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I am pretty miserly about my privacy in the real world. But when it comes to the virtual one, my generosity, unwittingly, knows no bounds.

Shields Up, in that respect, was an eye-opener. In response to a request to Test My Shields, this is what the site came up with. 'Your NetBIOS File Sharing Port (139) is Wide Open.'

That was -- like it will be for most of you -- so much Greek to me!

'NetBIOS File Sharing port is the single largest security hole for networked Windows machines. The payoff from finding open Windows shares is so big that many scanners have been written just to find open ports like this one. Closing it should be a priority for you!'

The implications were scary.

My machine was waiting to be had. The contents of my hard drive could be examined, altered, copied, deleted by anybody using half-decent open-port detecting software.

And that was just the beginning.

Behind every click you make online, every book you buy, every form you fill, every email you send, lurks the danger of your privacy being invaded.

So, what can you and I do about it? Here are ten useful ways to blind those prying eyes…

Network Privacy: Are you listening to me?

1. First off, test your shields. And spend some time on the site understanding the implications of what the test reveals.

2. Set up a personal firewall: There are many out there, and some pretty decent ones are free. The best -- among the ones that come without a price tag -- is zone alarm from zone labs. Recommended reading: Shields up extreme tech: firewalls, security portal and firewall guide.

3. Switch off your shares. If you are on a closed network, and need to share your hard disk, use the read-only option. If you have to grant full access to some people, just share select folders, and password-protect them.

Surfing privacy: What do you know?

4. I Can See You will tell you exactly how much information your browser is revealing. From what's on your clipboard to the pages you have visited, everything you do could be public knowledge. Use anonymous surfing tools like anonymizer. It has a handy downloadable privacy button, which you can switch on and off depending on the site you visit. Safeweb is another option.

5. Cookies by themselves are pretty harmless. But advertisers and marketers are increasingly using them to build user information and profiles. Many consider it an invasion of privacy. If you agree, you could try cookie-busters like cookie crusher or junkbusters.

6. There's trouble closer home, too. Anyone with physical access to your computer could check your browser's cache or history and know exactly what you have been up to. So, clear them regularly .

Email Privacy: Who's been reading my post?

7. Remember, when you are online nothing is private -- not even your email. Disbelievers can read these: Learn the net: email security and email: a postcard written in pencil.

8. The biggest threat comes from spammers. Join the CAUCE.

9. Create disposable email addresses through sites like spamex and spam gourmet.

10. Encrypt, scramble and shred your messages through services like ziplip. Alternatively, you could try privacyx, which uses anonymous digital certificates to protect your identity.

I have become so guarded about my privacy now that I have even refused a by-line for the story.

So, I will remain anonymously yours.

Additional Resources:
CERT | PrivacyNet | Electronic Privacy Information Centre | Privacy Rights Clearinghouse | RediffSearch

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