With all the recentdata breaches and horror stories about social media in the news, people concerned about their online privacy are looking for ways to improve their data security online.
A lot of the suggestions you’ll find can sometimes feel like being told to unplug from the internet entirely, but there is plenty you can do to protect yourself and your privacy without completely giving up your online presence.
Here are 9 tips for improving your online privacy without having to give up your online life.
Use a Private Browser
Setting up a private browser window in Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome is a good way to quickly protect your online activity, but it isn’t complete.
Besides, it requires specifically opening up a private window since private browsing isn’t the default option for either browser.
Yes, people should take more conscientious care of their privacy, but sometimes, it isn’t always possible and people forget.
A better option is to go with a private browser entirely and use it for everything. Good options include Brave and Epic, but there are others out there.
Use Several Email Addresses
This is a rather simple and common trick that works by segregating incoming emails into different accounts based on their content.
Having one email address for personal emails, professional correspondences, bills, web sign-ups, and any other use case that might apply can go along way to protecting yourself in the event that your e-mail is somehow breached.
This also helps cut down on inbox clutter, but also means you will have to juggle more than one email address.
This is a lot easier than it sounds though, and having a different password for each means that if one is compromised, your other accounts are secure.
Use a Password Algorithm Instead of a Password
This is definitely one of the easiest ways to protect yourself online.
One of the biggest vulnerabilities people have is reusing the same password for multiple accounts so that if some hacker gets your password, they can try it on every account they know you have and more often than not succeed in gaining access to your data.
Remembering a hundred passwords is hard though, which is why most of us stick with one password for everything.
There is an overlap in that Venn diagram though; rather than one password, develop one password algorithm that you can use to remember the password for almost every site.
You only have to remember how to apply the algorithm for a given site and you’ll never have to remember the actual password again.
Use a VPN, Especially on Public Connections
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) were popularized by businesses whose employees would telecommute, giving them secure access to a companies network from home, but their use has greatly expanded to the wider public.
They are easily one of the best ways to secure your privacy.
While “free” VPNs are available, we don’t recommend them (more on that in a bit). It pays to invest some money to secure your data and low-cost VPNs are widely available that make it almost irresponsible not to subscribe to one.
Nothing on the Internet is Free
There’s a famous axiom that if someone offers you something for free, it’s because you are the product.
For as long as there has been media, there has been advertising and while this isn’t bad in and of itself, it gets more problematic when your data starts getting bought and sold without your knowledge or control. "Free" often comes at the cost of your online privacy.
That’s why you should always be skeptical of the “free” offer and the more info you have to provide for the offer, the more skeptical you should be.
Which is why you also set up an email account specifically for all those free offers, right?
Invest in High-Quality Antivirus/Firewall Software Every Year
This is honestly one of those things that should go without saying but a surprising number of people do not use antivirus and firewall software.
More importantly, just as some products and services get better or worse over time, when it comes time to renew this software, go online and check out which software is the current top-rated product.
CNet, PC Magazine, and others regularly rate antivirus and firewall software every year and the top product last year might not have slipped a few notches since.
Always go for the best protection you can get, not the one is easier to stick with because it’s already installed.
Regularly Check If Your Data Is Compromised
Just like checking your credit report every year to look for errors or possible fraud, you should regularly check if your data has been compromised by a third party.
There are several websites out there where you can check if your email, passwords, or other data was compromised by a hack so you can take action to protect yourself and your accounts.
Haveibeenpwned and BreachAlarm are two of the most widely used, but there are many others.
Be Wary When Interacting With Unprompted Emails
This may seem like a no-brainer, but phishing is the number one way that hackers get your information and if you think you can spot a phishing attempt, you almost certainly can’t.
The level of sophistication increases every day and the consequences of falling for a phishing attempt can be catastrophic, just ask John Podesta and Hillary Clinton.
If an email shows up that you did not expect from your bank, credit card, or another site where you have an account that asks you to click on a link or download something, go to the site on your own and log-in directly rather than click through the email.
If the e-mail was legit, there will be a notification in your account page in most cases where you can view or download whatever information they needed you to see.
If there’s no record of whatever the email was talking about, report it immediately and check to see if your accounts have been compromised.
Cover/Unplug Your Webcam and Microphone!
If a hacker does manage to gain access to your computer, they can probably access everything on your computer—that means your webcam and microphone if these are plugged in.
Nothing can be more invasive than having some hacker watching what’s going on in your home or listening in on your conversations, so if you can unplug your webcam and/or microphone when they’re not in use, absolutely do so.
If they can’t be unplugged, cover them with electrical tape when not in use. If it’s good enough for Mark Zuckerburg and the FBI, it’s good enough for you—and those guys know all about harvesting people’s online data.