5 Simple Steps to Protect Yourself Online

It’s no big secret that in the present day, our personal data is vulnerable on the internet. Internet privacy hasn’t been able to keep up with the developments of the online space, and every day each of us risk being exposed to this gap.

Events over recent years such as PlayStation and Ashley Madison hacks have revealed a largely ignored issue by society. They live through the quick life cycle of news but are then quickly forgotten. The issue is that all of us have our secrets. Probably not as sever as infidelity, but information that we hold close all the same. The problem is that with all the advancements in building the online space, this gives us a false sense of security which we feel the space owes us. Unfortunately, the gap still exists.

The reality is that internet privacy isn’t something that is offered up on a platter at every step we take online. Despite all the developments and public interest in recent years, internet privacy is still just the in flight meal of our domestic flights across the country of internet. It sadly sits in a state of opt-in, compared to the compulsory seat on that same flight.

The good news is, there are steps we can all take to close the gap. And it won’t cost you an arm and a leg like it does for the stale sandwich at cruising altitude speed.

Complex Passwords

It’s painful to be the broken record, but sometimes the simplest of all rules are the ones we ignore the most.

Use a combination of letters, numbers and characters that are unique, long and hard to guess. Your password is the front line for your online privacy, so make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

Avoid common words and phrases, rather use a combination of words that would fail to make sense given any context.

“Bad passwords are the easiest way to compromise a system.” Edward Snowden

Connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

In case you’re unfamiliar, a VPN is a private, control network that connects your device to the internet. Its basic purpose is to make it harder to outside networks to see what you’re doing. Essentially, building up another layer of privacy between you and the internet at large.

Not just for those wanting to get access to blocked content, it’s an effective way of achieving anonymity online even though you’ve ‘got nothing to hide’. Most come at a small cost, but it’s worth it. These more legitimate and secure vendors tend not to log your user activity and are generally up front about this. Do you research and find one that is trusted and well established.

Consider changing browsers

With the rise of privacy scares over the years, alternate browser options are becoming an increasingly popular way of shielding yourself from the online world.

Tor is an internet browser which lets your anonymously browse the web. However, the steps you need to take to setup are more complex than just changing your password. Also, using Tor does not integrate into your online habits as seamlessly as our previous two tips. There are cases which make it difficult for some browsing and communication.

An alternative to this, is DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is an Internet search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. It does not store IP addresses, does not log user information and uses cookies only when needed which is a far cry from its Google and Bing counterparts.

Separate your offline and online profiles

It’s often suggested when finishing university or school to change your email address because of how it may be received by potential employers. The act of adopting cringe-worthy and convoluted usernames is well past most of us, however this shift towards the clean and simple may be doing us more harm than good.

By having username information which is reflective of who we are in real life, it leaves us vulnerable when connecting these with various online platforms — social media networks, and online accounts such as eBay, Gumtree, Amazon. Not specifically for hackers or ISPs, but for the wider community who if having this information, can put together the online pieces of a puzzle which exposes us.

Instead of johnsmith86 consider something a bit more cryptic such a smijohn_11. Trying to extract a first and last name as well as a DOB is a bit tricker this way.

Regularly audit your online self

The more you browse, the bigger a foot-print you leave online. It pays off to regularly audit your online self, by clearing caches, cookies, browser histories, and re-assessing privacy settings on social networks and accounts. Overtime, many accounts change privacy settings so do your due diligence and understand the changes and how it affects you. We’re not expecting you to read Apple Terms and Conditions, but a bit of digging does a long way.