Achieving any semblance of privacy when using the internet can feel like an impossible task. However, by making a few minor changes to how you use the internet you can make big progress in your online privacy journey.
These 12 steps won’t guarantee your safety, by any means. However, if you take any effort at all it can pay off in a big way in the long term. There are our recommendations for staying safer online.
Don’t Open Emails from Unknown Senders
If you don’t recognize the sender of an email, it’s a good idea to not even open the message. Email phishing is a huge problem, and is much more common than you might think. Hackers might send you an email that contains a link. Even if you’ve opened the email, don’t open the link. It may lead to a fake website used to collect your login information, or could install a potentially unwanted program on your computer.
Always Double-Check Email Addresses and Web Links
If you receive an email that appears to be from your bank, for example, verify that the sender’s email address actually matches your bank.
When logging into a website, make sure you are on the actual company’s website and not a site posing as the well-known website. If you type your login information into their website, hackers can use your information to log into your accounts. If you are logging into Facebook, check the URL to see that it is actually facebook.com and not a fake domain like facebooklogins.com or facebo0k.com.
Update Your Operating System (OS)
If you’re currently using an outdated version of your operating system, including on your mobile devices, you are leaving yourself open to vulnerabilities. Software updates often contain security patches that could be vital in protecting your information from unwanted third-parties.
Update Any Third-Party Software
While your operating system is more important than other software you have installed on your computer, it’s also important to keep these others updated. If a certain program is outdated a hacker could target that weak point to access more of your accounts.
Download Software Only from the Makers of That Software
If you are downloading software from the internet, it’s safest to only download the program from the company that makes it. Otherwise, you may be getting a spyware or virus infested version of the program.
The actual program you download could be perfectly harmless, but the package you download could include other programs that automatically run on your machine as adware or spyware.
One way to combat this issue is to research the product you’re downloading before adding it to your computer. Check to see if the software has positive reviews and you’re downloading from a reputable source.
Delete Anything You No Longer Need from Your Computer, Smartphone, or Tablet
Unnecessary files or apps on your devices create additional security vulnerabilities. Just because you haven’t opened a certain app in six months doesn’t mean that the app isn’t using the permissions you granted it when you first downloaded it. Apps that collect data in the background, even when they aren’t open, are fairly common. By limiting these, you can shore up your data protection.
Never Use Public or Kiosk Computers
Public computers, like those at a library or in a hotel lobby, are dangerous because you don’t know what all is running on them. If you need to use these computers, it’s best to avoid logging in to any websites or your email accounts. Malicious users could have installed spyware or keystroke logging on the computer to gain access to your accounts.
An obvious tip for using these computers is always remember to log out of your email or social media accounts if you have logged in.
Never Conduct Financial Transactions on a Public Wireless Network
You should avoid transmitting your payment data on public networks because you can’t be certain that someone isn’t monitoring your behavior on the network. Especially don’t use your payment information on unsecured HTTP sites on these networks. A man-in-the-middle attack could steal your credit card information off the network.
If you are in a crunch and have to make a payment on a public or cellular network, we recommend using Privacy, a virtual payment product designed to keep your personal information private – in a form that is even more convenient than regular credit cards.
Never Connect Any Media (Writable CDs and DVDs, USB Sticks, SD Cards, External Hard Drives) Unless You Bought It New
Finding a mysterious USB drive can spark a strong curiosity to find out what’s on the drive and who it belongs to. However, we strongly advise against plugging that flash drive into your computer. These devices can include files that appear to be normal and harmless, but actually contain harmful programs.
Zachary Julian, a Senior Security Analyst at Bishop Fox, said malicious thumb drives are “typically used in targeted attacks”. So if you aren’t dealing with highly sensitive information on a regular basis, odds are that the USB drive you find in your office parking lot won’t contain harmful scripts.
If you are dying to see what is on the flash drive you can use a sandboxing program to avoid potentially giving up access to your hard drive.
Never Provide Information About Your Accounts, Computers, or Networks to Anyone Without First Verifying Their Identity
Fraudulently requesting or accessing a user’s login information or credentials is called phishing. Phishing attacks come in many forms, but generally involve someone impersonating a trusted website or service and deceiving someone into sharing their personal information.
Phishing may be carried out using fake websites, email spoofing, or instant messaging. A lot of times phishing can be combated simply by checking the source of the request. There is often a tell-tale sign that the request is fake or malicious. Most of the time the phishing email or website will try to look like a trusted source, but will be off in some way. The email address may be like firstname.lastname@example.org rather than from a real “facebook.com” email address.
Check, Then Double Check, Your Privacy Settings
If you’re concerned about privacy, you should make sure your privacy settings are configured correctly. Use the privacy settings to share as little information as possible. Oftentimes websites have less private setups enabled by default so that they can collect user data for marketing purposes.
This applies to social media accounts, browsers, and pretty much any website you can login to. You should opt out of sharing use data if possible and any other data sharing settings, if possible.
Avoid Web Tracking
Tracking is an issue that reaches all parts of the internet. According to Ghostery, “79 percent of websites globally are secretly tracking your personal data.” If that’s not concerning, think about what that means…almost 8 out of every 10 websites you visit is collecting information about you. That means there is a ton of information about you floating around to these websites and the people running them.
- Use a VPN (22 VPN Services to Protect Your Privacy)
- Use an Ad Blocker (Ad Guardian Ad Blocker)
- Use a Better Browser (ExpressVPN’s Best Web Browsers for Privacy)
To avoid tracking, or at least keep it to a minimum, there are plenty of tools you can use. These are just a few ways you can minimize how you’re tracked on the internet. For more information follow our latest posts on ChooseToEncrypt.