Your privacy won’t take care of itself. If you don’t take care to protect it, the consequences could range from the mildly annoying to the disastrous. At the mild end, search engines and social media will tailor their content to what they think will appeal to you, rather than what you’re looking for. In the worst case, criminals could hit you with identity theft, blackmail, and even physical attacks on your family and property.
Keeping your communications and personal information private take some work, to begin with, but it’s not really that hard to protect your privacy. Once you gather the right tools and develop privacy-protecting habits, you’ll be much safer than you were before. Here are some useful steps you can take.
1. Practice browser hygiene
It’s hard to imagine living without a Web browser, but at the same time, it’s one of the biggest privacy hazards. Mistakes can give loads of information to people who shouldn’t have it. Careful Web hygiene will keep you save from the huge majority of the risks.
Watch out for lookalike sites, especially when you receive a link by email. Impersonators could steal your password and then use it to spend your money. When in doubt, use an existing bookmark.
Cookies let websites track you. They’re useful. When you log into a site, cookies are what keep you logged in. They save you from having to enter the same information repeatedly. But they can keep more information about you than you may want, and they can give it to people you didn’t know are getting it.
Session cookies are valid for a limited period. They keep track of who you are and what you do for that session. Persistent cookies hang around indefinitely. They identify you across sessions, sometimes for weeks or months, even if you never log in. Periodically deleting all cookies limits the amount of information that can accumulate about your browsing habits. Some browsers give you the option of deleting all cookies every time you quit the browser.
Then there are “supercookies.” They aren’t actually cookies. They won’t show up in your browser’s cookie listing, and you can’t delete them as easily. “Supercookie” is a catchall term for several technologies that store persistent information about you in a sneaky way. It’s especially nasty when your ISP does it. In that case, it’s not just one site that can track you, but any site you visit. There’s no single way to get rid of all of them, but checking your browser’s persistent storage setting is a good place to start.
2. Be wary of Wi-Fi
If you use a public Wi-Fi hotspot, it can gather lots of information about your Internet usage. Worse yet, if it’s the kind that doesn’t require a password, anyone nearby can snoop on you. Unencrypted public Wi-Fi has no security. None. Even if you use a secure access point, that only protects the data between you and the hotspot. It still has access to everything you send and receive.
Watch out for lookalike SSIDs. Any Wi-Fi access point can call itself anything. It may claim to belong to a big-name service that you trust. That doesn’t mean it does.
Be conservative about your Wi-Fi activity at public hotspots. Save your online banking and purchases for when you’ve got a more secure connection.
3. Travel with caution
If you’re on the road, the same concerns apply to any service you use to connect to the Internet. You’re safer using a cellular connection than Wi-Fi or the hotel’s Internet service. Some services may log your activity and plug their own ads into pages you visit. They might collect personal information on you.
Public computers aren’t always safe. With lots of people using them, the chances of their being infected are high unless the owner takes the strongest precautions. A computer with a keylogger can track everything you do, even if you’re accessing a secure site. There’s also the risk that the browser won’t clear all its information when you finish. If it doesn’t, the next person to sit there can take over your session. Public computers are safe for looking up information anonymously and legally, but avoid entering passwords on them.
4. Watch out for what you send by email
Email is unencrypted by default. Someone who can intercept it in transit can see what you send or receive. Avoid sending sensitive information like credit card numbers or passwords by email. Encrypted messaging applications, such as Signal and WhatsApp, are a more secure way to communicate.
If you need to get an email because you’ve forgotten a password, act on it as quickly as you can. Once you follow the link in the mail, the window of opportunity closes for anyone else who grabs it. Recovering passwords by email was never a great idea, but if you finish the job as quickly as possible, you reduce your risk.
5. Don’t tell the world all about yourself
Limit the information about yourself that you put on social media and other websites. The more you tell the world, the easier it is to scam you. Fraud artists can impersonate people you know. They can add details about your family and friends to sound more trustworthy.
If they know who you are, where you live, and when you aren’t at home, they can plan their burglaries accordingly. Telling people about the vacation you’re on is fun, but it’s risky if you tell them too much. Keep detailed personal information about yourself, like your street address and phone number, out of public view.
When you take pictures and then immediately upload them, they may contain GPS metadata that reveals exactly where you were a few minutes ago. Sometimes that’s quite a bad idea.
The benefits of using a VPN
One of the best ways to guard your privacy is to run all your Internet activity through a virtual private network, or VPN. It gives you an encrypted path all the way from your computer to the VPN’s exit node.
This makes the use of untrusted Internet access points much safer. All they’ll see is that you’re connecting to the VPN’s server. They won’t know what sites you’re visiting. They won’t be able to read your email. Even your own ISP can’t mess with your website visits or mail.
A VPN is especially valuable if you travel a lot. You never know what you’ll have to use for Internet service or whether you can trust it. When everything is encrypted going into and coming out of your device, it’s much harder for a misbehaving service to cause any harm.
Choosing the right VPN
When you use a VPN, you’re putting your trust in it. You need to make sure it’s one that really will protect your privacy. You also want it to deliver good service at a reasonable cost.
Check the online reviews and the company’s history. Does it have a record of earning its users’ trust and being reliably available? Does it use strong, up-to-date encryption? Will it give you a good connection speed? Does it disclose its own IP address rather than yours?
If you’re an American, you’re usually best off using a US-based VPN. The governments of some countries insist on spying on all servers located in their territory. Besides, the localization results could be strange if the exit node is outside your country. Many sites use the IP address they see to localize their content, so you could end up with content in a language you can’t read. NetsanityVPN uses the proven technology and security that Netsanity is known for. After protecting kids all over the world, with our parental control service, our new service offers all customers with mobile devices a secure way to connect and communicate through the public internet without any privacy or logging concerns. NetsanityVPN will provide you with secure connectivity without the need for any app to be downloaded from the app store. Try free for 7 days because everyone deserves privacy!