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Tips for Safe Online Account Registration

Online Account Registration

What do you register on different websites or apps? Then you're probably familiar with the fact that they often ask for a phone number for verification. You might think it's easy and secure, but it's far from it. Collecting all sorts of information about you online, tying it to your identity and contact details creates a threat to your privacy and security. So, today we're going to help you understand the risks involved and why many web services and apps ask for your phone number. Also, we'll look at ways like using a temporary phone number to help you stay anonymous when signing up online and stay safe.

What Can I Do to Keep Online Registration Safe?

  • First, if possible, don't register where a phone number is required, and don't provide it unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must register, use an e-mail or temporary phone number.
  • Check the settings of the services you are already using. If there is a number there, it can be deleted without affecting the service's performance or replaced with the option from the point above.
  • Refuse "password recovery" schemes over the phone. It is better to spend time on creating strong passwords, save them in a secure password manager database and periodically make backup copies of this database and the protected data itself
  • Enable two-factor authentication in your account settings. It is better if the second factor is not SMS, but, for example, a one-time code from a mobile application
  • Take care of your mobile device. Uninstall unnecessary apps, regularly clean your data (SMS messages, call history, messengers), make sure encryption is enabled on your device, and if someone doesn't have it enabled yet, set a password to log in right now.

You can also resort to other, more rare recipes, such as using a SIM card of a foreign operator (in some countries you can still buy a SIM card without presenting a document). However, such a number will have to be maintained - keep an eye on the balance and replenish the account in a timely manner.

Why do Websites and Apps Need My Phone Number?

So, let's understand why many websites and apps ask for a phone number when registering:

  1. One of the reasons is user identification. When activating a SIM card in many countries around the world (e.g. Germany, Poland, Spain), the buyer must show the seller an ID card. Therefore, confirming the phone number when registering in many online services avoids the creation of multi-accounts and the use of bots.
  2. The second common purpose for which a phone number is requested is to regain access to your account if you have forgotten your password. In cases where you have forgotten your username or password, you can regain control of your account by receiving a text message. Sounds good, but there's a weakness: dependence on your cell phone carrier. That one is able to reissue your SIM card, and an attacker can gain access to your account.
  3. The third purpose is to provide services. The owner of an online store requests your phone number to send useful information. An airline reports flight delays or gate changes. A weather service relays a weather forecast. A medical center reminds you about a doctor's appointment. 
  4. Security notifications. A social network sends an alert if an unknown person tries to log into your account. Banks use SMS to confirm online payments and deliver information to customers about changes to their accounts (PUSH notifications).

All of the above seem to have a one-way benefit to the customer. But data is also collected for marketing purposes, or even just to send spam and annoying calls offering everything in the world.

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