How to protect your privacy online
It’s not just about setting difficult passwords!
The Internet has brought us many joys in life. From providing us with better communications, enhanced productivity, fantastic entertainment, to limitless shopping, it surely changed the way we live our lives. However, the main downside of the digital world is the possibility of your security and identity being compromised. Essentially, the risks that go with internet privacy.
Think about it, to access an online service or product, you need to sign up – signing up means giving out your personal data. Imagine, giving personal data to someone you don’t really see. That fact alone is scary already, especially if you put high value on your privacy. In recent years, we’ve seen how the internet plays a huge role in enabling crimes. A great example would be identity theft. Nowadays, since people are mostly on social media, gaining access to any individual’s information is easier. In addition, getting access to other people’s photos is extremely simple, you can easily pretend to be someone you’re not, which is why many people are falling victim to identity theft and catfishing.
If you’re still clueless on how your internet privacy can be compromised, here are some of the instances:
Browsing Activity & Search History
Your internet activity is monitored by ISPs or your Internet Service Provider. This is made possible because of your IP address, which can be easily targeted and tracked by hackers. There’s also website cookies that store some information about you. For instance, when you enter a website that utilizes cookies, a cookie is then saved to your device. This cookie file in turn stores the website’s information and a unique ID that tracks your activity. What this means is that websites can set up their online presence to your liking because they already know some information about you and your preferences. If you’re seeing ads of a website that you recently visited, then that’s what it is.
Shopping online is one of the greatest wonders of the internet. However, it also poses the greatest downside to it - internet privacy breach. How? Basically, when you transact online, you enter your bank or card information complete with the card numbers, expiry dates, and security codes. There are tons of cyber attackers out there that spy on your online activity to steal your financial information. Once they get your financial information, you’ll start seeing fraudulent transactions on your credit card. This part is a huge headache for every card holder.
Since you already know how online shopping can compromise your financial data and internet privacy. You should already have an idea how much more susceptible online banking is from cyber thieves. Gaining access to your banking account is the cream of the crop for cyber criminals because once they’re in, they can easily transfer funds from your account to external accounts, which you may never recover. While financial institutions are ramping up their online security, it won’t be enough if you don’t take precautionary measures yourself. For instance, accessing your bank online while connected to a public wi-fi is a major no-no as it makes you prone to spying since you have no idea who else you’re sharing the network with.
Social Media and other Personal Identifiable Accounts
Using social media can both be fun and functional. However, by putting out personal information out there for people to see, you’re technically giving away your information consciously. Frankly, this is okay only if you’re a celebrity or an influencer. But the rule of thumb here is, privacy is important people! The right way to do this is be conscious about what you let other people see and what you keep private. You can also change the privacy settings of your social media accounts so you’ll be sure that you’re not all out in public.
Now that you have an idea on what are some causes of data breach, let’s now go to the main idea of this article – How to protect your online privacy. We’ve laid out some simple steps that are easy to follow that will surely be of great help!
Create a Strong Password
Making a strong password is an elementary rule for everyone. Thus, if you’re dedicated to protecting your internet privacy, you should not set your password to your birthday – that is a major fault! Choosing an unbreakable password may be tricky because you might think that your password is already strong when in fact a hacker can break it under a minute.
The key to creating a strong password is by not being predictable. Don’t just choose your pet’s name, your favorite movie, book, or anything that can be easily predicted. Rather, use word play and match it with numbers and symbols to make it more difficult to crack. Truth be told, passwords that don’t make sense make it more unbreakable!
Activate a PIN code or Two-Factor Authentication Code
The most fundamental online security that you have is password protection. This feature applies to all online accounts that you have. The good thing is that it doesn’t stop there, many applications and services offer a two-factor authentication code as well as PIN code. These features will come handy in times of potential data break and will come handy in verifying your identity. With this additional security, you get an added layer of protection from attackers who would want to gain access to your accounts.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, being nonsense with your passcodes will definitely make it stronger. For example, 1tsrAIn1NGcts&DGS! – for it’s raining cats and dogs! I don’t know about you but these kinds of passcodes are literally out of earth so if someone ever tries to hack your account, you’ll be confident that your code is uncrackable.
Never use Public Wi-Fi
While using public wi-fi comes handy, especially when traveling, I don’t recommend you to use it at all unless it’s for an emergency. Why? Because public networks have no encryption technology, or if they have, it’s outdated and is still prone to attacks.
One of the most common kinds of online attacks that happen frequently when using public hotspots is the Man-in-the-Middle attack. It happens when both you and the attacker are connected on the same network and the attacker intercepts your communication with another party (website) without you knowing. One example is when the attacker sends you to a fake bank website and has you enter your account details when in fact they’re only stealing your financial information.
Use a VPN Solution
If you’re a frequent traveler like me, chances are high that connecting to public hotspots is inevitable. The good news is that you’re not doomed. By using a VPN solution, especially when connected to a public wi-fi, you’ll be sure that your online security is strong enough to shield you from potential attackers. A VPN solution hides your IP address and online activity to the prying eyes of attackers, it lets you stream, search, and browse anonymously – giving you independence from online data breach.
We’ve listed the best VPNs that we highly recommend. You may check it here!
Stay away from websites with no SSL certificates
Websites with no SSL certificates are surely worth avoiding. SSL certificate keeps the information that you send to the website encrypted, so that only you and the intended party can access the same information, no interception from third-party. This security feature also denotes the credibility of a website. Typically, websites that are not secured have virus and are most likely to be a phishing website.
A website with SSL certificate has a green padlock beside the URL and has https while an unsecured website only has http.
Change Passwords Regularly
Updating your passwords on a regular basis can enhance your data security in ten folds. Why? Because attackers who may have gotten access to your accounts through your previous passwords will now be blocked from accessing the said accounts. It’s like renewing your access while protecting your data. However, this might be advisable for some people who find creating strong passwords tedious.
Limit Your Downloads
Files that you download from the internet may sometimes come with a malware or virus, which may potentially damage your device or worse, expose your data to a third party. It applies to torrent files, email attachments, and all other bunch of downloads that you make. While I understand that downloading files and apps through the internet is inescapable, you should be extra careful in choosing which ones to download and those which you should avoid.
Extreme care is needed especially with your business or work email since one email attachment may jeopardize the entire data security of your business.
Junk malicious emails
Spyware and viruses may be transferred through email. Some of these only require you to open the mail and your files will automatically get corrupted. That is why we highly recommend that you do not deal or open malicious emails. I know a company once wherein an employee mistakenly opened a suspicious email and the entire team of IT had to conduct a full investigation and lock down all emails for a couple of hours. Trust me, you don’t want to experience this.
Lock your devices
This one is a no-brainer. No person shall use any device without a password. Doing so is like opening your main door late at night and waiting for thieves to come. By setting your phones with a passcode, you can be sure that no one else will be able to access information on your phone. And of course, this comes with a bonus tip – do not share your passwords!
Use biometrics and Face ID
If you’re too lazy to set up passcodes for your mobile devices, the best way to do it is to activate your biometrics or Face ID as your passcode. By doing so, you’ll get ultimate device protection without all the hassle of remembering your password. Plus, it’s extremely convenient!
Turn on automatic updates
One thing that people normally do is become complacent on the things around them. For instance, a simple software update tends to be neglected because it somewhat hampers whatever the user is doing. Keeping your software and applications up-to-date will help you stay guided on the new technology developed by hackers to destroy or evade your device’s security features.
Keep track of your bills
Suppose you unfortunately fall victim to data breach without your knowledge. The best thing to do is to track your bank account’s movement and validate all expenses being charged. In this way, you may file a dispute to your bank and they will in turn conduct security protocols by blocking the usage of your card. Without the timely report of fraud transactions, you may be forced to pay for it, especially if it’s been months since the disputed transaction happened.
Being proactive will save you tons of bucks or technically, from being forced to pay for something you did not purchase.
Faking is not always a bad idea
There are times wherein marketers just won’t leave you alone and keeps on bugging you to sign up for various offers with this and that. My tip here is this, if you’re not really into the said product or service, you can just fake your information. This is especially helpful for baby or toddler stores that require you to disclose some information about your child.
Encrypt your files
If you think that having a password-protected device is enough to secure your files and devices, you’re wrong. Password is just a one type of security feature that keeps outsiders from gaining access to your account or device. Basically, it’s the main door to your house. Now, what about your security vault with all the important valuables and documents? This is where file encryption gets in. Encrypting your files will add another level of security to your important documents and data, especially helpful in cases your device got stolen. By doing this, you can prevent thieves from going through your files freely.
Use encrypted Flash Drives
Encrypting your files for security is nonsense if you keep them on a separate usb or flash drive with no encryption. It’s just like leaving your front door locked but leaving the back door wide open. When using a flash drive or other external drives, make sure that it is encrypted as well. Many celebrities have their secrets exposed due to non-encrypted hard drives, which fell into the hands of a malicious individual.
Never share your GPS
Location sharing should always be private. Why? Other than internet privacy, it’s also essential for safety reasons. You don’t want to be oversharing on social media because it may be detrimental to your safety, especially if there’s a criminal wanting to get to you. Remember, the rule of thumb is - only share your location with your closest friends and loved ones.
Turn on log-in approvals
For every account that you have, make sure that you activate log-in approval settings. Meaning, if an app detects an unusual log-in from another IP or browser, you will get an instant alert, which you’ll be able to allow or block. This feature allows you to track all the necessary movements that happen within your account, so you’re sure that all account access is authorized.
Use Security Extensions
There are many free extensions that you can optimize on your browser. If you want to get rid of pop-ups and ads that bring viruses to your device, or if you find irrelevant ads just utterly annoying, then using an extension is a must. Extensions like Adblock Plus, Disconnect, Ghostery, uBlock origin, and Privacy Badger address this issue, so you can have seamless website hopping.
Use Incognito mode
Yes, this feature is important especially if you don’t want your browser to track your search history. It also comes handy since it doesn’t let websites save cookies and temporary files on your device. However, it’s worth knowing that incognito mode doesn’t make you anonymous at all. ISPs can still track you and even the websites that you visit, thus – it’s always best to pair this with another privacy solution like a VPN for instance.
Activate Find your Phone
In case of theft, one way to ensure that your personal data doesn’t get leaked is by activating the Find my iPhone or using the Find my Device settings. Find my iPhone is a feature for iOS devices that allows you to track your device through iCloud. It also features a remote lock to prevent others from using your apple device. Google's Find My Device on the other hand, can help track your missing phone, secure your personal data, and wipe the device’s data remotely.
I cannot stress this statement enough. Nowadays, I think people understand the value of a good antivirus software. While it’s true that continuous device updates are equipped to fight malware attacks, these updates provide only superficial security and won’t stand bigger cybercrime attacks. Relying on your software’s capability to prevent malware and viruses may work for starters but it won’t in the long run. To put it in perspective, it’s like having a doctor put out the fire of a burning building. Futile, right?
Don’t install sketchy app
Okay, so you want to be trendy. You download Tiktok, and a few days later people are getting reports on privacy issues with the app. What do you do? Delete it when they already have your details? Whatever your answer is, we advise you to only install apps and software that are proven to be credible and safe. Every app at your disposal can be enjoyed, provided that you’re knowledgeable about the risks that come with it.
Be wary of online promos, discounts, prizes
In addition to not installing sketchy apps, one way that you may be jeopardizing your online security is by participating in all sorts of internet contests with lucrative prizes. Many businesses do this – however, admission or entry is only available upon exchange of your personal details. There are also malicious pop-ups that redirect you to some sort of gaming website, which you can play and win. The risk here is that a virus may have already been installed to your device the moment you clicked on it.
Do not forget to log out
Logging out of your account is just as important as signing in. Leaving your account on idle without logging out is like a main door that is unlocked. You’re just waiting for anyone to come in. The problem here is some people believe that by merely closing the app of the browser, they automatically get logged out. That is nonsense because you may still be logged in and doing so will only make you vulnerable to potential attacks.
Yes, we want you to be paranoid because it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The problem with our generation is that we don’t put much value into our privacy. We don’t feel the need to be overprotective when there’s no foreseeable damage in sight. The problem here is that we don’t normally see these attacks, so you’ll be surprised to know that your internet privacy has been compromised, your business files have reached the competitors, and your financial credentials have been copied. When you reach that point, the frustrating part is that there’s nothing much that you can do. That is exactly why being proactive is always better than reactive.
Overall, these are the basic steps on how you can protect your privacy online. These steps are. Not impossible nor expensive to follow. In fact, these steps are very simple and are mostly free, which you can already implement as early as today. Remember, when it comes to online security, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Have you been a victim of identity theft? Hacking? Or malicious online attacks? How did you solve it? Drop us your comment below!
eCommerce Paradise was created by Trevor Fenner of Seattle, Washington in 2015 to help you, the entrepreneur, to start and scale your own eCommerce business. Trevor owns multiple 7-figure eCommerce stores and is a digital nomad, traveling the world while working remotely with the help of his team of virtual assistants from around the world. Trevor is currently located in Bali, Indonesia, and is a passionate skateboarder, surfer, scuba diver, photographer, environmentalist, outdoorsman, fitness and tattoo enthusiast.
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