Who said the Internet is free and absolutely uncensored? It is not free, and it is certainly censored! Our fault rather, lies in taking it for granted. Even though we have now woken up to the fact that our personal information is being monitored and accessed by the state as also private companies like Facebook and Google, we really don’t take adequate measures to secure our online identities and information about ourselves. But we do need to bear in mind that unless we resort to such protective measures, there’s no way we can enjoy an uncensored and free Internet. Ensure you are protecting your online privacy as well as Internet security by following the steps we have listed below.
Think Before You Leap
Free Wi-Fi is always welcome. However, before connecting to a Wi-Fi network that is being offered for free as is most commonly seen in restaurants and hotels, do you consider the risks involved? In all probability, you do not.
It is not free anyway. You have to buy something to eat or drink, drive there, pay for a room, and so on!
Do remember that while using a public Wi-Fi network, use a key security layer while avoiding sites that involve bank accounts or other confidential financial or sensitive information. Both privacy and security are sides of the same coin and the two are inseparable. So as you enhance your privacy, you also strengthen online security. This is where VPN comes in. Check below.
Virtual private networks, aka VPN, are one of the most effective solutions you can use to add an extra layer of security and privacy to your online browsing. Thanks to user-friendly applications, connecting to VPN servers has become pretty easy. Using VPN allows you to securely encrypt all of your traffic and keep those prying eyes away. Everything you do online while you are using VPN passes through a private tunnel that neither your ISP nor potential hackers can access. For a list of best VPN services to use for added online privacy, take a look at this list.
Your password should not be password! This is a salient step you must take particularly for email accounts, financial data, and social media. By using a complicated password, you are actually creating the first hurdle to a hacker’s unwanted entry. Never keep a common password for all online accounts.
The simple reason is if a hacker get access to one account, others will follow suit automatically. Different passwords involving numbers, alphabets and symbols in various permutations and combinations minimize potential risks of a breach of privacy. There are many free tools available you can use to create a strong, random password in a minute. Always avoid using birthdays and nicknames to construct passwords.
2FA, aka 2-factor authentication, ensures substantial protection of your online accounts because in order to activate a security verification you need to enter your credentials following which a code is transmitted to your cell phone. This is ideal for online shopping where you have to disclose credit card details, which at any cost must be protected from prying hands and eyes.
Ignore Spyware Threats that also Offer Security Solutions
The principal objective of spyware is to steal your sensitive information by opening pop-up windows in the computer’s browser. Spyware then redirects the browser to malicious websites as also monitoring all browsing sessions. This affects all private Internet connections and one can freely record your entire browsing history and keystrokes.
Spyware infection may be suspected when the computer becomes very slow in opening programs or pop-up windows keep appearing at all times. Moreover, a new toolbar appears in the browser, the homepage of which is suddenly modified while error messages also start appearing unexpectedly.
Thus, only use trusted and effective anti-spyware products such as Avast, McAfee, or AVG. Do not click on any suspicious looking pop-up windows or links. Suspected spam e-mail should be deleted without opening and free applications also need to be downloaded after due consideration.
Update the Windows OS and Other Vulnerable Applications
If you don’t update your operating system’s software regularly, you stand to create security loop holes for cybercriminals. This is commonly seen in Java and Flash that invite cyber-attacks all the time.
That’s why installing the latest versions of Java, Adobe Shockwave, Adobe Flash, Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat Reader, or the popular browsers such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Mozilla Firefox always makes sense. Cyber criminals perpetually scrutinize these apps to locate security lapses which they can then use to infect devices with malware. This calls for setting up your apps for automatic updates or using a tool for automating the process that comes for free.
Guest user accounts
Windows gives you the opportunity to set different levels of privileges and rights for individual users. So make use of a guest account daily and not an administrator account. This will ensure that even if a malware infection happens, the damage gets limited to the user you’re logged in with.
Turning off your UAC
Most Internet users have a tendency to turn off their User Account Control or UAC after installing or reinstalling their Windows OS. This is unadvisable as the UAC monitors the changes happening in the system and asks your permission for such changes. It also provides a heads up when a significant event happens like the installation or removal of an application. So should your Windows account get infected, the UAC prevents suspicious software from automatically changing the system.
Use secure browsers
Since your browser’s the principal tool for accessing the Internet, securing it properly is crucial. This is more so as browser vulnerabilities easily pave the way for cybercriminals who take advantage of such weaknesses to retrieve confidential data like usernames and passwords.
So you should use the browser’s latest version while also installing the latest security updates. Increase security and privacy settings in the browser. A private browsing session when accessing a suspicious website prevents the details of that browsing session from getting stored.
Keep Your Private Information to Yourself
Posting private info on social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram has become a trend. People are voluntarily publishing their email addresses, phone numbers, and physical addresses online. Cyber criminals can and will use such information to try to get access to your banking accounts, emails, and social media accounts. Keep your private data to yourself.
You can easily shorten long website addresses by using tools such as Goo.gl and Bitly. The process makes sharing interesting articles you find online much easier. Unfortunately, hackers also use these shortened URLs to redirect unsuspecting Internet users to dubious website. In some cases, clicking on such links can even result in malicious software or virus being installed on your device. Make sure to check the shortened URL before clicking on it by using sites such as CheckShortURL.com or Unfurlr.
Finally, using secure websites for any sensitive financial operation is paramount. The prefix HTTPS as opposed to HTTP ensures that the site you are visiting has a layer of secure sockets and where all data is encrypted. Also make sure to log out after completing all financial transactions instead of just closing the browser or clicking off the webpage.
12 Steps to Increase Online Privacy – Final Thoughts
I must say I am amazed at the high amount of people take their online privacy lightly. How many times have we heard of people who think that their private info does not matter to them simply because they are not a celebrity or a public figure? Just because you are not that well-known does not mean you shouldn’t take extra measures to protect your sensitive data online. How would you feel about someone sneaking into your house and looking at your personal belongings? Organizations and cyber-criminals who eavesdrop on what you’re doing online fall into that same category.