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Hands typing on laptop (Jupiterimages/Getty Images)
Hands typing on laptop (Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

How to protect your digital privacy Add to ...

In this age of compulsive (and occasionally X-rated) electro oversharing, privacy has become something of an endangered entity. Most computers, smart phones and other electronic devices store a surprising amount of personal information and, without the proper protection, your banking password/corporate espionage/sex tape are just a few clicks away from exposure. To avoid your own personal Anthony Weiner scandal, we offer tips on how to keep your info under wraps. (Although if you're foolish enough to post a picture of your privates on Twitter, there's not much we can do.)

Never pass on your password (even to your computer)

Many software programs will ask if you want the computer to remember your password. It sounds enticing, right? Like the magic code will be your little secret. (A secret you are no longer burdened with remembering, along with your ATM number, your alarm code, your SIN and all six of your nephew's food allergies.) But as Shaun Cann, manager of TechDirect in Toronto says, "once your computer is capable of accessing sensitive info, it becomes fairly simple for a third party to access it." For those with maxed-out memories, Mr. Cann recommends keeping a written record of passwords and codes in a safe location - and change those passwords regularly. For further protection, secure your wireless router with WPA encryption.

Every device should have a safe zone

If you use it on a daily basis, there's a good chance your handheld device knows more about you than your spouse does. Especially now that our electronics double as our photo albums, mailboxes and X-rated movie stores. Still, most people will happily hand off this virtual vault to anyone with tech credentials. "People need to remember that they have no idea who is handling their computer when they bring it in to get fixed," Mr. Cann says. To protect all personal data, he suggests creating a desktop folder that's protected with an encrypted password. The problem with this, however, is that depending on who shares your device (a curious boyfriend, for example) that password-protected file may elicit all sorts of unwanted questions. "It's like advertising that you have something to hide," Lifehacker's Adam Dachis says. To take secrecy one step further he suggests using a basic steganography program that not only hides your info, but also hides the fact that such a file exists. For Windows, try a free download called QuickStego.

When virtually cleaning, don't cut corners

When selling, swapping or passing on any electronic device, you want to wipe the slate clean, both as a courtesy to the next owner and on the off chance he or she turns out to be an identity hacker and/or snoop. Wiping instructions vary depending on band and type of devices. In all cases, Mr. Cann suggests consulting the manufacturer's website. When given the choice between a faster or a more involved formatting sequence (the term for erasing data), remember there's a reason that "taking the easy way out" isn't a positive expression. "Quick fixes are going to leave information behind that can be retrieved with a minimum amount of effort," says Mr. Cann, adding that the only way to make sure everything on your device is gone is to physically remove the hard drive. Mr. Dachis takes it one (dramatic) step further: "The only way to ensure that your information is never accessed again is to burn the hard drive."

Beware the backup storage

Today's smart phones and tablets store information in two places, but most people only remove data from the internal memory. The media card is the go-to place for photos, e-mails and various other potentially classified tidbits, so be sure to erase that as well. Remember that just because you can't see information doesn't mean it isn't there. "Your iPhone holds on to every text message you've ever sent, even though it doesn't show up on the screen. People forget what, and who, they were texting about two years ago," Mr. Dachis says. It could come back to haunt you.

And don't do this: Store naked pictures of yourself on any Internet-capable device. Ever.



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