Considering how recently the Internet was invented, its impact on our lives is almost astounding. From the world’s reliance on social media, to internet banking, to the internet of things, a large portion of our lives is lived on the web. Conveniences like video calls and internet conferences, taking online courses, working from home and submitting completed projects through the Internet, cloud backup for important files, and even purchasing commodities without leaving the comfort of your home are all made possible with the use of the Internet.
Such heavy reliance on the Internet means that in the 21st century, information is a more valuable commodity than ever. Hackers exploit data to enrich themselves, and nefarious companies will mine your data to sell to advertisers. As dependent as we are on our online personas in our personal and professional lives, protecting our internet privacy becomes all the more important. Here are ten simple tips to help you protect your internet privacy.
Improve Your Password Security Game
The common mistakes that people often make is setting internet passwords using their (close relative or pet’s) first name, middle name or birthday. Using basic passwords like 12345, storing your passwords on your computer and using the same password over multiple accounts are also very bad internet security practices.
Using multiple unique passwords and updating them periodically is the best way to guarantee your password security. Remembering and coming up with new passwords every so often can be mentally taxing but luckily there are password managers to help you there like LastPass, KeeWeb, or Google Chrome’s built in password manager and Google Smart Lock.
- Opt for Two Factor Authentication
Two factor authentication (or multi factor authentication) provides an extra layer of security for your web accounts. After you’ve entered your secure password you are sent a randomly generated security code on your phone to verify that it really is you trying to gain access to your account. These codes might be sent through SMS or you might receive a phone call with an automated caller telling you the code. As cell networks can be intercepted, the most secure form of two factor authentication (TFA) is an authenticator app designed for that purpose. You should only really fear this possibility if you deal in particularly sensitive information, which means that using calls or SMS for your TFA is generally fine for most users.
Manage Your Browser Cookies
The websites that you visit will often ask to install cookies on your browser in order to help them gather information about your online history and preferences, as well as ostensibly improve their page loading speed. While you should allow cookies from sites that you trust, some less than honest websites may sell your information to 3rd parties without seeking your consent. Periodically running through your browser’s installed cookies is a good habit to form. Be wary of cookies that have been installed without your permission.
Delete Any and All Obsolete Accounts
Leaving web accounts lying around merely increases the risk of intrusion and hacking. Any old accounts that you no longer use should be deactivated and deleted. Keep in mind, however, that some social websites and email providers will often recycle account names after a certain period of time has elapsed since the original account was deleted so your email address may end up being assigned to someone else. Make sure to update all your contacts with your new email address and social media So as to avoid ending up with an information leak.
Ensure that Your Computer is Virus Free
A large part of securing your internet privacy is ensuring that your computer’s hard drive and all of its content are kept secure in terms of confidentiality, integrity and availability. Hackers can infect your computer with malware or viruses that let them take control of your computer, rummage through your private files to commit identity theft, and even hold your files hostage unless you pay them a certain amount as ransom. Ensure that you install all security updates released by your Operating System’s manufacturer. In the case of Microsoft Windows, always turn on your Windows Firewall and Windows Defender Protection. You should also install and use a computer antivirus or an internet security tool.
Be Careful with Public Wi-Fi Networks
While it may be convenient to use Wi-Fi networks, remember that there is no telling who is monitoring your internet traffic. Take special care when you are on a public network connection. There is little danger to viewing your favourite websites but anything that requires a login is best done only on secure Wi-Fi connections. Avoid online transactions while you are on a public network. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can help connect you to the internet via encrypted tunnels. You may also want to look into this option if you have no choice but to conduct serious business on public networks.
Watch What You Share on Your Social Media Accounts
People often forget this, but what we share on social media is less like a private conversation between friends, and more akin to making an announcement across the web. Thus they accidentally give out privileged information to people who are willing to use the data for their own unscrupulous means. You can inadvertently give sufficient information to reveal your location and your activities, and even enough to form a picture of your habits and lifestyle.
To avoid this, keep tabs on what you share and post. If necessary, enable privacy settings on all your social media accounts that make your posts visible only to those in your circle.
Secure Your Email Address
Here are a few ways your email address can be used to intrude on your privacy and how to counter these threats.
- If you give your email address to unethical websites, they might in turn sell it to sites that will bombard you with spam, or spam your email themselves. You should be careful who you share your email with, and unsubscribe from any suspicious websites as well as report spam whenever you find it.
- Be wary of file attachments, especially from unknown sources. These could easily contain malware. Run a virus scan on any suspicious file attachment before opening it.
- Leaving your email logged in on foreign computers is similar to leaving your front door wide open. A stranger can get inside and change the locks (your password or other means of authentication) and keep you out permanently. Ensure that you log out of any devices you do not own. In the first place, you can use the privacy mode to log in.
Most importantly, stay updated on current trends in the field of privacy invasion. Hacking and spying methods are constantly advancing, but so are the means of combating them.