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.
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.
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.
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.
Manage Your Emails and Do Not Click on Links
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a brief video that provides some tips and advice for protecting your privacy online:
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.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Thapana_Studio/Shutterstock.com.