Do you ever worry about how much of your personal information is out there? And not only the data you were careless about, but that you had no say in the matter in? Websites you visit and services you use don’t even hide the fact they’re keeping tabs on you. They claim it’s “to improve the quality of service” but in reality, it’s so they can serve advertisements accurately. The reason is simple – in the digital age, those who own data own the future. Add Internet censorship and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) selling your data to third parties for profit, and you’ll see the situation is dire. That’s exactly why you should know how to secure your privacy online.
1. Secure your privacy online with a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
We’ve covered what is a VPN and how does a VPN work already. In short, you can hide your IP with a VPN, masking your identity and location and preventing even your ISP from spying on you. If you use a premium VPN provider, they’ll store no logs of your activity or connection history.
Furthermore, you’ll get to circumvent geolocation blocks and bypass censorship that exists in your native country. The traffic between you and the server is encrypted, typically with a military-grade algorithm, making “man in the middle” attacks and decryption without a key impossible.
A VPN is the preferred choice for securing your online privacy since it provides the best value at very little time and money invested. In fact, there are high-quality free VPN services and you can create a VPN server on your router.
2. Secure your online privacy with a proxy or VPN Proxy
You should make a distinction between a VPN proxy and a proxy:
1. VPN Proxy
We already went over what VPN proxy is. You can also encrypt your Internet traffic and hide your real IP address by connecting to a proxy server, but it’s not as powerful at circumventing geo-locking or censorship as a VPN. It also lacks some advanced security features a VPN has, but that’s where the increase in speed comes from. This makes VPN proxy ideal for gaming, torrenting, or running an online business. Actually, any activity where speed and latency are paramount, but privacy protection is second in priority.
A proxy conceals your real IP address, and thus identity and location, but lacks any encryption. It can be useful for short-term casual Internet browsing, but anything more challenging is a privacy risk. An added benefit is that there are a lot of free proxies to choose from, both as browser extensions and websites that act as a gateway.
3. Hide your digital fingerprint
The DNT (Do Not Track) requests your browser promises you aren’t doing their job because websites and services are free to ignore them. Well, there’s a host of applications that can help you turn the tide in your favor. Some examples include TrackOff, ShieldApps Cyber Privacy Suite, Ghostery Midnight, and Abine. All of them can scramble your Internet traffic to keep anyone with ill intentions off your back.
4. Install HTTPS Everywhere
HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension for Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Tor, Edge, and Brave. It uses clever technology to ensure you’re using HTTPS standard over HTTP whenever possible. If you weren’t aware, the major advantage of HTTPS is the built-in encryption of traffic between you and the website you’re browsing. In the absence of a VPN or a VPN proxy, HTTPS Everywhere will protect you while connected to public Wi-Fi networks.
5. Secure your privacy online by installing TOR
TOR or The Onion Router is a free browser for top-notch security. Although it isn’t as comprehensive as a VPN, the browser will bounce your traffic between multiple nodes (servers) before your request reaches a website you’re visiting. This masks your traffic and hides your online activities. It also allows you to visit the so-called deep web and keeps you safe meanwhile.
The only downside is the speed reduction because these security measures take a toll. Also, you’re using free servers, usually supplied by volunteers who believe in Internet freedom.
6. Block ads, trackers, and malware
While ads are the primary way many people earn their living, there’s no doubt they’re a major threat to your privacy. They continuously keep tabs on you, trying to guess the next product or service that interests you. Combine that with trackers and malware some websites serve you without consent, and nothing you do remains private. We recommend using browser extensions such as uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger. Make sure to disable personalized ads whenever possible, too, and utilize Simple Opt-Out to the full extent.
7. Secure your privacy by using an encrypted e-mail service
Using hotmail.com, gmail.com, or icloud.com as an e-mail address is convenient and some of these services claim to encrypt your email. What’s not to love? Well, that isn’t entirely true – most of them either encrypt it, but read your messages regardless for alleged “improvement of service” or force you to jump through hoops to obtain certificates for encryption.
Remember the saying, “if the product is free, you are the product?” They make millions off selling data to third parties and placing targeted ads by tracking your activities online. We recommend picking up alternatives such as ProtonMail, PreVeil, Tutanota, Virtru, Start Mail, or Private Mail.
8. Use anti-virus or anti-malware software
Using Windows Defender on Windows 10 and built-in anti-virus utilities on macOS should be enough for most users. For a third-party alternative, look for reputable companies such as Norton, Avira, Kaspersky, or Avast. Furthermore, we strongly recommend Malwarebytes as anti-malware software. It works on Windows 10, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. Keep in mind that a VPN doesn’t equal an Antivirus.
9. Check for data breaches occasionally
We’ll part ways here, but you should stay tuned because the list of ways to secure your privacy online is extensive. With that said, we’re referring to websites such as Have I Been Pwned, F-Secure Identity Theft, Avast Hack Check, or Firefox Monitor. Enter your e-mail address and take measures if your data was exposed in a data breach.
10. Keep your hardware and software up-to-date
You can also prevent online threats by keeping your device and relevant software up-to-date. Most developers offer periodic updates to the software. These updates include the latest security measures that can deal with these infamous threats. Any app or software that uses an internet connection to function should be updated regularly.
11. Beware of Freeware
We also suggest saying no to freeware as a practice. Who doesn’t like free stuff? But unless you are sure about the source or if the source isn’t some reputable company, it is better to stay away. Every year, Google bans several apps from the Play Store because they can potentially threaten your online health. And most of these apps are free. Hence, it is better to use tried-and-tested software than go for something that has yet to prove itself, even if it’s free.
12. Be prudent with your PII
Always make sure that you do not overshare on any social media platform. It might appear harmless, but determined hackers can use such information to replicate your online persona. It can lead to identity theft or even fraud. Misuse of PII (Personally identifiable information) can even harm you in the real world, as malicious entities can track your real-time location with your IP address and other information.
13. Say no to pirated software
Piracy is not only a concern for copyright content creators; it can also hamper your day-to-day activities. If you are using pirated software, then you are placing yourself at risk. Such software is not supported by the company. There are no security updates, and you can not go to the vendor with any complaints. Furthermore, those who distribute cracked software can add anything to the file that you might not even notice, even with an antivirus. Thus, it is prudent to stay away from such apps and software.
14. Use stronger passwords and multifactor authentication methods
Lastly, you can always use stronger passwords to safeguard your online accounts. By following the safe password guidelines, you can create a password that is hard to crack. You can also use multiple authentication methods on top of passwords for added security. Multifactor authentication means multiple modes of verifying a user’s identity. Popular methods include OTPs, which you receive in your inbox or on your mobile device. Or it can even be an app, such as Google Authenticator.