4 Quick and Easy Ways to Protect Your Online Self in 2011

It’s that time of year when you start promising to go to the gym every day, read more, Farmville less…yeah, right. Make yourself a New Year’s resolution that will matter, and one you can keep: commit to being safe online in 2011. Here are four easy steps to start the New Year on the right, safe that is, foot.

1. Protect Your Passwords – This precaution is so easy, it’s often overlooked. Exhibit A, the breach of Gawker Media sites in early December, when hackers gained access to the user names and passwords for about 1.3 million users of sites such as Gizmodo, Jezebel, Lifehacker and Kotaku. A published list of the most-popular passwords hacked showed that “123456,” “password,” “12345” and “qwerty” were at the top of the list. If those are your passwords, go ahead and assume you’ll get hacked in 2011 as well. Instead, make sure your passwords are unique and stored in a safe place, for your eyes only. Check out our full guide here.

2. Review Privacy Settings – Did you even know that MySpace updated its privacy settings in 2010? Do you remember the last time you checked your privacy status on Facebook? Make it your New Year’s resolution to ‘check in’ with your privacy settings on all your social networking accounts, and stay up-to-date throughout the year too. With mobile devices and geo-location social networks the most likely security threats in 2011, it’s also more important than ever to know who’s checking you out while you’re on a Wi-Fi network, or who’s able to ‘check in’ with you on Foursquare.

3. Check Your Apps – Perhaps the biggest privacy story of 2010 was the case of the rogue mobile apps, those addicting games and handy tools that proved, nonetheless, to, too often, be a privacy breach in action. From questionable Facebook apps to changes for Twitter apps, the lesson learned for users was this: pay attention, and know your apps. Make it your mission in 2011 to have the bare minimum of apps you really need and use, stay on top of your privacy settings and know what you’re agreeing to in granting access to your favorite apps and what you, and your friends, may be sharing.

4. Do an Internet Detox – Do you really need 3,000 Facebook friends and a massive Twitter following? Do you really use that Linkedin account, and did you even know you still had an account with those other social networks too? Which databases and Web sites have access to your personal information? Make sure you know all the mentions and connections you have online, and prioritize which you want to keep and which you want to get rid of in 2011. Resolve to take control of how, and where, you appear online.