Those concerned about their privacy online aren’t paranoid. The reality is that big businesses and criminals profit from people’s personal information online. Whether it’s a major search engine learning about its users to sell more advertising or a hacker committing fraud through identity theft, everyone who has ever used the internet should be thinking about online privacy.
With the internet of things and smart gadgets, we are more connected than ever. Even if we don’t use social media, those that do can unintentionally increase our digital footprint online. It may seem like privacy online is impossible, but it’s not.
Follow these 7 tips every time you go online to help protect your identity and your privacy.
1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A virtual private network covers your tracks online. It hides your IP address, which is a number that uniquely identifies your device when you go online.
Once associated only with criminals, many people now use VPNs routinely to shield themselves from fraudsters, scammers, data-hungry internet service providers (ISPs) and search providers, and marketers.
While a VPN hides your device name, it also hides your location, which can make it easier to access websites and services overseas – such as some movie and radio streaming services – that are normally location-specific.
2. Activate Your Firewall and Virus Checker
A firewall monitors data going toward your device and any data attempting to leave your device. This is an essential part of internet safety. Without a firewall, you are prone to fake attachments in emails (trojans) that could damage your device, restrict access, or threaten your security and privacy.
If you use Windows, it comes with a firewall as standard. Make sure it’s turned on. If you’re still concerned about your device’s safety and security, it may be well worth investing in a firewall beyond the free versions to enhance your protection.
A virus checker monitors and routinely checks all the files on your device to identify potential threats. It will then prompt you to reject them, delete them, or quarantine them to keep your data safe and protect other devices on your network. Along with a firewall, a virus checker is essential to keep your device running safely.
3. Notice Identify Scammers
Despite firewalls and virus checkers, malicious files may still get through from time to time. And sometimes criminals aren’t trying to infiltrate your data through software and files but through you. In these cases, you can protect yourself by learning to identify fraudulent and suspicious activity and knowing what to do about it.
Spam refers to unsolicited marketing sent indiscriminately, far and wide. It is often a gateway to fraudulent activity, unwanted marketing, and scams, including bogus products and services.
You can identify spam and scams by:
- a) their typically terrible spelling and grammar,
- b) the use of variations on real business names (such as TheFacebook, instead of Facebook), and
- c) pressure tactics that demand recipients act urgently.
Government organizations like the IRS and businesses like your postal service or telecommunications provider will not demand personal details in emails. And professional businesses are unlikely to ask for private details via a messaging app. Never send passwords, address details, account details, or other personally identifying, sensitive data if you are suspicious.
If you’re unsure whether or not you are being contacted by a real organization or a scammer, you can verify their details using Nuwber. Thus, you can determine whether the details they give are real or not. If you are still unsure, do not respond to the message or email. Report it as spam and/or delete it.
4. Look for HTTPS or a Padlock Symbol for Transactions
If you are performing a financial transaction online, look for at least one of two signs that your session is secure.
The web address should have an S after the http. Https signifies that the page is secure. Any information you send via that page will be encrypted. Without a secure connection, third parties may be able to see and intercept your data.
For ease, secure websites also display a padlock in the address bar. If you see a padlock, you know that any data sent from that page, such as your contact details or card details, will be sent encrypted. This makes it much more difficult for anyone to steal that data.
5. Log Out and Use Passwords
This is a simple tip that will help you keep yourself safe online. Log out whenever you have finished with a service online. Then log out of your device before leaving it. This is particularly important if other people use your device.
If you don’t log out of a web service, the next person to use your device could enter that service – for example, Amazon or your online banking – as you. Logging out of your machine can prevent unauthorized access to your online activity, as long as a password is required to log back in.
Use a strong password to protect access to your device. The best password is a complete sentence or a long, seemingly nonsensical string of characters. Include at least one number, one symbol, and one capital letter. Avoid something that people will identify with you, such as the names of your children, a memorable birthday, or a favorite sports team.
6. Delete Your Browsing History and Cookies
Most search engines store your search activity to provide you with a better search service and, in some cases, to market products and services to you more accurately. To protect your online privacy, you’ll want to get rid of this history regularly. In your browser settings, you will normally find the option to delete your browser history and cookies. Do it.
When browsing, only accept necessary cookies. Delete them regularly. Alternatively, use a browser such as DuckDuckGo, which prides itself on never tracking your searches or storing your search history. This does not make you invisible online, but it will help protect your online privacy.
7. Avoid Public and/or Unsecured Wifi
If you’re concerned about online privacy, avoid connecting to public wifi, such as you may find in a cafe or hotel. Also, if you can connect to the internet without a password, it’s not secure and neither are your subsequent searches, conversations, or transactions. Only use private, secure wifi connections that demand passwords for access.
These 7 tips should help keep you safe online. In an age in which we are increasingly connected, these tips will help you find balance – keeping safe without impacting your freedom.
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