The more time you spend shopping, connecting with people, and looking up information online, the more your online privacy is at risk -- unless you follow a few simple steps to stay safe.
Information you share over the Internet is used by advertisers, but they're not the only ones paying attention. Malicious hackers can piece together your information online to steal your identity or invade your family's privacy.
Unfortunately there isn't a simple "security" button on your computer or smartphone that will keep all of your personal data safe. If you want to protect your online privacy, you need to take action.
Here are seven simple steps you can take right now:
Don't over-share. It's tempting to stay on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all day to keep in touch with friends, but keep in mind that other people may get their hands on that information. If you do share a lot online, try to limit identifying where you are; that can give away a lot about you and where you live.
Clear cookies periodically. Many websites will put cookies on your site to remember your preferences, which can be helpful. But more cookies mean that more third parties are storing your information, which can put you at risk. Clear your cookies once in a while to get a fresh start.
Be careful with financial information. Credit card or bank information is very important, so only share it with websites you trust. Look for secure sites that have a little lock symbol or use "https" URLs so you know your information is protected.
Avoid unsecured networks. The free WiFi at the airport or coffee shop is great, but since it's not password-protected, anyone can use it. That also means someone could be monitoring it and siphoning personal information, like passwords and account numbers, over the open connection. If you're using the public network, avoid sending private information.
Vary your passwords. Using only one password may make it easy to remember, but it also means that if one account is compromised, all of your accounts are at risk. Use different passwords, and change them every few months -- especially for your email and bank accounts. Then if one password gets out, it won't cause too much damage.
Sign out. It might be convenient to remain logged in to your online accounts, but it's safer to log out when you're done. That's especially true on a shared machine like a work computer or public laptop.