How to Protect Your Privacy Online: Essential Tips and Tools

malware threat on laptop computer pc

How to Protect Your Privacy Online: Essential Tips and Tools

Online security and privacy are different, although closely related. Both are concerned with collecting data, but privacy deals with data collected legally, whereas issues with online security tend to happen when it is not.

Privacy is threatened when this information and the information you gave signing up is accessed illegally or sold to a third party. Sometimes you pass that information with consent, but then, scammers gain access to that and target people by telephone, ads, and emails using what they know about them to build up trust until the person gives them money.

Thankfully, there are so many things in your control that will greatly improve your security online. Here are a few tips to get you started and protect your privacy online.

Know Your Cookies

Your digital footprint reveals your interests, creating a trail as you visit websites online. You get cookies from each site as a result.

Cookies are data collectors, recording when and for how long you visited, what you looked at, any purchases you made, and how you paid, plus your name, date of birth, street, and IP address.

They are left like calling cards to customize your online experience. The site remembers you next time, or rather your computer.

Nowadays, everyone is learning to be more mindful of the information they put out online. But we see the message every so often, and most of us click to agree to receive cookies without knowing what receiving them means. You do not have to agree, most people can surf the web just as effectively with cookies turned off or by going InPrivate, Private, or Incognito, according to their browser.

internet cookies warning this website uses cookies
You have the option to decline cookies or use a private browser.

Up Your Privacy Settings

Your privacy settings allow you to decide who sees your profile.  Your browser has privacy settings, which by default are biased towards collecting information but are simple to adjust.

Many of your accounts also have privacy settings. To increase your privacy, you need to visit each one. You can get a list of recommended privacy settings for social media, health, finances, and e-commerce sites from The National Cybersecurity Alliance. 

The shorter your contacts list, the less vulnerable you are, and the less you share, the better. Information shared between you and your friends on social media contributes to the mass of information in your digital footprint.  It means there is a real threat of identity theft.

If you have to post to announce your lottery win, it is best to be sure of who your online friends are. So, check through your contacts lists and have your privacy settings on high to block prying eyes.

Cyber security data privacy email server
Updating your privacy settings to stay secure is always a good idea.

Limit Sharing on Social Media

Social media was created for sharing, but users should be careful about the information they offer. These websites collect data on three levels: your profile, your content, and how you interact with other content on their site.

Private comments and posts have been known to come in searches. You can improve your privacy by turning off location tagging, and dodge viruses and malware by avoiding shared folders and collaborative playlists.

largest social media companies
It’s smart to be wary of what you post on your social platforms.

Create Unique, Strong Passwords

Over the years, passwords have become increasingly more vulnerable. The latest protection is the two-step authentication process that recognizes your smartphone and sends a code. It stays valid for a few moments, which truly enhances security.   

Unfortunately, many sites still do not use 2F authentication. Therefore, you should stay up to date with your passwords by changing them regularly, even for sites you do not visit often. Your password manager can help you keep track.

Choose a mix of at least 8 numbers and letters, lowercase and capitals, to create a strong password. It is better if it is not an actual word. As usual, never use the same password twice or share them, particularly not for your Wi-Fi. That has your data passing through it constantly.

1Password vs LastPass
Always choose a unique password and never share it with others.

We are bombarded with emails, and most of it is junk and phishing. Some people keep an email address just for signing up for websites, which is a good thing to do. Similarly, some email providers help you sort everything by flagging or separating suspected spam, although some invariably make it into the main inbox.

At first glance, these unsolicited emails appear quite legitimate and look like they come from trusted sources such as the social security office, a utilities supplier, or a postal carrier. However, they are mass-generated emails designed to illicit money and valuable information from you.

Never believe them and never click on the links and attachments in them. This phishing is done by tricksters who have spoofed pages. And these pages look so real that people believe they are making genuine online payments. This way, visitors are conned into providing their financial details and robbed of their money.

What you should always bear in mind is that banks and other financial institutions will never ask for financial information or your account details through emails. Even if you get an email, it does not hurt to make a call to their customer support and check if they really need any information.

Types of email accounts
Beware of email scams!

Delete Your Unused Apps

Apps are easy to download and easy to use, but many are designed just to collect information about you and share it.

The gaming apps especially work cross-app, which is why the ads that pop up for games you might like are similar to the games you have. It’s just one small example of how many different trackers distribute your data as they track you online.

You need to understand that games and productivity apps from unverified sources contain viruses that continue to work long after you have deleted the app. Also, there have been many instances where the app itself was developed with the sole purpose of stealing emails and sharing data. So, be careful and do not download anything from unknown sources.

Lock Apps on Android
Deleting unused apps helps to keep tracking to a minimum.

Revoke Unnecessary Third-Party App Permissions

When you download an app, you let it access other apps on your device. Although it may seem harmless, it can cause serious issues down the road.

Also, you should be careful when using account details for one app to sign up for another. For instance, so many people use Facebook details to sign in to their Spotify accounts. This means that if you lose your Facebook log-in details, your Spotify account is as good as lost.

Similarly, you may think it makes things easier for you to connect apps to share social media posts, synchronize calendars, and more. But, guess what? It can compromise your privacy online, which is why it is essential to check third-party apps connected to Facebook, Google, Apple, Slack, Microsoft, etc., to improve your security online.

largest cybersecurity companies
It’s a good idea to limit third-party app permissions.

Use Lesser-Known Search Engines

You can block trackers by using a lesser-known search engine. Search engines can collect and pass on vast amounts of data about their users usually for marketing, but it can find its way to scammers too.

Why do you think the biggest search engines, like Bing and Google, also have their own browsers? Well, this puts them in the perfect position to track data –– and track a lot of it!

It is true that they offer opportunities to opt-out, but they are not always entirely open with their users about how they share information with third parties.

The good idea is to delete your data whenever you can. On Google, you can do it by accessing the My Activity dashboard. For Microsoft, you need to access both Bing and Microsoft Edge. And, if you are on Yahoo, go to the search history management to delete your data.

Taking these steps will help but, still, blocking all the trackers on popular search engines is practically impossible. A good alternative is to switch to a lesser-known and anonymous search engine that automatically blocks ad trackers and never shares a user’s search history. For instance, you can opt for DuckDuckGo, which is a reasonably good online privacy-focused search engine.

DuckDuckGo web browser search engine

DuckDuckGo emphasizes avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results.

Never Ignore Software Updates

You may already know that hackers use bugs to access your private details. But, what you may not realize is that most of the time, it is not because of newly-discovered bugs. They rely on known vulnerabilities that may have been fixed but not installed by the users.

In fact, statistics show that unpatched vulnerabilities continue to be one of the major reasons why hackers gain access to Windows systems. The simple solution is to never ignore any new software update. In fact, it is better to allow your operating system to install new updates as soon as they become available.

google chrome update

Updates include security updates, bug fixes, new features and more.

Use Secure Sites or a Private VPN

A secure website’s address begins with HTTPS. It’s an indication you can trust the site since it carries an SSL certificate as proof it has been verified as having a secure connection by an independent third party.

An unsecure site, an HTTP, is not verified and is likely to have an insecure connection. This renders it, and you, vulnerable to cyberattack. Remember, any malware can take over your hard drive and steal your data in no time.

Besides ensuring you access a secure site, it is also a good idea to use a virtual private network (VPN). It is particularly useful if you are using public computers. On private VPNs, IP addresses are almost untraceable, making your online activity virtually invisible.

NordVPN vs. TunnelBear

NordVPN and TunnelBear are two industry-leading VPN providers.

Secure Your Devices

The simplest thing anyone can do to protect their privacy online is to physically lock their devices. Anyone can walk off with their laptop, tablet, or phone and, from there, have access to their online life.

Given that someone, somewhere could be buying your passwords, it also makes sense to lock things down online by remembering to log out of websites, close all your tabs, and delete your cookies and internet history. As you sign up for new websites and open accounts make a point to read the privacy policy.

Finally, invest in a quality antivirus that will protect you by stopping hackers from taking over your computer remotely. This blocks their way and access to your hard drive where you have your personal details.

virus alert
Getting a good antivirus program is invaluable to protecting your devices.

Here is a brief video that provides some tips and advice for protecting your privacy online:

Wrapping Up

It is natural to feel intimidated and scared using the internet when you know your personal data is always at stake. No doubt, keeping your internet activity anonymous is next to impossible. It is never enough to clear your browsing history to eliminate your trail, is it? 

Still, you should not let it discourage you from trying whatever you can to improve your security. Do not be a sitting duck! Remember the tips we have already covered and you will have more peace of mind when browsing the internet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does encryption mean, and how does it secure data?

Encryption is the process of transforming readable text into unbreakable code. The data is encrypted using an algorithm and a key to lock it until the right key is used to decrypt it.

Passwords, credit card numbers, and other personally identifiable information are just some types of data that can be encrypted for safety during transmission or storage.

It is more challenging for hackers to intercept and access encrypted data. And that is why online communication and financial transactions rely heavily on encryption because of its ability to keep sensitive information private.

What are some of the most common online privacy threats?

Hacking, phishing, identity theft, and data breaches are some of the most common risks and threats to users’ privacy when doing online activities. Weak passwords and software security flaws leave sensitive data vulnerable to hackers.

When someone steals your personal data and then uses it fraudulently, this is called identity theft. Users’ identities may be stolen as a result of data breaches that expose their personal information stored on websites or databases.

Furthermore, targeted advertising and social engineering techniques might threaten user privacy if they are subject to online tracking and surveillance. Individuals should be aware of these threats and take necessary precautions to safeguard their online privacy.

What do phishing attacks mean and how can you avoid them?

Phishing assaults are a form of cyber-attack in which hackers employ deceptive methods to acquire sensitive information from unsuspecting victims, including login credentials, payment information, and personal identification details.

Always double-check the legitimacy of an email or message before responding to it with personal information to avoid falling victim to a phishing scam. Never download an attachment or click on a link from an unknown source without first verifying the sender’s email address and the destination of the link. Use robust, unique passwords for each account, and always update your software and security systems.

Finally, you should always be aware of the newest phishing techniques and never think you are safe. You may protect yourself and your personal information from the dangers of phishing attempts by being vigilant and adhering to some recommended practices.

How can you ensure your children's privacy online?

Teaching your kids how to stay safe and private online is one of the most important things you can do for their future. One way to accomplish this is to instruct kids to be cautious about disclosing private information online.

In addition to teaching your kids about online safety, you can also take technical steps to safeguard their personal information. For instance, use the device’s or app’s parental controls and privacy settings to limit data collecting and prevent access to inappropriate content for younger users. To prevent your children from being exposed to harmful material, you should keep tabs on what they are doing online and limit their screen time.

It is also a good idea to think about installing some sort of monitoring software that can notify you of any suspicious behavior or dangers that may occur on your network.  Being vigilant and keeping abreast of the latest developments in online safety is essential for ensuring your child’s privacy online.

What should you know about GDPR?

As far as data privacy laws go, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) covers pretty much everything. Its fundamental objective is to give people more say over how their private information is used and ensure that businesses treat that information respectfully. Each business processing the personal information of EU citizens is subject to GDPR, regardless of the location of such business.

Users have the right to access, update, or erase any personal data that has been collected about them, as well as the right to object to or limit any further data processing. The law also requires companies to be open and honest about the data they collect and how they use it, which further protects individuals’ privacy while using the internet.

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