As interconnectedness and personalized browsing experiences have become the norm in today’s society, our lives – increasingly impacted by our digital footprint – have become less private.
The right to digital privacy has been a slow growing movement, and its biggest marker was the General Data Protection Regulation that affected the EU. It was a legislation that marked digital privacy as a right, not a privilege, and companies all over the world scrambled to make sure they met compliance requirements. Now, for users in the EU, the internet has become a more transparent place for how information can be used or accessed. But, of course, it is still a work in progress.
Digital privacy is a massive topic that can be very easy to get lost in, especially if you’re new to to it. However, you don’t need to be a security expert nor do you need any particular reason to bolster your privacy on the internet. So, here are some simple security pointers for the average web user:
1. Keep your OS updated
The first thing you will want to do on any device is to make sure that it’s updated. As annoying as the notifications can be, they’re there for a reason– updating is important, and not staying on top of them could mean your device has a critical security vulnerability. So whether it’s installing the new macOS update, iOS 12, or Windows update, etc. just make sure that you take the time to do it, or set up your device to update automatically (usually configurable in settings).
2. Be mindful of Public WiFi networks
Public WiFi and open networks are notorious for security vulnerabilities, and connecting to one could pose a risk to your information. While it’s better to avoid connecting to them at all, sometimes you need to, so if you do, here’s some steps you can take. First, you’ll want to make sure that you turn off network sharing (usually preferences can be found in wifi settings on your computer). On Windows devices, you can also make sure you have Windows Firewall enabled.
When browsing connected to a public network, it’s best to avoid anything sensitive, such as banking. You should check to make sure that what websites you navigate begin their web address with HTTPS, as well.
3. Use a secure web browser
Make sure that you are using a secure web browser. Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are some good choices depending on what you want. If your priority is maintaining as much privacy as possible online, Firefox is better as it has more options for privacy and security. It is also the more lightweight program of the two, which would run more smoothly on computers with less RAM.
Google Chrome is also a comparatively secure option in terms of protecting you from malicious websites, however it is less private as a lot of data about your internet usage goes to Google. That may be a positive or a drawback to you depending on your priorities – if you want privacy, it’s not so great, but if that’s not extremely important to you and your computer is equipped to handle Chrome’s resource demands, then it’s a solid choice as well for speed and reliability.
In either browser, make sure you take the time to navigate to the Privacy and Security settings and adjust them to your preference. Some of the settings you can choose are to clear your browsing data/history, unselect the option to send usage statistics to the company, enable Do Not Track requests, etc.
Additionally, you can install an ad blocker extension/addon, such as uBlock Origin, in both browsers that serve as an additional line of defense against unwanted scripts running on websites that you visit. This can be easily obtained for free through the Chrome Web Store or Firefox Addons.
4. Secure your social media profiles
One common mistake that people make on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram is that they have their profiles set to public. This means that anyone, anywhere can view your profile and all the content on it. This is great for a business page, but maybe not so much for your personal profile.
Every big social platform has privacy and security options. These can usually be found in the settings menu, where you can navigate to the relevant sections to adjust what you want to be seen. On Facebook, you have full control over who can see your posts and friends lists, as well as whether you can be searched by your email address or phone number.
Location settings – especially in mobile apps – are important to adjust as well. Snapchat is a big one for this, as people on your friends list can observe your location in real time through the Discover function unless you have disabled this feature and turned on “Ghost Mode.”
5. Consider using a VPN
Finally, if you want to take your security one step further, you can look into getting a VPN — that is, a virtual private network. VPNs have significant privacy advantages by encrypting your connection and acting basically as an intermediary between your device and the internet. They mask your IP address, which is basically as telling in the digital world as your home address is otherwise. The VPN works by routing your traffic through its own servers, and gives you the option to appear to be from any location of your choosing.
But since you are relying on the VPN in this way, it’s important that you get a trustworthy one, such as F-Secure Freedome. Most free VPNs are unreliable at best or actively malicious at worst.
Overall, online security and privacy is what you make of it. But these simple steps will at least ensure that you’re going in the right direction. For more in-depth information on the topic, be sure to follow @CentryCyber on Twitter.
This article was written by Kristina Weber of Centry Global. If you would like help or have questions, feel free to contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org! Be sure to subscribe to Centry Blog for original bi-weekly articles relevant to the security industry.