Protecting your information and privacy on a PC

Presently, information sharing is an essential part of our economy. Whether you make a purchase from your home or office computer, information about your transaction is shared and stored. Information sharing and storage also applies to most of other financial and non-financial online transactions.

If information on your transaction is not shared, the transaction won’t be completed successfully. Imagine the scenario of making a purchase online. From consumer’s perspective, when you make a purchase online, the product you want, the price you are to pay, the location to where the item is shipped, and how you will pay is all part of the information sharing and storage. On the other hand, for the online merchant, additional information is also shared or generated based on your transaction. That information is likely to include:

  • The page where the purchase transaction was started
  • What page led you to the purchasing page? Was it a search engine? Or was it a link on the merchant’s website?
  • What other items did you purchase or saw?
  • Did you use an online recommendation service? Did that influence your purchase?

As this example shows, a single transaction can create a lot of (important) information. Once the information is collected, it does not mean it sits still. It moves to the appropriate channels to complete the current transaction and perhaps serve in some fashion any future marketing initiates. For instance, while the shipping department will need the shipping information to ship what is purchased, the marketing department may be interested in finding out which country or state online users are making the most purchases.

Notice for the shipping department information is readily available because it was supplied by the customer. However, for the marketing department’s information needs, information was derived from the collected information. So once the information is collected, it can be manipulated or stored – for future access. But as a consumer you may not be aware of all these processes involved with the information you generate online, partly because everything is happening in the background and so fast.

If you have purchased a book on or any other website, you probably don’t want any other unauthorized person to view your transaction, especially information on your payment card or check. It is a valid concern and this is why the media outlets report on technical breaches at companies that are deemed to keep customer information safe and away from hackers and spammers. Actually, companies shy from admitting and sharing with public or media outlets on any technical breaches on their systems because they fear of loosing customers. So it is difficult to know exactly how much information is actually stolen or misused. But this does not mean you should not protect your data or privacy when you use a computer at home or office.

If your goal is to keep your information private on your computer, you will need to take all the known necessary precautions to guard it against any malicious use. Here are some tips to protect your information:

  • Limit physical access to your pc, whenever possible. You may have more options on this at home than at work.
  • Avoid using a computer in front of a window or where the computer screen can be seen by others. Again, you may have more choices at home. Keep your computer screen visible to just yourself, whenever possible.
  • Protect access to your computer or files by a password. This should also be considered even if you have limited the physical access to your computer.
  • Make sure to use difficult-to-guess passwords. Don’t write your password or other access information where it can be found easily by others.
  • Reduce exposure to your information. This applies to both online and offline activities. It is recommended to keep personal information to just yourself. Doing that greatly reduces the abuse of your information. Limit sharing information online, particularly if it will be made public.
  • Remove/delete sensitive information from online accounts, flash drives, and other medias whenever no longer needed to keep.
  • Avoid downloading from websites that you don’t trust. Avoid downloading free software unless you are certain that the product is safe to use.
  • Don’t install software on your computer that you don’t trust. Now days, software are sophisticated and they do a lot in background. This means malicious code or software can run without the user ever being aware of this is happening on his computer, perhaps learning about it when it is too late. Malicious code, when run, whether intentionally or not, can do unwanted tasks such as delete files, send content of the files to a remote user, and so on.
  • Consider saving valuable/sensitive information on your PC rather than printing it or saving it on an online account. Remember to keep such information protected with a password on your PC, is possible.
  • Remember to logout of an online session, particularly if you are using a publicly accessible computer. We recommend that you do this on your own PC as well because this will help you establish the habit of logging out regardless of who else accesses that computer.
  • Remember to empty the "Recycle Bin" (or "Trash") frequently. Doing this will permanently delete files from your machine.
Posted on 9/26/2007
by Raj Singh