Over the past year, internet privacy has become a major concern. The misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica earlier this month thrust it into the public eye, but a year before that, it had become legal for ISPs in the USA to sell user data. These developments, among others, have people scrambling for ways to protect their online privacy.
Before going into the different ways you can do that, it’s important to understand the most common threats to your internet privacy.
- Online activity: Search engines and social media can track your online activity to varying degrees. Facebook stores considerable volumes of information in user accounts. Meanwhile, search engine queries and cookies can be used to identify users based on online activity.
- Network use: Information travels through networks in data packets. ISPs, which receive these packets, will get a basic idea of the online activity of all users on a given account. Other users on a network, however, can “snoop” the network and intercept these packets to gain specific information (e.g., information submitted to websites or sent through messages)—especially on unsecured public WiFi networks.
- Data breaches: Your data can be compromised if the database or server it’s stored on is breached. There’s not much you can do if this happens, so solutions to this are preventive.
Understanding the nature of these internet privacy threats will give you a better perspective when you configure your own security setup. Here are some of the most common and efficient ways to secure your internet privacy:
Internet browsers account for much of what people access online, so protecting your browsing privacy should be one of your first steps.
Before going further, it’s important to clarify that private browsing—which may be called Incognito, InPrivate, or something else, depending on your browser—only stops information from being stored on your computer. Private browsing does not conceal your activity from other online parties.
If you want to improve your browser privacy, you’ll need to use either browser extensions or specialized browsers. For example, the HTTPS Everywhere extension ensures that your browser uses secure connections on websites whenever available, encrypting the data you submit. The Tor Browser, meanwhile, provides general encryption for information you send while browsing—although websites will be aware you are using it and a few may deny you access. A number of mobile browser apps also focus on data privacy, though you should research each one thoroughly before using.
Most of your personal information—including bank details and other sensitive items—will be stored on a combination of online accounts. As such, account security is a major aspect of internet privacy.
Strong passwords are a basic account security measure. Avoid common password mistakes and don’t use the same password for more than one account. Along the same lines, avoid linking your accounts together—it might be convenient, but it will also be convenient for anyone hacking into your accounts.
For best results, use two-factor authentication (2FA). It may add an extra step to your login process, but it’s a step that potential hackers wouldn’t be able to take without access to your physical devices.
By encrypting your data, you safeguard it from prying eyes even in the event that it is intercepted. Encryption is available at different levels, and most websites and private networks will provide some level of it.
These basic levels of protection, however, are easily cracked—especially on public WiFi, where criminals may be on the same network as you.
The best way to encrypt your data is to use a virtual private network (VPN). When connected to a VPN, all information your computer transmits or receives goes through a secure tunnel that encrypts it at both ends, ensuring third parties can’t see it. It will also keep your ISP from viewing your data packets, providing another level of internet privacy protection. VPNs are available for routers, desk- and laptop computers, and mobile devices.
The Hotspot Shield VPN is designed to be simple to use while providing the full range of protection that a VPN should. Download HotSpot Shield for free today.