PROTECTING YOUR ONLINE PRIVACY AND PERSONAL DATA
To get started, here are a few crucial steps on protecting your online privacy and personal data. Keep scrolling…
1- GET A VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK (VPN)
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is software capable of encrypting data you send and receive online on top of hiding your actual IP address. Seeing as online data, by default, is unencrypted, a VPN makes things more challenging for attackers while making your communications more private and secure.
A VPN does so by channeling its data through secure channels of its own and obfuscating your IP so it looks like you’re logging in from somewhere else. While this is well and good, it only covers one potential avenue of attack by intruders and this needs to be paired with other security measures as listed here like a robust firewall and antivirus software. A variety of VPN options exist with some offering free, if modestly limited services while others require a subscription fee but with more substantial options.
2- GET AN ANTIVIRUS SOLUTION
If your privacy is compromised at the source – your PC or your mobile devices – with a malicious virus or other malware you’re back to square one as attackers can intercept whatever you do no matter how robust your other security measures are. Invest in a good antivirus solution and a firewall to prevent malware attacks on your devices and as part of a multi-layered solution to secure your privacy.
Naturally, this also ties in with proper awareness of what you download and where you visit online. By extension, this also means that it is in your best interests to use legitimate software rather than pirated ones as the latter can be a Trojan Horse loaded with malware that can circumvent or make the protective capabilities of an antivirus suite moot. A competent antivirus solution will also help to ensure the nastier viruses like ransomware and the like don’t permanently compromise your PC and ruin all your data.
3- BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL WHAT YOU SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE
Contrary to what it seems, social media platforms are not a public soapbox for you to air your views and share your whereabouts or interests. Granted, social media has become one of the most effective ways to communicate and stay in touch with friends and family but what you post, write, comment and in general post online is not considered private by any measure of the word.
Even if you are fairly careful, hackers are often able to spoof accounts, stealing publicly available photos of yourself or your friends in order to mimic a legitimate account and thereby fish for more data for a subsequent intrusion and also to bypass the “friends only” limitation that many social media users also enact by creating fake accounts. Once they’ve stolen your identity, things rapidly go downhill from there.
Be extremely wary of what personal details and information you give out on your social media. Even if you are not the target, hackers can steal bits of personal information of you or even pictures and target another victim with what they have gleaned off you such as your mother’s first name, your first school, your pet’s name, where you work or more. Skip filling in all the fields in your social media account like where you live, your job, phone number, and the like to minimise how much information you give away online. You will also want to be particularly careful and audit your privacy settings for all your social media to limit what you share with others.
4- USE STRONGER PASSWORDS AND DIFFERENT ONES FOR ALL YOUR ONLINE ACCOUNTS
Your banking, email and social media accounts all rely on two things – a user name and a password. Unfortunately, it isn’t particularly complicated for determined hackers to guess one or the other as many users often attempt to create passwords based on easily remembered bits of personal information. Details that can be gleaned by a hacker off social media all can be used to attempt to guess a password to an account like your name, age, date of birth, phone number and personal details for a parent or spouse.
Users also often attempt to create passwords that are easy to remember and which will invariably also be tested by hackers so the more obvious ones like “0000”, “password”, “qwertyuiop” and even the numbers on the keyboard “01234567890” are all vulnerable to attack. While it has been said before, strong passwords need to be robust and not something that can be guessed by someone even if they have knowledge of your personal details.
This means creating a password that involves combinations of numbers, symbols, upper and lower case letters and is not something that can be found in a dictionary. In lieu of that, you can also invest in a password manager to help manage these accounts for you as they will help you cook up extremely robust passwords and manage them for you when you login to accounts online. Another prudent measure is to ensure that you use different emails and different passwords for different accounts so that even if one account is compromised, it doesn’t result in a catastrophic loss of information and all your other accounts by one determined hacker.
5- WATCH WHICH WEB BROWSER YOU ARE USING
Most of the more popular web browsers online will track your online activities in some form or fashion so that they can serve you ads for products that you possibly may be interested in. If you have ever experienced situations where you typed in a search query and are suddenly bombarded by advertisements featuring the item or subject matter you were looking for, you will have experienced this eerie phenomenon firsthand.
Most of the more popular web browsers practice some form of tracking of your website surfing history in order to serve you better advertisements though this also impinges on your privacy. While astute users will suggest incognito mode, which is available on many browsers, this doesn’t stop websites from tracking you as it only ensures that cookies and data from your side is wiped. Another prudent measure would be to manage your cookies more rigorously and regularly clean out your cookie cache so that third-party cookies don’t end up constantly tracking you and your web browsing habits.
One particular option is to select web browsers that implement a no-tracking policy like DuckDuckGo, Epic Browser, or Tor Browser.
6- ALWAYS KEEP YOUR APPLICATIONS AND OPERATING SYSTEM UPDATED
One of the ways that hackers can compromise your online privacy is by using known programming loopholes in operating systems and apps which can compromise your systems and your privacy. If there are updates pushed by a developer for your smartphone, PC or other device, download them as soon as possible as they are usually disseminated to plug an exploit or potential avenue of attack by hackers. Running unsupported operating systems like older versions of Windows and other applications that lack system updates by developers can also be a risky proposition because it exacerbates these potential problems and a hacker compromising your online privacy.
Most people put off updates because of their large download sizes and also for the fact that they often come at an inopportune moment, usually just before an important presentation or deadline, but the effort is well worth the trouble to save yourself from a lifetime of regret.
7- BE WARY OF USING PUBLIC WIFI
Who doesn’t love something for free? Some establishments like coffee shops or shopping malls offer free WiFi connections for customers but this is a potential danger as hackers can spy on and intercept whatever you do when connected to free WiFi. As they are publicly accessible networks by nature, nothing can stop hackers from accessing a free WiFi network as well and rooting about for vulnerabilities.
Another popular avenue of attack by hackers is to create a free WiFi hotspot that looks legitimate by labelling it as ‘Free WiFi’ or something equally tempting and hoping people will login to capture important private information.
If you absolutely have to use a public WiFi network, try and avoid doing any critical tasks like banking or accessing high security files and use a Virtual Private
Network (VPN) to minimise potential risks though it is still preferred if you use on your own data connections.
Source: SHOUT 2019 BUMPER EDITION
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