Cyber security awareness month: top practices for next-level privacy and anonymity

October, cyber security awareness month also known as the CyberSec month is to raise awareness about online security and the possible threats that Internet users can run into. As our daily lives involve more and more browsing and working online, there is a lot to learn about how to surf the Internet securely. The recent Facebook hack when more than 50 million accounts were compromised comes to show that users have to take initiative into their own hands if they want their information to stay hidden and untouched.

Now, the Data Privacy Day is upon us. In general, there are a lot of things to keep in mind when wanting to stay private and anonymous and even more tools to help you do so — not only on certain occasions but for your every day lives. From software programs to privacy settings and browser extensions, this is a user manual in the hopes of raising awareness and staying secure online.

  1. VPN

A Virtual Private Network is a must when it comes to online security and keeping Internet user information private. Also known as a VPN, this security software helps to encrypt your online activities so that no one can see what you’re doing online, not even your Internet Service Provider. It’s crucial to use a VPN when connecting to unsecured wireless networks or when trying to access sensitive work material overseas. A VPN changes your IP address and encrypts your traffic. This way, you will stay anonymous online. It’s also great when traveling (some can even bypass the Great Firewall of China), playing video games, streaming content and etc. Most VPNs offer advanced features to ensure your security is up to a 100%.

It should be known — if a VPN is free, then you’re the product. It’s been proven numerous times that free VPNs limit your servers and switching between them, speed and data. Which is why it’s so important to invest a bit of money and get a paid VPN — it will be worth it because of speeds, ease of use and other features. There are dozens of VPNs that offer strong security, but it’s important that the VPN is not based in countries like the US, UK and most European countries (the 14-Eyes Group) — these countries are restricted by many inflexible data laws. Choose a VPN that has a strict no logs policy and is based in a privacy friendly country:

  1. NordVPN — I found this coupon code ‘3YDEAL’ that gives you a 75% discount for the 3-year plan, only $2.99/month
  2. Surfshark — you can save up to 83% on the 2-year plan with the found discount code ‘sharkextra’ (cheap option, $1.99/month)
  3. ExpressVPN
  4. VPN.ac
  5. CyberGhost

2. Browsers and extensions

Chrome and Firefox might not be the best when it comes to security but you can upgrade your browsers with a few extensions to increase the protection level they already offer. There are a few browsers like Waterfox, Brave and Tor that offer an additional layer of security, but the majority still use Chrome and Firefox.

  • Adblocker. Adblock, AdblockPlus, Ublock, UBlock Origin (my favourite) is a must if you want to keep those annoying ads as far away from you as possible. No more random pop-up leading to scammy websites, no more YouTube ads and no more flashing banners. VPNs like NordVPN and CyberGhost even have built-in adblockers.
  • HTTPS Everywhere. This extension rewrites insecure requests (coming from HTTP websites, that lack security) and keeps your private data safe with no probability of leaking. A huge part of Internet websites still use HTTP, which can leak your data or lead to your data being intercepted — HTTPS Everywhere redirects secures your traffic.
  • Privacy Badger. It’s a great extension that blocks tracking cookies, monitors website behavior and blocks bad websites, cookie injections and more. Not to mention that Privacy Badger is customizable and lets you choose which websites to whitelist, what information to keep and more. Surely, it’s more on the tech-savvy side but even without personal customization, it does its job perfectly.
  • LastPass. A password manager that lets you save all your passwords while only remembering one. There’s no need to remember all of your passwords to your social media, various websites, emails and more, LastPass saves them all in one place for you.
  • Duck Duck GO. It’s a search engine that blocks advertising trackers, keeps your search history private (unlike Google). The extension shows grades as to how invasive the website you are visiting is, giving you a better idea of which sites keep track of you.

With these extensions, you will feel more secure when surfing the web.

3. Antivirus

It’s one thing to securely browse the web but another when downloading files from various sources. While the popularity of antiviruses has decreased and now even the most basic Windows defender or Security can do the job, getting a good antivirus or malware scanner will help you out big time. Hackers always try to come up with new malicious techniques and files on how to easily infect or hijack your devices and a good antivirus will help you to avoid that.

There is a variety of antiviruses that you can choose from:

  1. Bitdefender
  2. Norton Antivirus
  3. Eset
  4. Kaspersky
  5. Avast

All of these are big names and known in the industry, some are more expensive, some are cheaper, some offer a few extra features so it all comes down as to how much money you’re willing to spend and what additional features you want to be included in the suite.

4. Cloud based storage

So now you’ve safely surfed the web and downloaded some files. However, you need these files to be always available to you, whether it’s personal or work material, USB flash drives will not suffice anymore. It’s time to use cloud based storage. There are encrypted cloud storages that let you store data and offer a variety of features — device count, 2FA, sharing accounts, thousands of GB of data storage and more. Encrypted clouds are not that popular but it’s a great tool to keep your files secure and private, not to mention available at all times from anywhere. The more popular and better known are pCloud, Oracle, SpiderOak, Tresorit and other.

5. Device encryption

Even if you do store sensitive material on your laptop, it is recommended to encrypt your device. Even if you lose your device or if it gets stolen, no one will be able to recover the files that were on your laptop. It will be near impossible for third-party sources to access your files as it will be encrypted via a certain encryption key that only you could use. Veracrypt, Folder Lock, AxCrypt, even the Windows BitLocker is great for encrypting your drives and files. Device encryption is a must if you’re using company devices, as to not lose sensitive company information and access to resources.

6. Basic privacy settings to help out along the way

  • Do use 2 Factor Authentication on everything, where possible. This will make it harder for anyone trying to hack you or get a hold of your personal information to intercept the needed data. Not to mention, you’ll grow suspicious if someone will be trying to break into your email or social accounts — you’ll get a verification code out of the blue. Nowadays, most of the services send you a notification if someone tries to access something of yours from an unknown device or location.
  • Talking about location, it’s best to turn off the location settings as to not get targeted ads. In most apps and privacy settings, you can disable showing of personalized ads too.
  • What is more — log out every time. I cannot stress enough how easy it is to hijack browser session, cache, cookies with logins, passwords and other information.
  • Strong, different passwords is a must. It’s easy to crack accounts with simple and weak passwords and then match them to similar usernames, gaining access to multiple accounts and services.

Surely, these threats will not harm you if you use privacy-focused extensions, a VPN and other security tools but even when using them, tweaking privacy settings will not make it worse.

Conclusion

There are dozens of other things and settings that can be adjusted to give you more freedom online while staying anonymous, but I think these are the most important points to take into consideration. What is more, you don’t need to be tech-savvy to be able to set these up, most of these programs and extensions don’t demand any additional effort, meaning your personal information will stay secure and private no matter what.