Skip to main content

Sonoma Family Life Magazine

10 Ways to Stop Hackers in Their Tracks

Jan 12, 2015 12:00AM

By Gary S. Miliefsky

We’ve all lost our identity at least three times, with more than 930 million records breached, lost, or stolen to hackers and cyber criminals, says consumer advocacy nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Here are ten tips for shopping and socializing online without losing your privacy and identity, or putting your children’s safety at risk.

1) Assume you’ve already been compromised.

Whether it's your baby monitor, your SmartTV, the Webcam on your laptop, or apps you installed on your smartphone or tablet, your antivirus software is not enough protection. It's time to take those devices’ and apps’ privacy policies, and the permissions you grant them, much more seriously.

2) Change your passwords—all of them.

Now. Keep changing them as frequently as you can tolerate. Also, if you don't want to change them often, then insert into them any unique characters you can think of, such as a dollar sign ($) or exclamation mark (!), or replace the letter “o” with a zero. This goes a long way in preventing attacks against your password.

3) Turn off wireless and geolocation services.

Protect your smartphones and tablets by turning off WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC and GPS, except when you need them. That way, if you are at a local coffee shop or in a shopping mall, no one nearby can spy on you using proximity hacking attacks, and they can’t track where you were and where you are going on your GPS.

4) Assume most of your apps are “creepware.”

Creepware is malicious software (malware) that spies on you and your online behavior. It’s not too much to assume that most of your apps are serving this purpose. It’s best to delete all of the smartphone and tablet apps you aren't using often. Replace apps that ask for permission to take advantage of your privacy settings—like GPS, phone and sms logs, personal identity information—with similar apps that don't.

5) Opt out of sharing your information.

Say No to every advertising network that you can. Visit the National Do Not Call Registry at and register your smartphone and home phone numbers. If you use a Google e-mail account and have an Android phone, know that even with your GPS off, your every move is being tracked. (Log on to and see for yourself.) Go into your smartphone or tablet settings and turn this feature off. In your Android phone, go to Settings and then Location; select Google Location Reporting and set Location History to off. It’s the same deal for Apple iPhones, iPads, and iTunes. Turn off access under Settings then Privacy then Location.

6) Your browser is a double agent—keep it clean.

Advertisers use your browser to spy on you unless you block and remove cookies and delete the cache frequently. In your web browser settings, delete your history, all cookies and passwords, and the cache. You should do this frequently so you don't leave personal information sitting around on your computer, smartphone, or tablet.

7) Remove third-party Facebook plug-ins.

Third-party plug-ins are mini-applications designed to eavesdrop on your behavior on Facebook and possibly grab information about your habits within that social network. Some websites you visit will require you to log in using Facebook, and then you have to trust them to connect to your Facebook account. This is very risky. Read their privacy policy and make sure they are a legitimate business before you do this.

8) Only shop on the websites of companies you already trust.

If you don't know where the merchants are located then don't use their online store. If they don't have a corporate address or are located in another country, it is risky; you may never see the goods you think you purchased. Also, if their shopping cart is not an HTTPS browser session, then everything you type in, including your name, address, and credit card information, is going over the Internet unencrypted—in plain view.

9) Turn off geotagging; your photos are full of information.

Twitter and Instagram, as well as your iPhone, will give away your location. Most people don't realize Twitter and Instagram both use geotagging for everything you send out. Geotagging stores the latitude and longitude of your tweet or image. Pictures you take on an iPhone usually store geotagging information as well. The less information you give out about where you are located, the safer you are.

10) Don’t use cash or debit cards. Use credit cards, wisely.

If you’re shopping online, it's safer to give your credit card than your debit card information. The same holds true when you visit your local retail outlet. The reason? If you experience identity theft, credit card laws allow you to keep all of your credit with no responsibility toward the bank during an investigation. With a debit card, your bank can tie up your money in the amount equivalent to the fraudulent transactions for up to 30 days.

Gary S. Miliefsky is a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and CEO of SnoopWall (