I’ve talked to clients and friends who have had their online accounts hacked and private information leaked. It’s repugnant. It feels like a huge violation and can make people feel helpless.
Bringing massive awareness to the issue was three waves of leaks that exposed dozens of private photos of celebrities — the latest this past Friday after the initial incident at the end of last month, and another just one week ago.
Neither I nor anyone else can guarantee anyone an absolutely safe, privacy-protected experience online with absolutely no risk of hacking or compromise. But what I have learned through my crisis work is that so few high-profile people are even employing the most basic protections that I thought it was time to provide some much needed advice:
1. Be careful what is on your phone. Try not to put any content on there that you wouldn’t want splashed across the world. I know this is tough and I also know this is generational. But I also know that as a celebrity, you’re a bigger target and you need to recognize and own that.
2. Who has your log-in information? Assistants, publicists, managers? The less people who have it, the more secure you are. Keep that circle small. And if there is a change to your team, you need to change passwords immediately.
3. Most major websites (Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.) offer something called two-step verification. It requires an additional step to verify any new device from immediately logging into your account. The additional security is well worth the effort it takes.
4. Time to change your passwords. It’s best to change them regularly and you must make your passwords difficult. There are free sites to generate random passwords. And once you create this awesome password, limit who gets access to it.
5. Don’t just have one email address you use for everything. I suggest multiple email addresses: 1. Professional 2. Personal (close family and friends) 3. Financial 4. If you have a child in school, create one email address for all the messages that schools and their extracurricular activities generate. Email accounts are free and smartphones accommodate multiple email addresses so you don’t have any inconvenience.
6. Check your privacy preferences on social media. Most of the big sites you log into have whole sections on privacy, and you need to set parameters. And they sometimes reset without notice, so check them regularly. This will limit or expand the people who have access to your postings.
7. You are able to create a second number on your smartphone by installing Google Voice. It’s a further layer of protection when you need to communicate with someone but don’t feel comfortable giving your main cell number. It’s easier than a second phone and callers are required to identify themselves before being connected.
8. Make sure your home Wi-Fi is secure. I’ve gone to celebrities’ homes, and while outside my phone picked up their systems with the owners’ names. Even though they were locked systems they are just too tempting. Use hidden Wi-Fi or an anonymous name.
9. Companies like the one I work with, Reputation.com, offer a comprehensive privacy program that can delete personal information from hundreds of sources.
10. I have one friend who has multiple names—he prefers his contact information in friends/colleagues’ contacts be listed under an alias; things are sent to his home under another name; he checks into hotels under still another name, and financial and certain other records are under still other names. In other words—be discreet.
As I started out by saying, none of this can guarantee your privacy, but you need to think about these issues even if they pain you. You need to take action to protect yourself before anything happens or before it happens again.
Howard Bragman is founder of Fifteen Minutes PR, vice chairman of Reputation.com and a longtime crisis PR expert.