It’s no exaggeration to say that we live our lives online. We’ve come a long way from the early days of the Internet when we used it to research high school book reports and email. These days, you can shop for clothes, buy your groceries, become an influencer with millions of followers on social media, or watch a live event with billions around the world.
We’ve learned and grown with the Internet, but it is learning too, about us.
Every site you visit online has cookies that collect information about you. The last ten years have been filled with frightening reports of data breaches at companies we give our banking information to. We also cannot forget scandals like Cambridge Analytica, which was an eye opening demonstration of the potential for misuse of data collected about us online.
Is Big Brother a reality of modern life that we just have to accept? While you may not be able to completely eliminate all forms of data collection, there are ways you can protect yourself and limit the reach of collection tools.
1. Consider switching search engines and browsers
Google has become such an unavoidable part of our lives it’s joined the English Language as a verb, complete with a dictionary definition. You can now be “googled” or searched. As much as we like the search engine and browser, the fact is Google is one of the biggest collectors of data online. Google records every single search item and site you visit. Moreover, information about your online activity is surprisingly detailed and stretches back over several years.
You can have this information deleted. You can also prevent it from being collected in the first place. Use alternative search engines that do not keep records. DuckDuckGo, Startpage, Qwant are privacy first search engines that offer varying degrees of freedom from tracking and collection. For alternative browsing, try Microsoft Edge or Safari.
2. Get an ad blocker
Most people see online ads as a necessary, if annoying, tradeoff we engage in for the content we love on the Internet. They can also be quite harmful. What most of us don’t know is that these ads are connected by a vast web of servers that allow you to be tracked once you click on them.
This is one way information is “stolen” from you through ads, as a profile of your interests, age, location among other things is built based on the ads you view.
The other is through the inclusion of malware and spyware on ad links. You can click on an ad and find yourself directed to a seemingly legitimate product website that prompts you to enter your financial information, only to have the data stolen and used by hackers.
An ad blocker will significantly limit the number of these “ads” you’ll be exposed to.
3. Install anti virus
To use your personal computer on the Internet without having anti-virus software installed on it is asking for trouble.
Viruses being released today are capable of causing far more damage to your machine and irrecoverable loss than any other time in the Internet’s history. Beyond that, the average user is dealing with sophisticated spyware and malware, software designed to spy and track on the user or cause the computer to behave in ways that are detrimental to it and the user.
Ransomware crimes have also become a significant problem. This is where the data on your device is encrypted and is not released back to you until the money is paid to the attacker. Having a backup of your data would help if this happens to you.
Backing up your data to the cloud is one method available to you. Therefore, it’s highly important to learn what is cloud security to find out how you can add an extra layer of security when you go online. You can never be too prepared or too protected online these days.
4. Take precautions when using public Wi-Fi
This one is for users of public wifi networks. In these quarantine times, it is especially good to get out and into the open, so you might take your laptop down to the local coffee shop. What you may not know is that your data can be stolen over these public networks. To stop this, you can install a VPN or Virtual Private Network.
This allows you to hide your IP address and block ads, which reduces the number of ways you can be tracked.
5. Use unique passwords for every online account
Having the same password for your online accounts may be convenient and easy to remember but it’s also dangerous. If hackers gain access to one of your accounts and try your password at the others, there are likely to be other security breaches. Consider getting a password manager, which will store all of your passwords.
6. Use two-factor authentication
This is another security measure that can add an extra layer of protection when you are online. Typically, two-factor authentication asks for a code, sent to a device only you have access to, along with a password. This way, even if someone steals your password, they can’t get into your accounts, as they don’t possess the code.
7. Password protect your phone
We tend to forget to password protect our phone, even though we are on it more often than our laptop or desktop throughout the day. This is like leaving your wallet on a public bus filled with cash. Think of someone having access to all of your contacts, your photos, your DMs, your social media accounts, all with the swipe of a finger.
Use the option to set up a password that comes with your phone, or take advantage of several security apps that do this as well.
8. Clear cache
Your browser knows you much better than you would like to think. Unfortunately, it can also help people looking to steal information about your buying habits or financial details because it stores so much information about what you do online. Clear your browser’s cache regularly to prevent this.
You won’t be able to completely eliminate online data threats, but you can significantly reduce them by taking these steps.