Avoid using public Wi-Fi hotspots, if you can, or at least use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and refrain from typing in passwords. (Photo: HP)
We surround ourselves with devices. Our cars respond to us. Our smart TVs listen to us. Every camera in every tablet and laptop is a potential spying device. Even when we’re alone, miles from the nearest human, our phones are gateways to the universe, just waiting to share everything it knows.
To protect our privacy and stay safe from hackers, we have to remain vigilant. That’s why I recommend people use a VPN.
There are many other tricks for keeping our personal data away from snoops and hackers. Most of them have to do with changing your default settings, which you should assume are not set in your favor. Other techniques might require a little more work, but you’ll probably find yourself grateful that you took the extra steps.
Look at each trick, and if you want more details, I have provided a link to the step-by-step instructions on my site.
1. Protect your Airdrop function
For Mac users, AirDrop is an incredibly convenient way to share large files with nearby devices. It’s so convenient that trolls can send you all kinds of unwanted files, filling your hard drive with junk – or worse. This is especially common in airports, malls or other crowded places where gadgets are being used in the same area at the same time.
To protect yourself, you’ll want to change the default AirDrop settings. You can restrict AirDrop access to people in your contacts. You can also turn it off altogether. You can even decline the files that people send you.
2. Remove yourself from Family Tree Now
The original purpose of Family Tree Now was to connect people to their distant relatives, thanks to comprehensive genealogical information. The site started raising eyebrows when people discovered their home addresses listed, along with directions for how to get there. Strangers may also lookup your telephone number and other personal details.
Most people leave a digital footprint. But Family Tree Now feels particularly invasive, and luckily, there’s something you can do about it: there’s a special Opt-Out Page, and if you follow the instructions, Family Tree Now should be able to process your request within 48 hours.
More branches on your family tree: DNA testing can share all your family secrets. Are you ready for that?
3. Wipe the computer in your car
Your car knows a great deal about you, and if your car connects to your phone, it may contain a treasure trove of contacts, preferences, and navigational data that you’ve never even thought about. This is a problem if you’re selling or trading in your vehicle; the smarter your car, the more likely it is that vulnerable information will fall into the wrong hands.
Some of this data should be obvious such as old apps, but others less so: You may have garage doors codes programmed into your vehicle, which could prove very valuable to a cyber-criminal with a penchant for burglary.
Putting brakes on hacking: Here’s how hackers are making your Tesla, GM and Chrysler less vulnerable to attack
4. Protect your privacy on Nextdoor
Nextdoor is a terrific site for keeping up with neighborhood news, including changes to services and an uptick in street crimes. It’s an easy way for neighbors to contact each other, make announcements, or just share useful information.
But Nextdoor isn’t very well monitored, and when arguments ensue – as often happens between neighbors – things can get heated, quickly. Because you literally live near the people you’re communicating with, a bad disagreement can get personal, and many users report bullying tactics. You may avoid Nextdoor for this very reason, but the best tactic is to make sure your street address is not listed. That will prevent people from quickly identifying where you are on the block and venting in person.
5. Vet links before you click on them
Clicking on a link is almost as natural as breathing, which is one reason viruses and ransomware spread so quickly. A credible-looking link can cause a lot of problems for your computer; in fact, you can wreck an entire network, including large businesses, by following the wrong link.
If you receive a link and you’ve done everything you can to confirm it’s legit – including googling the sender, the web address and any other contextual information – you can also vet the link through services like ScanURL. This website will determine the owner of the link, whether it’s been reported and a final recommendation for visiting.
Aluminum foil is one way to keep modern car key fobs safe from creative thieves. (Photo: Dreamstime)
6. Wrap your car keys in aluminum foil
Like tinfoil hats, wrapping your car keys in tinfoil might sound like a conspiracy theory. In this case, it’s not; cyber-criminals often can remotely decrypt your key, which in turn enables them to break into your car. Think about it: no forced entry, no stolen purse, no broken glass, just a vanished car without any explanation.
Data thieves might also be able to intercept this data by idling outside your house while you sleep. How do you protect your wireless lock then? There are a few interesting ways, one of which involves a regular old microwave.
7. Stop Alexa, Siri and Google Home from listening to you
This trick is a tough one because virtual assistants are designed to listen to your every word. Without hearing a “wake phrase,” they won’t even function the way they were intended to. So unless you want your Echo or Home to turn into a regular Bluetooth speaker system, your best bet is to keep them turned on, or just avoid the smart home speaker revolution altogether.
How to stop it: Amazon is watching, listening and tracking you
That said, you can stop all these devices from recording your voice. After all, developers end up compiling all those recordings and storing them for their own purposes, and you have every right to delete those files. The purpose of those recordings is pretty benign; developers claim that they want to help refine the software. But if you’re satisfied with how the gadgets operated when they came out of the box (as many of us are), you can delete those records by digging into your settings – and end the recordings for good.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.
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