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How to avoid a data privacy nightmare this Halloween

From website security to thwarting deepfakes, this cyber pro explains some ways to "protect your data in an age when digital ghouls eerily lurk the shadows of the internet."

Who's behind the screen? (Pexels/Andri)
This is a guest post by Will Sweeney, managing partner at Zaviant, a data privacy and cyber risk consulting firm based in Philadelphia.

This Halloween, data breaches and privacy nightmares continue to loom large. No matter who you are, there’s nothing quite as terrifying as having your personal information at the disposal of bad actors.

Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to protect your data in an age when digital ghouls eerily lurk the shadows of the internet, relentlessly seeking their next unsuspecting victim.

Make sure the websites you’re visiting are secure

Browsing the internet is like walking through a haunted house — you never know what’s waiting for you around the corner. So please, always make sure the websites you’re visiting are secure. The great news is there’s a super simple way to do this!

If you look in the top left corner of your internet browser, you should see a little lock icon. The presence of this icon signifies that the website you’re on has an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, which establishes a secure link between your browser and the web server. Essentially, this link encrypts all the sensitive information contained within a website, so if anyone attempts to hack it, all they should see is a confusing mix of numbers, letters and characters.

Websites that don’t have the appropriate security controls in place are less likely to be keeping your data safe, so next time you’re browsing around, make sure to check for that little lock icon.

Be careful what you share on social media — deepfakes are among us

We’ve all heard this one before, but with new threats continuously on the rise, really think twice about what you’re sharing on social media. Most people believe there’s no apparent danger in being openly “public” with their online image, but this is not an entirely risk-free practice.

For example, have you ever come across one of those funny “deepfake” videos while scrolling through your Instagram or TikTok feed? Usually these comical videos are AI-generated celebrities or political figureheads doing something drastically out of character. What makes them so funny, however, is how eerily real they seem. If AI is able to render such accurate depictions of popular figures, what’s stopping bad actors from using those same tools to swindle sensitive information from you or a (perhaps more gullible) family member?

Remember to always weigh the costs and benefits of your social media activity, and consider setting your profiles to “private” to limit who can see what you’re posting.

Take advantage of online privacy tools

Did you know there’s an abundance of free or low-cost safeguards available to help you protect your personal data?

For example, you can take advantage of plugins like Privacy Badger to prevent websites from tracking you and your activities. This tool, created by a nonprofit organization called the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is a free extension that can be installed on your browser. By using Privacy Badger or similar tools, you can block trackers and other privacy invading elements that you may not be aware of while browsing the web.

For even more peace of mind, you can start using Brave as your browser, which enables private browsing by default. Another cool feature about the Brave browser is that it has a built-in ad blocker (and let’s be honest, some of the ads we come across can be even scarier than a data breach).

Remember to use common sense

Just like having basic “street-smarts” is important, so is having basic “internet-smarts.” Be mindful about how much you share online, set up safeguards, and remember to always use common sense. If something seems suspicious, don’t trust it. (Sorry, you probably didn’t win a free iPhone.)

There’s always more to learn about internet safety, but these are just a few tips to help make sure you aren’t the topic of someone’s data privacy horror story next Halloween.


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