Protect your online persona with safer surfing habits

 |   Singapore News Center

Stephanie Hung, Director, Public Sector Group, Microsoft Singapore
Stephanie Hung, Director, Public Sector Group, Microsoft Singapore

Singapore is one of the most wired cities in Asia Pacific, coming in fifth after South Korea, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. Its population of 5.47 million is also one of the most connected via social media, boasting the second highest social media penetration rate in the world at 59 percent, more than double the global average of 26 percent.

The Internet and social media can be a boon; granting us quicker access to information and keeping us connected to loved ones across time and space. However, this also means that we have an “online persona” and reputation that we should actively protect.

Today marks the 11th edition of Safer Internet Day, an appropriate occasion to remind ourselves and our loved ones to be vigilant in safeguarding our online reputations. This is especially crucial in our country where there is a high emphasis on the usage of information technology in schools and the workplace, and in our everyday lives.

Online habits of Internet users in Singapore
According to the Microsoft Computing Safety Index study released last year, it was revealed that compromises to online reputations are the most costly for Singapore’s Internet users. Of the 529 respondents surveyed, 12 percent said they have been victims of a phishing attack, 8 percent have had their professional reputations compromised and 7 percent suffered identity theft. On average, each of the affected users incurred losses of up to S$700 as a result of these cybercrimes committed against them.

Despite the losses, only 42 percent of social media users in Singapore actively limit what strangers can see on social networks and the amount of personal information shared online. The majority of those polled (57 percent) do not adjust their social network privacy settings, and only 41 percent use PINs or passwords to lock their mobile devices.

While Singapore fared better than the global average, the results still fall below the median mark, reflecting that the majority of users are not practising safe online habits. With recent steps taken by the government to bolster cybersecurity with the formation of the Cyber Security Agency, we also have a part to play, by consistently taking proactive steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones online.

Know your online persona
Whether you are aware or not, odds are that you already have an online persona culled from what you share about yourself in the digital world, as well as what others have posted about you.

Always be mindful of how much of “you” is revealed on the Web, which you can evaluable quickly and easily, by running through these simple steps:

  • Do a Bing search of your first and last name, as well as any nicknames you go by. Browse through not just text but the image results as well.
  • Sort through your results and evaluate how your online reputation fares. Does it reflect how you wish to be perceived? Is it accurate?
  • Ask yourself – do you need more than one online profile – for professional use, personal use or for an area of interest, like a hobby or volunteer work?
  • If yes, is it okay to mix information from different profiles?
  • And finally – do you want your profiles to be public or more private?

Your answers to these questions are important because information online is searchable, often permanent, and may be seen by anyone on the Internet. Should you find any sensitive personal information online, such as your identification card number or home address, take it down immediately or ask the website owner to remove it.

Unlike data stored on paper, online information can be aggregated by search engines and other tools, which makes it easier for others to put together a profile of who you are. Websites may archive what you have posted and data they have collected from you. Friends (or ex-friends) may divulge personal details; malicious programmers and security lapses may expose it. Avoid surfing sites you do not trust, and remember it is okay to periodically remove friends from social media accounts when they are no longer friends.

How to stay safe online
Curating online information about you is a great start. But more importantly, Singaporeans need to actively manage their online reputations with regard to what they post on a day-to-day basis. Highly-publicised social media gaffes such as the Anton Casey case and more recently, the Filipino nurse whose Facebook account was hacked into, can often be avoided. Treating others as how you would like to be treated online and thinking twice before sharing can go a long way in mitigating the possibility of an insensitive act being committed online.

Singapore’s laws are some of the most progressive in the world in terms of staying up to date with the digital world. They apply to whatever is said or done, online and offline. Always play by the rules no matter which platform you may be making statements on.

Today, we live in a mobile-first, cloud-first world, where mobility and cloud services are driving growing interconnectivity amongst people and devices. It is more important now than ever before to proactively manage one’s online reputation to avoid potential pitfalls in the digital age. And even if you are not concerned about falling victim to cybercrime, it is worth considering that three out of four employers in Singapore will likely evaluate your online profile before granting an interview.

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