That computer on your desk, in your lap, in your pocket, on your dash, under your hood, on your TV stand, or tucked away broadcasting Wi-Fi to your home is a gateway. It’s a portal through which can flow greatness, and from which can come tremendous evil. Identity theft is only the beginning of the risks that occur when you don’t protect your computer from the wild creatures roaming the data junctions of the world. Strangers using your computer to monitor your home, breaking in to turn your networked security system against you, and watching your every move, both online and off, are very real concerns. Yet, still the tip of the proverb.
Our whole lives are online and waiting to be plucked by any scammer with a little technical know-how. It doesn’t take much for an illicit person to get a hold of your bank account information, home address, personal email, phone number, and from there take over everything that is you. Then there’s the great Google/Facebook/Amazon juggernaut that wants to know everything you do, everything you buy, everything you are so it can sell you ever more worthless junk. Legal or not, the world is watching you online, which is why we offer the 11 simplest ways to protect your privacy.
Who Needs This
You. If you’re reading this, you’re online and are therefore being tracked. Either through algorithms set up by Google, the cookies in your browser, your Internet Service Provider, or perhaps a person in the digital shadows. These aren’t tips for power users or special cases. These are for everyone who is online at all.
Get a Good VPN
This is typically step one, since a VPN does the heavy lifting for you. These are Virtual Private Networks, and they’re indispensable for guarding your online privacy. VPNs work by allowing you to connect through a separate company to the internet. It uses your existing internet connection to route the signal privately, which keeps your data secure.
What you do need to keep in mind with your VPN is the quality. A good VPN keeps no records of what you do online, so you can never be tracked. Even if they are subpoenaed, they have no data to give. A bad VPN will have records of your browsing history, and can give it up. Very few of these still exist, but make sure you know the privacy and data storage policy of a VPN before you dive in.
75% of the top million websites are outfitted with Google tracking data. Google tracks what you search, they track what you find, they track where you go, how long you stay, and what you do while you’re there. While you might not care, that information is never lost and can be handed over. Google gives up the search history of more than 100,000 people per year. That means it can be brought out in divorce cases, child custody battles, competency hearings, and aired in public to anyone who wants to know about it.
Using a search engine that doesn’t track your data is the first step. You’ll also find it exposes you to more diverse information, since it’s not being strangled off by Google trying to get your dollars and your attention. DuckDuckGo is the best choice for search engines that don’t track, but you can shop around for yourself.
You’ll also be protecting Net Neutrality by using a search engine that isn’t profiteering from funneling your clicks into their coffers. It’s a win for you and for independent online business.
Enable “Do Not Track”
Most Internet browsers are outfitted with a “Do Not Track” setting that blocks websites from tracking you. Google’s Chrome has the choice, but it’s been proven ineffective. Whatever browser you like, learn to toggle the tracking data to help keep snooping websites from collecting your information when you visit them.
Use a Secure Browser
The best option, rather than trusting shaky, shady “Do Not Track” checkboxes is to go with a browser that is specifically built to create anonymity while you’re online. Tor is this browser. It comes under a variety of names, such as the Onion Browser, but they all do the same thing. They bounce around your connection through a series of outlets which makes it impossible to backtrack. Websites don’t know who or where you are, connections break and reform, and the whole thing hides you. It runs slowly, since it’s far more secure, and can be a little clunky, but for searches that must remain private, a Tor is a handy thing to have.
Add Privacy Extensions
That is to say, add smart Privacy Extensions to your browser. Some, like the magic Ghostery, are adept at keeping you secure, blocking anything that might track you, and using a fresh database that is updated constantly to stop the newest tricks of the tracking trade. Others work with varying degrees of success, but be sure to do the legwork and find the best. Otherwise, you could easily get a privacy extension that actually tracks you, rather than helping you hide.
Privatize Your Operating System
Every OS has a few ways to make it more secure and give you a greater degree of privacy. In some systems, like most Linux distros, this is automatically enabled. In other Operating Systems that shall remain nameless but are based on panes of glass in walls, you need to maximize your privacy by yourself. Luckily, that’s easily done and free of charge.
Whenever your browser, or an extension, or a program, or a piece of hardware needs to update, it’s often to help make it more secure and more stable. If you ignore updates to your OS, your phone, your programs, or computers, you make it impossible to stay safe. Anti-virus protection is excellent if it’s ready to fight off the newest and worst infection or guard you against keystroke loggers. It’s worthless if it’s not being updated with the latest in privacy tech.
Full Disk Encryption
As with Operating Systems, encryption is different depending on your machine. Most Linux systems are magically delicious and automatically encrypt everything as a default when you put them on your computer. Others aren’t nearly so kind. Whatever you’re going to be using, knowing how to encrypt a computer, tablet, phone, Alexa, digital assistant, palm pilot, hiptop, or whatever is a damn fine idea.
Turn On Your Firewall
Every operating system has a firewall. They’re almost all on by default, but if you don’t know, check. It should be on, no exceptions – unless you’re a power user who knows the exceptions, but no one’s talking to you, Jim. Normal people, special people, everyone, always have it on.
Keep Your Software Clean
Like updating your software, you shouldn’t have a bunch of outdated programs you don’t use kicking around on your system. We all do it, with a few downloads here and there that are wasting away. But it’s not good. A messy bunch of programs makes it easy for harmful software to sneak in. Know what the stuff on your computer does, make sure it’s updated, and if you don’t use it, dump it. To automate the process, you can try to use BleachBit, which is sometimes excellent, and sometimes a waste. Free either way.
Delete Your Search History
Ideally, you should have a browser that automatically handles this, but if you’ve ever used any search engine, clear your history. Right now, go clear it out for all time to be as safe as possible. Burn it and bury it like a prostitute accidentally killed in Vegas.