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10 Simple Steps to Take Right Now to Protect Your Privacy Online
September 24, 2021
Protecting yourself online has always been important, but as we live more of our lives online through work, play, and social activity, we’re increasingly exposed to risks. However, there are steps you can take to secure your private information, and many of them are very straightforward.
Even better, most of those steps are free and won’t drastically alter your routine. From using a more secure search engine to deleting apps you no longer use, it’s never been easier to improve internet privacy for you and your loved ones.
Let’s take a look at 10 easy ways to protect your identity on the web.
1. Use a more secure search engine
Most users choose one web browser over another because of certain features or simply out of familiarity. But there’s no guarantee your choice is up to snuff when it comes to security.
Even for security-conscious users, there isn’t always a clear option. If you’re in the market for a new browser, check reviews and read about security features before you switch. While using multiple browsers will eat up some RAM usage, it’s a good way to compare interfaces and features for short periods while you decide which will be your go-to browser.
If you’re especially concerned about your data and tracking, pick a browser that supports our next tip – private browsing.
2. Check to see if your browser supports private browsing
Browser security features vary, but one of the most functional and popular features is private browsing. When you use this feature, it minimizes the data footprint associated with your browsing by not tracking you. Many popular browsers provide similar options, like Microsoft Edge’s InPrivate and Google Chrome’s Incognito.
We highly suggest private browsing because it:
Deletes your browsing activity from the browser’s history index.
Clears cookies from your browser cache when your session ends.
By not tracking your use, you can reduce potential intrusions into your activity, which is a particularly good precaution against data theft. If someone steals your computer or simply accesses it without your knowledge, they can potentially steal some precious personal info through your browser history or gain access to your financial accounts.
Removing cookies makes it harder for websites to track you online, too. Cookies can store a lot of data about you, including your browsing activity. Some cookies may even be malicious and slip through security filters. That’s why it’s useful to delete cookies or avoid them through a private browser.
3. Protect your data with a virtual private network
Virtual private networks (VPN) are an easy way to protect your connection against the majority of online threats. They provide robust encryption, which adds a deeper layer of protection and neutralizes many of the threats we discuss in this article. They’re especially useful when you have to rely on public WiFi, where threats are more prevalent.
Unfortunately, most VPN solutions come with a few drawbacks, like reducing performance while browsing. That problem is especially pronounced on older devices or on weaker WiFi connections. You can choose to set up your own VPN, or you can pay a monthly or annual fee for a VPN service.
4. Always double-check any unfamiliar links
One incredibly easy way to protect your digital identity is to never trust any link. That is to say, take the time to assess (and double check) the link before you click. It’s also a great way to protect your device, because you’ll reduce its exposure to viruses and malware.
Simply clicking on a link doesn’t always mean you’re an immediate victim of identity theft, but it does increase your risk. That’s because not all malicious content works the same. Some sites solicit extra information like your credit card number with a layout that resembles a trusted brand. Others may covertly install malware.
5. Be careful what you share on social media
Most social media platforms have a degree of public accessibility. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter all have privacy protections in place, but you have to actually use them to protect yourself. You can avoid ever running into issues by simply limiting what you share on social media.
Even if your account is locked or private, there are certain things to steer clear of. Avoid answering questions on your feed that give bad actors information about you, like your first car, favorite color, or pet’s name.
Make sure you don’t accidentally include personal information or files when batch uploading, too. And double-check your photos for things you don’t want widely available.
6. Use privacy settings to filter who sees what you post
You can also limit your social media risk by using privacy filters. These allow you to screen your profile – and even specific posts or content – from public view as well as certain categories of other users. They’re a great way to share content with only those you trust.
7. Delete old apps, keep only what you use
From your smartphone to your web browser to your PC, it’s always best to delete any old apps you no longer use. Security issues aside, removing apps is often a good way to improve performance. That’s especially true on smartphones and browsers, which may be filled with unused add-ons taking up precious hard-drive space.
More importantly, deleting old apps protects you against security flaws. Some apps and add-ons may have a shelf life, which means they no longer receive updates from the developers. This also means they’re no longer protected against the latest threats, which may impact you if you have an older app or add-on gathering digital dust on your device.
8. Deactivate save password features
While it may be convenient, saving your password in your browser isn’t exactly safe. If someone hacks into your browser log-in, for example, they can easily swipe your passwords because they’re all stored in one place.
Your browser may be secure and well maintained, but it’s best to say no when prompted to save a password. Or simply deactivate those save password features entirely. At the very least, it closes an easy backdoor to your online accounts.
Similarly, while you may use a password manager for convenience it comes with both risks and advantages. That’s because they’re also convenient for hackers, who once again can gather loads of sensitive personal information in one place. Strong passwords and good security habits are generally better protection.
9. Use an encrypted app for messaging
Who makes phone calls these days, right? We’re joking a bit, but we’re also aware that we live in the age of the text. And it’s easy to become lenient about how you use texting and messaging apps. You may send important personal information via text without thinking twice about it. One reason? You’re saving time compared to picking up the phone.
However, if you plan to use a third-party messaging app for business or other important communication, consider an option that provides encryption. Telegram is a popular independent option. However, both Google Messages and Apple Messages feature their own secure encryption features for Android and Apple users, respectively.
10. Update or replace your anti-virus software
Some antivirus software runs in the background and you may not think twice about delaying or even skipping updates. While the potential risks vary, ignoring updates means you’re spending longer periods of time without the latest fixes for bugs and known vulnerabilities.
Conversely, if you’re running into persistent issues related to malware or viruses, consider replacing your antivirus software. McAfee Total Protection offers a range of options and support for most types of devices, while Bitdefender receives high marks for its ease of use.
How to have privacy online
New technology and trends mean the question of how to protect your data and identity online has become increasingly complex. New threats pop up all the time, which is why the best first step for most users is simple: use good judgment. It also doesn’t hurt to have security plans in place for your technology.
Fortunately, there are also new tools available that weren’t around at the dawn of the internet. We now have VPNs, encrypted messaging apps, private browsing, and always-improving antivirus software on our side in the fight against bad actors. There are plenty of ways to quickly and easily improve the way you protect your privacy online.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.
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