Forensically Speaking – 9 simple rules for using your online gadget

Article submitted by David McKay, Program Head, BCIT Forensic Science & Technology

Another year, another holiday, another “gadget” added to your techno inventory. Whether you received a new iPhone, Android, tablet, laptop, iPad, or any other device with capabilities of getting you on the net to post your New Year’s selfie, or leave a glowing (or not so glowing) review of a purchase, it’s time to take a minute to think about what information you’re putting online for all to see.

Photo by Scott McAlpine
Photo by Scott McAlpine

I discussed this recently with Marty Hurst, instructor of BCIT’s Social Media & Online Intelligence Workshop. Luckily, he’s one of the good guys (depending which side you’re on) and has years of experience sifting through social media posts, blogs, and other nefarious regions of the net to seek out criminals as part of his work as a police officer specializing in internet investigations.

I asked Marty how users of social media can protect their online presence while using their new device:

1. Carefully choose your surroundings when taking a selfie or posing with your new gadget.

Given the HD resolution used with the majority of electronic devices, it is easy than ever to spot items in a background such as bills, legal documents, or computer monitors with social media applications or banking software opened.

2. If your gadget is internet-enabled and requires username and password protection, choose uncommon ones.

Human nature typically predisposes us to choose usernames and passwords that are easy to remember. As a result, many of us have Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts with identical or similar user credentials. However, choosing unique usernames and passwords reduces the ability of a hacker attempting to acquire your personal data.

3. Choose carefully where you post pictures of your recently acquired gifts.

Be cautious when attributing hashtags to describe a gift, and consider enhancing the privacy level of the audience reviewing your online photo. It can be easy for others to determine who you are, what your travel patterns might be, and eventually use your information to attempt theft.

4. Stay away from offering online customer reviews via a social media account.

Yes, it is good to share your experiences (within reason) with others online about how good, or how bad, the gadget you acquired is. Be careful when doing so directly from an identified social media account. Using this method opens your online world up to a variety of people who may want to further harvest your personal data.

5. Use software that disables web-tracking.

Using disabling software such as Ghostery reduces the ability for 3rd party applications from analyzing your web-browsing habits. Once habits are analysed, you may find advertising for a product you have been searching for shows up on random websites. The less they know, the more in control you are.

6. Protect your information when you sell used gadgets via online marketplaces.

Make sure you use your device’s factory reset to remove all personal information and data from your old device. Depending on the model and device type, in some cases this still may not be enough – you may need to use a third party software or app that is made for wiping sensitive information from devices.

7. Protect yourself when trying to sell older model gadgets or trading up, via online marketplaces.

You have a new gadget, and now you need to get rid of the older model you still have. Selling it online is efficient, but be careful with the information you place in the online ad. Consider creating a new email address for the sales ad, since using the same singular email address allows others to triangulate your various social media platforms.

8. Protect others’ privacy when uploading photos with your gadget.

Are you at a social function showing off your gadget? Be mindful of other people who may be in your photograph, and obtain their consent if sharing the photograph online. The last thing you want to do is expose your friend’s personal lives without their consent.

9. Do not identify that you are away from your home on holidays when posting information about your gadget.

Curb your online enthusiasm and do not post that you are away – otherwise you’re potentially alerting others that your home is ripe for the picking. In extreme cases, such information can even be used against you when filing a claim with an insurance agency for items stolen from your home.

So there you have it. Tips from a pro, tips from someone who actually harvests data from online platforms. Some good rules to follow. Now go post that selfie, safely.

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