It is more than obvious that the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. Free public Wi-Fi and mobile internet are almost everywhere. We greatly rely on the world wide web to text each other, send and receive emails, post about our life on social media networks, shop for clothes or order food, search for information, and so on.
Unfortunately, some of us are too casual and careless with how we manage our personal data and activities online. When you visit a website or perform any other online activity, you inevitably leave digital traces which can be easily tracked and used to reveal your identity.
In addition, using public networks leaves you vulnerable to cybercriminals who are always looking to steal your private information like passwords or credit card information. That is precisely why you should do your best to protect yourself online and enhance your online privacy.
Who can access your personal information? Who can sift through your emails and social media updates? Is there a way for someone to track your torrenting or web browsing activities? As a matter of fact, every time you are online, your activities can be monitored by quite a few parties.
The first threat is your ISP – internet service provider. Everything you do online is routed via your ISP. That means they have logs of every website you visit and all the activities you complete. Unfortunately, most people don’t think about this unless they are doing something ethically or legally questionable.
Your ISP assigns an IP address to your computer every time you connect to the Internet. That way, your ISP knows everything you do online, including:
And since your ISP knows your IP address, they can also identify your location and name.
The second threat comes from commercial entities. The internet is dominated by a handful of enormous companies. Over 3.5 billion Google searches are being carried out every day and 1.5 billion logs into Facebook daily. Such services have become an integral part of our social lives, as they meet many of our needs and do it very well. For free.
All they ask in return is unprotected access to our private data. And this personal information, alongside our browsing data, is very valuable to advertisers and enterprises. Such data, which businesses mine and then sell or trade without our consent, helps advertisers determine what services and products to promote as well as what ads to show us.
The third one is obvious but not as common – the government could be spying on you right now. They can also demand your private data from corporations like Facebook, Google, or even from your ISP.
Even after the Snowden incident, which revealed details of a worldwide surveillance system, the average person still doesn’t pay enough attention to government surveillance. Reports from Google show how often they get national security letters from the governments requesting data about people.
The last threat is notorious – cybercriminals and hackers make a living by stealing individuals’ private and financial data. They utilize a variety of methods and tools to collect your private digital data until they have just enough of it to steal your identity.
Once this happens, it becomes only a matter of time when they will use your identity to transfer cash from your bank account to theirs, buy lucrative items online, apply for credit cards under your name, and commit other activities that could cause irrevocable damage.
One of the simplest ways for them to steal your private data is by monitoring your network traffic at public places that offer free Wi-Fi connections like airports, hotels, and coffee shops.
Although you can never have complete control over who is monitoring your online activities, there are different steps you can take to lower the risk. Not every tool can secure your privacy but when you use some of them together, you will be much more successful at hiding your online footprints.
For the start, use a personal VPN. VPN services secure your online privacy and web sessions by creating a protected tunnel on the web between your device and your target website. Therefore, all data is encrypted, securing your credit card information and passwords from cybercriminals and commercial entities.
The VPN technology also allows you to hide your IP address by replacing it with the VPN server’s IP address. That way, the websites you visit only see the IP address of the VPN server, not yours. This allows you to remain anonymous online, thereby preventing your government and ISP from tracking your web browsing activities.
Besides protecting your web sessions and securing your privacy, VPNs are also useful for people looking to bypass a firewall or unblock any website and get unrestricted access to their favorite content from anywhere.
Another solution to consider is installing a solid anti-virus program. It doesn’t matter how much work and time you put into securing your personal information – malware, trojans, and viruses are omnipresent these days. Luckily, an antivirus is a very effective method to protect your online privacy.
Some of the more popular antivirus options are:
Browsers like Edge, Chrome, and Safari collect user data aggressively. After all, they are owned by the same corporations that we already mentioned, like Microsoft, Google, and Apple. These three giant companies control the overwhelming majority of the web browser market. After all, aren’t you using one right now?
Therefore, it is best to switch to more secure browsers. For instance, Firefox is a quick and private open-source browser which was fully audited – proving it does exactly what it says it does. Its new Quantum rendering engine was created from the ground up to improve performance and it includes tracking protection.
There are so many websites today that show some kind of ads. And while most people can cope with an ad or two, too many ads can get in the way of a seamless user experience. The worst thing of all is that some pop-ups can even redirect you to web pages that inject malware. Hence the need for an ad blocker.
An ad blocker keeps both malicious software and pesky advertisers at bay. Ad blockers can be easily installed as an extension in your Chrome or Firefox browser. Also, they are excellent when used together with a VPN, as they make it incredibly difficult for adware to cause damage.
The tools mentioned above can’t do much without appropriate behavior from your part. For instance, you need to be careful when you share sensitive information online. Although using social media feels like having a constant conversation with your friends, it is also a conversation that the whole world can hear. Your posts on social media can be used to track where you are and what you are doing.
That is why you should follow these tips for better protection:
All your digital devices need to be password-protected. If you lose an unprotected device or it gets stolen, it will be a trove of your personal information for malicious individuals looking to steal your identity. And the same applies to your online accounts.
The point here is not to have any password but a strong one. Use a minimum of eight characters, including symbols, numbers, as well as both uppercase and lowercase letters. Also, update the password often and don’t use the same password on two online accounts or devices.
Exercise caution when clicking on links, downloading attachments, or opening emails. One of the most popular strategies used by cybercriminals is pretending to be your bank or other legitimate institution and asking for your private and personal information.
They can also ask you to click a link to a site where you will need to enter your user name and password. Popularly known as phishing, this tactic is more common than you would believe.
Lastly, clear your cookies. Tracking cookies are small parts of the code that sites attach to your device in order to store data about your online activities and make the site load faster next time you visit it.
However, sometimes that data is sold to companies around the globe without your consent. If you are concerned about this, you can always block or remove unwanted cookies in your browser.