Online security is becoming more and more complex these days, and to bury your head in the sand with ideas like “it won’t happen to me” is asking for trouble. People share very personal information in online counselling. Furthermore, if transcripts of the session fall into the wrong hands, the personal information you divulge could be used in identity fraud and even to aid in exposing your online passwords. Fortunately with a couple of simple precautions and good online habits you can reduce the level of risk, and increase your privacy online.
If you use a shared computer, it’s possible for others to access your data if you don’t have a separate account. Below is a link that provides a step by step guide to creating your own account. Even if you don’t share your personal computer with others, it’s always a good idea to set up a password on your computer.
The following links describe how to add a user account:
- Windows Vista: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/Create-a-user-account
- Windows 7: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows7/Create-a-user-account
If you are unable to create your own login there are still some precautions to take to minimize the risks of compromised privacy.
Ensuring password are secure
Never leave your password stored on your computer, this is the first place wandering eyes will look. If you must write down your password, try to disguise it, keep it physically away from your computer, and never tell anyone the location or the password itself.
- Here is some information about creating strong passwords: http://www.microsoft.com/protect/fraud/passwords/create.aspx
- And about keeping your password safe: http://www.microsoft.com/protect/fraud/passwords/secret.aspx
Secure your email
If you use Microsoft Outlook or Windows Mail for your counselling email, ensure it cannot be opened or accessed by other members of the household. Do not use Microsoft Outlook or Windows Mail for counselling if it can be opened by others. If you must, consider deleting the content afterwards, and then emptying the recycling bin.
In any case, it is advised that you do not send any therapeutic or private content in an open email, as there is a small chance it could be intercepted on route to your counsellor.
Your counsellor will compose their responses to you in a Microsoft Word document or Zip file that is protected by a password, and will inform you what that password will be in a separate message. This document will then be attached to your email message.
It is advised that you do the same for all counselling content. Below is some information on how to password protect your Word documents:
If you engage in live chat counselling or discussions on the forum, it may be that you do not want others to know. There are things you can do to prevent others from learning your browsing habits.
It is important to remember to log out of all sites after you are finished accessing them. This includes the Living Well site but also web based email accounts. Failing to log out may enable someone else using the same computer to access and make changes to your information.
Clearing your history
An Internet browser often has a “cache” or a “Temporary File” directory which stores information about which sites you have visited. It is recommended you clear your Cache or Temporary Internet Files when you are exiting your browser following a session.
Cookies are text files saved to your computer by a website in order to remember who you are, for example if a website has a log in function. Thus cookies may enable others to access your accounts, or at the least to know what websites you do have access to. It is also recommended you clear your cookies on exiting your browser.
Storing session transcripts
Many clients choose to keep transcripts of their live chat sessions for later reflection. This can be one of the benefits of engaging in text based counselling, but can also be a security risk. If you do choose to keep transcripts, please ensure that data is kept secure from prying eyes.
If you are sharing a computer, one option is to save the data on removable usb memory stick, and keeping this in a physically safe location. Memory sticks are now quite cheap and readily available from any electronics or computer store.
Another option is to keep the text in a password protected document or Zip file.
Alternatively, if you feel safer with a hard copy, printing the text and deleting the data from your computer is optional. Just make sure you store the papers in a safe place!
Last, but not least, its important to maintain general security of your network and computer. This means a firewall and virus protection.
There are many worms which are designed to find information on your computer and send it to the originating hacker, or trojans which provide access to your data directly. Whilst a hacker is likely to be more interested in your bank details, if the information you share is sensitive enough it is important to ensure it is safe.
Make sure you have enabled your Firewall, and have an Antivirus program installed with up to date virus definitions.
Read more about protecting your computer: http://www.microsoft.com/hk/protect/computer/default.mspx