Just like you would not keep the doors of your home unlocked when you sleep at night, there is every reason for you to protect your online privacy from people who would do you harm. The online world today is an extension of every aspect of our lives – be it social, financial, business, entertainment or otherwise. Each of us has sensitive and private information in the online world that unscrupulous individuals would do anything to get their hands on.
It makes every sense in the world for everyone to achieve some degree of online privacy. This alone would stop your from having to look over your shoulder every time you post something online or carry out a financial transaction on your favorite e-commerce site. The following are twelve (12) straightforward ways to protect your online privacy and enjoy a healthy existence on the Web!
Use Strong Passwords
We talked a little about this in our article about protecting your self from online scams. When it comes to passwords, modern websites do most of the heavy lifting you. If it weren’t for mechanisms in place to force users to choose strong combinations, many of them would still be using those that are easily-guessed. It may seem like a simple measure, but you would be surprised at how far a strong password goes in securing your online privacy.
Update Your Software Regularly
Those who work in the Tech industry may have good reason for delaying software updates when they receive them. But for the typical user, it is a good idea to take action when update alerts show up on your screen. Updating your software with these security patches will help enhance your device’s security. Never shy away from installing these updates. They only make you more secure and strengthen your online privacy.
Go for Two Factor Authentication
Many online services now implement a mechanism known as two factor authentication. If they offer it manually, or, you have to enable it to use, you should consider doing so. Two factor authentication provides an extra layer of protection by first prompting you for your account password, and then sending a randomly generated string of characters to your smart phone. This data must also be entered before you are granted access to your online account. This multi-layer protection, as it is often called, aids against any attempted breach of your account, and circumvents unauthorized access by cybercriminals who may have compromised your username and password.
Use Antivirus (AV) Software
Even though operating systems like Windows have their own built-in security features, it always makes sense for the typical user to install a reputable antivirus product on their computer or mobile device. The reason for this is obvious: There are lots of threats circulating online. Antivirus protection secures the data on your devices.
Be Clever when Providing Answers to Account Security Questions
Our answers to security questions are often so obvious and straightforward that it is not very difficult for hackers to guess what the answers might be. Let’s be honest: The name of your high school doesn’t necessarily make for the strongest security question. And, if you are being targeted by a hacker or cybercriminal, its a good chance they already know the answer to this! Online services have begun letting users choose from a predetermined list of account security questions. Sometimes they even let you enter your own questions and responses to them. Take advantage of this, and let the questions pertain to details so personal that only YOU could provide the answer.
Protect Your Wi-Fi With a Strong Password
Most home and small business Internet packages come bundled with Wi-Fi. Mobile connectivity is our way of life, as mostly everything we use—from smart phones to televisions—require some form of connection-less support. If your Wi-Fi service is not protected by a strong password, you are doing more than just inviting the possibility of leeching. You are also leaving your network and devices susceptible to infiltration. If you haven’t created a strong password for your Wi-Fi yet, go and do that right now!
Be Careful when Using Free Public Wi-Fi
Hotels and neighborhood coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi to their patrons. While convenient, you should still take precaution when accessing such networks. Public Wi-Fi connections are not as secure as the ones you use in your home or small office. Whenever you are using free Public Wi-Fi, you should refrain from making transferring money, emailing sensitive information and other transactions that could be intercepted and misused by hackers.
Verify and Configure Your Social Privacy Settings
Most social network accounts display a fair amount of our personal information for the world to see. Twitter, for example, displays your full birth date by default! If you care anything at all about your online privacy, you would do well to configure your social privacy settings in a manner that restricts access to your most confidential information. You should also take caution when accepting friend requests from people who are not family or close friends.
Clouds are Not the Place for Storing Private and EXTREMELY Confidential Information
Services like Google Docs and DropBox that make sharing information easy are often used by the unassuming to store passwords, scans of property and tax documents, and other confidential information. Doing so places your identity and assets in a vulnerable position. Store sensitive information on a thumb drive instead, and be sure to make frequent backups to avoid the possibility of data loss.
Avoid Sharing Your Principal Email Address and Phone Number
Most online marketers know that a user’s most valuable piece of data is either their email address or phone number. You will, at times, be required to share this data to take advantage of online promotions and “free” products and services. But as you know, nothing in life is free. As a result of sharing your contact information, you should expect to be bombarded with unsolicited emails and phone calls. Avoid this by using an email account created specifically for these scenarios, while refusing to share your phone number altogether. Doing so will save you from a lot of unnecessary harassment.
Use Messaging Applications with End-to-End Encryption
A precursor to this is to perhaps think about what you’ve written before you publish it—whether its a personal conversation between you and someone else or on a website for the world to read. We live in a time in which something you said or did many years ago can come back to haunt you. As it relates to instant messaging applications, most of them don’t provide end to end encryption. Not only does this place power in the hands of the person you are communicating with, but any hacker can intercept messages while they are in transmission. Consider using messaging platforms like What’s App and Signal if you wish to keep your conversations as private as they can be.
Browse the Web in Private Mode
When surfing the web (as the practice of using the Internet was once called), try browsing in incognito or private mode to protect your online privacy. It’s simply a good practice to get into. Not only will it lower the risks of receiving unsolicited emails from spammers, but it will also keep your searches and web history from being recorded and used to directly advertise to you.
Conclusion to Online Privacy
With our lives being so dependent upon the Internet, choosing not to protect your online privacy doesn’t make a lot of sense in this day and age. The twelve (12) steps described above are a good place to start to equip yourself with a reasonable amount of security. However, depending upon how you engage with the Web will ultimately determine the level of privacy you retain. The best security, after all, is to stay completely off the Web, while any sort of presence on it increases your exposure (for better or worse). Take care of your online privacy the way you take care of your physical health. Happy browsing and stay safe!