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Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Privacy Awareness Week and tips to keep things private

Not everything needs to be in the eye of the public, and as Privacy Awareness Week kicks off, so too does the conversation about where you work and what you share.

It wouldn’t be all too surprising if much of your life was online, even if your entire life wasn’t online entirely. It’s normal to keep a little bit of separation, but more and more these days, that separation is becoming harder to find.

With so much time spent online, our in-real-life lives are spent in the digital world of the web, be it working from home, spending time in social, or just doing things online that involve something else we consistently rely on, service or otherwise. Pretty much everything passes through the internet in some form, so there’s a good chance you’re doing almost everything through it anyway.

Using the internet for everything isn’t a bad thing, and neither is sharing your life online, but it’s important to learn when you might be perhaps over sharing, and detailing more than you’re supposed to. As part of Privacy Awareness Week this week, the conversation is around making privacy a priority for many people, thanks in part to how online we all are.

It’s a problem shared by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), which noted in a recent survey that 85 percent of Australians have a clear understanding of why they need to protect personal information, but 49 percent have no idea how to do it, with the company advising that people be conscious of what they share online, specifically avoiding geotagging locations of where you live or sharing images of your home. Clearly a physical security risk, oversharing that sort of social information may invite the wrong type of person into your life, and the same is true if you over share personal information.

If you’ve recently come into some money or had a family member pass away, that sort of information can make you a target for the regularity of scams and other forms of cybercrime, simply because of the inferences that can occur not long after.

Both are vectors for someone to imply you have money to spare, which is something that could have been saved by thinking about what you shared before you did it, and making privacy a priority.

“Many Australians aren’t aware of the level of personal and private information that they are sharing online,” said Mark Gorrie, Senior Director for NortonLifeLock in the Asia Pacific region.

“Once our information is on the internet, we no longer have any control over who may see it and most people don’t realise that risk. As more of our daily lives move online, from work to social life, it is unsurprising that many people are sharing too much online and putting themselves at risk,” he said.

It’s not an age thing, either. While you might be quick to assert that this didn’t happen back in the day, it’s not necessarily a problem that comes down to specific age groups, but rather people in general. Sharing has become what we are, but it’s a matter of knowing what you share, where it’s being shared, and importantly, who it’s being shared with.

Who has access to what you share can be a big factor.

Home life of both kinds presents privacy problems

There’s nothing wrong with sharing information online, either, but remember that typically, more people than just your friends and family can see what you post. That makes it important to keep in mind that you either need to review your security and permissions settings, and go for privacy, or think before you post, and only share what makes you feel safe.

But while sharing in our own lives is one part of the problem, privacy in our working lives is another entirely different issue.

With so many people working from home, AMTA suggests people separate their work and home devices to protect the release of anything sensitive from their work place, and it’s a problem that goes much deeper than that, it seems.

Security organisation Mimecast has noted from a recent report of its own that 47 percent of respondents it surveyed download information from work onto personal devices, and that around one third of employees don’t report suspicious emails to an employer.

Marry these sorts of risk together and you find a way that private information from a workplace can get out into the world, either through accident or incident. Whether you’re accidentally sharing work information to someone who shouldn’t have it simply by accident (and then telling them to disregard), or if you’ve become a victim to a scam or form of malware on a work computer which has then taken over some of those files, it’s a problem, and one that could be acknowledged by being aware of privacy, and disconnecting work from your real life.

“In 2020 people were adapting to huge changes in work practices due to the COVID pandemic, so it’s not surprising that some basics in cybersecurity and privacy slipped,” said Garrett O’Hara, Principal Technical Consultant at Mimecast.

“Undoubtedly email is still an important communication tool for businesses, but many workers now use chat, multiple messaging apps, video and other solutions, so the potential for privacy slip-ups is increasing across the multiple platforms,” he said.

“Technology alone isn’t going to solve the issue. Regular security awareness training – and the right kind – is critical,” said O’Hara.

“With a quarter of respondents stating they only receive training once a year, and over a third having skipped training, there’s a strong risk that what we call ‘unstructured data’ – like that contained in messages from one employee to another – can find itself on the wrong side of a privacy incident.”

Using a few devices to browse online, including a phone, a computer, and a tablet.

Tips to keep your work and home life private

The point of all of much of this is to be aware of the ramifications of privacy, both in your personal life and in your work life, and go about it with some simple tips.

For instance, much like thinking before you click on a potential scam, before you post anything, think about what you’re sharing.

Are you sharing information you’d be happy for anyone to know about, or is it the sort of thing you’d only like some people to know about? If it’s the former, go nuts, but if it’s the latter, consider tightening up who can see your information in your settings, because some things can be risky.

And if you check work information from your personal phone — which is quite common — make sure that before you post, you’re not sharing something critical or sensitive for work. The last thing you’d want is to get into hot water over something silly that could have been prevented.

If your work is critical or sensitive, disconnect the two if you can. It’s somewhat normal these days to keep an email account, Slack chat, or even WhatsApp group on your personal phone to stay connected, but before you share anything publicly, check if what you’re sending is from work or not.

Consider opening up a notepad app on your device and pasting whatever’s in your clipboard at the time, if anything, to make sure you’re not going to accidentally send information across. Some computers link the copy and paste functions between mobile and computer, meaning if you copy something on your work computer, and then go to your personal phone, provided you’re logged into both with the same account, you might copy work information over unwittingly.

Essentially, think before you do these things, doing what you can to minimise risk. It might be better for you in the long term, and an idea for your personal life, too.

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