is secure. Never put your personal information on a website that is not secure; this is denoted by “HTTP” in the web address bar.
  • Password security: Your password should be secure so that it is difficult to compromise. Usually, this involves a mix of upper and lower case characters, numbers, as well as special characters. Ideally, passwords should not be shared across websites. Furthermore, you should change your passwords on a regular basis.
  • Security suites: These are commercial software used to protect devices from spyware, viruses, or other forms of malware. Any device that you use to access the internet should have some form of security suite installed.
  • Heightened observation: Close attention should be paid to your bank accounts, credit reports, or other financial accounts. Suspicious transactions should be noted and reported promptly so that immediate measures can be taken in case it is an attempt to steal your identity.

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