Privacy has come under siege in recent years. Governments all across the world have set up systems to monitor people’s online activities and collect personal information.They range from moderate, mostly passive surveillance, such as the National Security Agency’s collection of emails and phone calls destined for foreign recipients, to the invasive use of censorship and monitoring in places like China.
Aside from the government, if you don’t take the right safeguards, your internet service provider can see everything you do online. Furthermore, many companies are interested in tracking your web behaviour and do so in a variety of ways. You probably don’t want people seeing everything you look for and visit, and you understandably don’t want companies or the government doing the same. This online privacy guide will go over how such entities follow you online, monitor your activity, and what you can do to avoid it.
How to Protect Your Online Privacy
- To remain anonymous while browsing, use a VPN.
- Make use of a password manager to create more secure passwords.
- To remove malware and cookies, use antivirus software.
- Make use of online backup so that if you become infected, you can simply restore your files.
- Avoid the Google search engine.
- Avoid using social media, particularly Facebook.
We’ll begin with the most terrible and dangerous threat to your privacy: the government. It appears that we’ve moved closer to a 1984-style reality over time, with governments in many nations fighting for less internet security for residents by decreasing the types of encryption that can be lawfully utilised. Some agencies, like as the FBI, have also attempted to persuade firms to create gadgets with exploitable backdoors that would allow the agencies to gain access to them. Companies have been hesitant to do so since they know the backdoor will be exploited not only by those “benevolent” government organisations, but it will also expose their consumers’ data to hackers and other malevolent bodies.
Looking beyond the potential government threat to something far more immediate, your internet service provider can record everything you do online. In 2017, it might even sell the information without penalties in the United States. Companies interested in such data have created data-analysis technologies that provide a clear picture of who you are, what you enjoy, and how you live.They may learn a lot about you by analysing what you type into search engines, including your income, where you went to school, and even where you reside.
Not to mention that most individuals have an Amazon Alexa device, Google Home, or even a smartphone that is constantly listening in. As discussed in a recent State of the Cloud, these types of technologies capture and know a stunning amount of sensitive information about you, while also connecting it all to your social media accounts. Knowing that virtually every firm and government wants your data and has a million methods to obtain it might be alarming.Fortunately, arming yourself with knowledge and protecting your privacy is as simple as invading it.
Because privacy threats can come from a variety of places, the methods used to infiltrate your personal cyberbubble are varied.The gravity of each hazard changes according to what you do online. Though shutting down your web browser and internet will be most critical for the normal user, torrenters may wish to take additional precautions to protect their anonymity. But, before we get into the ways you can protect yourself, let’s take a look at some of the ways your privacy might be breached, because knowing your enemy is half the battle. Tracking and Browser Fingerprinting Browser fingerprinting is a technique used to identify and track users.
Keeping an eye on your browser fingerprint is one of the simplest methods for websites to follow you around the web and observe your online behaviour. Websites can easily see a vast variety of software and hardware characteristics about your machine, such as the web browser version you’re using, the resolution of your monitor, and many other specifications.
Though thousands of other people use Google Chrome to visit a given website every day, few have the same combination of Chrome version number, extensions installed, Windows version number, and other characteristics and settings that you do. In many circumstances, this results in a one-of-a-kind collection of data that serves as your browser’s fingerprint. Websites like Panopticlick and Am I Unique are excellent for determining how distinct your browser fingerprint is. These websites may show you how much information about your computer is exposed to websites, as well as how uncommon that fingerprint is.
Though a more secure online browser can assist, using numerous web browsers for different applications is one of the best things you can do. You could, for example, use Mozilla Firefox to access Facebook and Google Chrome for everything else. That way, you can keep Facebook from learning about something personal you looked up on WebMD, and WebMD from learning about your identity through Facebook.
There are numerous free solutions available to help safeguard your privacy from these and other risks.
You can learn more about them in our list of 99 tools to protect your privacy.
WiFi in public places
Public WiFi is not only prevalent; it is essentially expected at every site, from high-end hotels to the neighbourhood McDonald’s. That’s why most individuals would connect to a router labelled “Hotel X WiFi” or “Restaurant Y WiFi.” That is an error. Setting up bait WiFi networks in places where people are likely to connect to them is simple, if not common. As you go about your business, that person can easily filter through your web traffic, observe your activities, and collect things like financial information. We discussed this issue in greater detail in our post on the perils of public WiFi, but happily, it’s a simple problem to solve with a VPN, which we’ll look at shortly.
Your internet service provider (ISP)
As previously explained, your ISP, like the bait WiFi, serves as a middleman for your online interactions. This is because your computer must first connect to a DNS server, which is nearly always run by your ISP. This allows them to keep track of where you were going and what you were doing online when you used the DNS server.
Worse, many ISPs have a history of selling that information to nearly anybody who asks.They can also turn over the records to authorities or other companies if they detect infringement of copyright laws. Again, this is easily remedied.A good place to start is to manually modify your DNS, which is straightforward to do.You can change your DNS server from your ISP’s DNS server to a more secure third-party option, such as Cloudflare’s 126.96.36.199.
Browser hijacking is another type of threat to your online privacy. It’s a technique used by cybercriminals to change subtle, or in some circumstances not-so-subtle, browser settings like the default search engine. This enables them to redirect a large portion of your internet traffic through their search engine or website and acquire a great deal of information about you.Changes to your homepage and even your default browser are examples of browser hijacking.
Fortunately, Microsoft has taken steps to prevent this by including a check in Windows that requires user agreement before changes are made automatically. That’s an excellent example of why it’s critical to keep an eye on things and use common sense when it comes to online privacy. Microsoft discovered that, despite the additional approval check, such attacks continued because individuals ignored the warning Windows provided and clicked “yes” on impulse. Keeping an eye on windows that appear when browsing and being aware of which websites you’re on will help improve cybersecurity.
Keeping Your Privacy Safe
Now that we’ve covered the most common ways your privacy might be compromised, let’s have a look at some precautions you can take. Once again, not all of these will be required for everyone. Different steps can be put in place to safeguard yourself depending on what you do online and the types of security breaches you’re most concerned about.
Make use of a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a method of masking your online activity so that it appears to be something other than what it is. This can confuse not only intermediaries like your ISP or anyone watching you from public WiFi, but also those seeking to track you from website to website using a browser fingerprint. A VPN works by routing your internet connection through a server someplace else in the world, making you appear to be someone from somewhere else. This can distort what your ISP or someone using a bogus public WiFi network sees. It will appear to them that you are connected from the VPN server, and your trail will effectively cease there.This keeps them from knowing which websites you’re visiting.
Websites will no longer see you as having your own IP address, but rather the IP address of the VPN server, masking you from most sorts of tracking. This can also be used to circumvent things like China’s Great Firewall, which restricts the country’s internet. Because of the great utility of VPNs and the massive boost in privacy they provide, the market is swamped with solutions. Some are excellent, while others are not.There are various free VPN providers with limited functionality if you want to test what it’s like to utilise a VPN.However, many have dubious privacy practises that might allow them to sell your information in the same way that your ISP would.If you’re ready to take the next step, there are plenty of paid VPNs available, so we recommend you check out our top VPN roundup. Alternatively, you can jump directly to our ExpressVPN review to learn why it’s our top pick.
Make use of a password manager
Almost everyone understands the fundamentals of account security, such as creating a strong password rather than simply typing “password1” or anything like. Unfortunately, the fundamentals of password security also involve using various passwords for different websites and changing your password for critical accounts on a regular basis. With the hundreds of accounts that most people have online, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of and change passwords as frequently as you should.This is where password management software comes in.
Though most online browsers can keep your passwords for you, a decent password manager will generate strong passwords for you, provide unique passwords for each website, reset passwords when they become too old, and even warn you to questionable behaviour. Furthermore, most password managers will encrypt your information and even use a zero-knowledge configuration that prevents the password manager operator from seeing your private information, even if it is stored on the password manager’s server.
Password managers also provide two-factor authentication, which makes it more difficult for unauthorised visitors to view your passwords and information, which is far more than any built-in browser password manager can offer. If you want to use a password manager to make your online life more safe and faster, check out our best password manager post. If you want a more direct suggestion, check our Dashlane review to find out why we adore it.
Using an Antivirus software
An antivirus is one of the most well-known enhancements to cybersecurity and online privacy. Viruses span a wide spectrum of online hazards, from ransomware, which steals your data in exchange for a fee, to trackers put in your browser. A decent antivirus can help prevent this type of thing from happening, and many antiviruses include a slew of extra capabilities that boost overall security by blocking botnet and browser hijacking attempts.
Though there are numerous free antivirus software alternatives, many of them lack the more comprehensive capabilities found in the finest commercial antivirus software. Bitdefender is our top recommendation for antivirus software, which you can learn more about in our Bitdefender Antivirus review.
Backing up your data is critical and, in many situations, is already done for you. Android and iOS devices save certain photos and other data to the cloud. Backing up data is vital not only for sentimental reasons, but also for things like record keeping.There have been numerous high-profile examples of celebrities’ iCloud accounts being hacked and sensitive photographs stolen.
Which form of cloud storage service is ideal for you will depend on the type of data and the level of risk associated with it. There are numerous choices available, whether you need a commercial solution or simply want to backup images and memories.
Other Privacy Suggestions
Aside from the obvious, such as a VPN, antivirus, and password manager, there are several techniques to safeguard your online privacy that simply take a minute or two to implement. For starters, most trackers can be easily disabled with a simple addon like Ghostery.It’s free and takes less than a minute to set up.It prevents web trackers from collecting information about your browsing behaviour and displays the trackers it detects on a specific website, allowing you to determine which organisations are interested in your browsing history and what they’re tracking.
An encrypted communicator, such as Pidgin, is another popular privacy solution for individuals concerned about surveillance.Encryption is a strong tool for privacy that makes it nearly impossible for even government supercomputers to see through, giving a layer of security to your messages. Some search engines are also more effective than others. If you don’t want Google to follow you, you may use DuckDuckGo or one of its secure competitors.To learn more, visit our what is DuckDuckGo or guide. We also offer a DuckDuckGo how-to tutorial if you decide this is your go-to search engine.
As an added benefit, we encourage that you be cautious about what you disclose on social media.
Though Facebook and other social media platforms are highly significant to many individuals, every single social media platform shares your information with third parties. Being cautious implies that there is less to sell.
When it comes to online privacy, the following years will be telling. Fortunately, many online privacy advocates are working hard to maintain the internet free of eavesdropping and spying. Increased internet privacy will provide consumers more control over who has access to their data, which is something that 74% of Americans want, according to our search engine statistics piece. Unfortunately, there are just as many persons and organisations out to get your information.Their tactics, however, are well-documented and not beyond the comprehension of well-informed people.