Today’s world is full of technology – it’s virtually impossible to imagine a life without access to the Internet.
All the knowledge and information are at your fingertips, you’re just a few clicks away from learning how to cook an entirely new dish, what’s the best Chinese restaurant in the vicinity, or why are flamingos pink.
However, paraphrasing Uncle Ben’s words, with great knowledge there must also come great responsibility. Browsing online resources should be done with caution – the Internet is full of dangers and traps that can trick you into giving away your confidential data to thieves or other wrongdoers. Even if you’re not using the Internet frequently, you can fall victim to a hacker – after all, just one wrong click is sometimes enough to get yourself into trouble.
You may be thinking that the subject of online privacy is not your problem and you shouldn’t be concerned, because you’ve got nothing to hide anyway. Maybe you’re not afraid of getting your information leaked, because you don’t have too much money saved in your bank account, so there’s not much to lose. Maybe you don’t care about someone getting access to your e-mail, because you rarely even use it. Thinking that way would be fine, if not for a small detail – if your data is leaked, it puts your friends and family in danger as well. If you’re not worried about your own stuff being stolen and used by strangers, think about the people you love. If you’re not treating online privacy seriously, the lack of protection may one day harm those, who are important to you.
We’re here to help you out and teach you how to protect your privacy online. Familiarizing yourself with some specific terms and possibilities is the first step to protecting your online identity, so let’s do that.
VPN stands for virtual private network and it should be easily one of the first things that come to your mind when talking about protecting online privacy, but it comes with some drawbacks that you should be aware of.
So, what exactly is VPN? Think of it as an additional server, through which you will connect to websites. If you’re not using VPN, you’re directly (not exactly directly, but let’s keep things simple) connecting to the websites to access their resources – this means that the website you’re visiting gets the IP address that was assigned to you by your Internet Service Provider, or ISP for short. If you’re using VPN, it tricks the website into thinking that you’re someone else. Instead of getting your own IP, the website will get the IP of your VPN, mistaking it for your own device. This effectively hides some of your data and makes it much harder to track your online presence.
Sounds neat, so what are the drawbacks? VPN services that are available for free can be used by many people, and the more people use a certain IP, the more websites may start to block it – websites generally don’t like it when people are trying to be more anonymous, as it hurts the business. Companies make huge profits on collecting your data and serving you personalized ads based on your online behavior – if you’re visiting a website from an IP shared by a lot of people, the company can’t effectively make personalized ads for you. VPN services are also commonly used by spammers and bots to flood websites with unwanted content, and the only way to fight that is to block IP addresses.
Getting a paid VPN solution solves that problem to a certain degree, but the pool of IP addresses is not infinite – at some point, even your paid VPN may start to be blocked if the companies realize that you’re hiding behind a VPN instead of using your own IP. Additionally, all your data will go through the VPN server, which means that you need a trusted service – otherwise you’re risking that the VPN company will store and sell your data without your consent.
The Internet made online payments possible and now you can pay for virtually anything without even leaving your home. Sadly, stealing money became much easier as well – now the thief doesn’t have to physically steal your wallet. He can just use some social engineering skills to trick you into giving him all the data he needs to empty your bank account. Sometimes you will send him the money yourself, thinking that you’re paying for the gift cards, games, prepaid cash, TV shows, or cryptocurrencies you just bought when in reality you’ll find yourself on a fake website designed to scam unaware users.
When making online payments, always make sure that you’re doing it through a website that uses an HTTPS protocol as it encrypts the data you’re sending. Try not to use banking services when using a public Wi-Fi network. Use strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. Double-check if payment details are correct before finalizing the transaction and don’t give away your credit card’s security code to anyone you don’t trust.
Adblocks are another essential element to protect your online privacy. Whenever you visit a website, it’s more than likely that it collects your public data. This data may include information about the browser you’re using to access the website, the system you’re currently using, your public IP, and so on. The websites may even go beyond and collect information about other websites you visit, products you’re looking for, and phrases you’re using in your favorite search engine.
Data gathered by tracking online behavior is incredibly valuable for advertisement companies, as it allows them to more efficiently target a specific type of consumer, which increases the chances of someone being interested in the advertised product to the point that he’ll decide to buy it. If the company knows that you have a car, you may be offered car parts, for example – if you didn’t have a car and you were shown some car parts, you probably wouldn’t be interested in them at all, and showing you such an ad would make no sense.
Adblocks deal with that issue – they aim to block all the ads possible, so you can browse the Internet without worrying about being bombarded by unwanted content.
Sharing Less Data
To protect your digital privacy, you should also consider limiting what data you’re giving away and to whom you’re giving it. Using social media and sharing your daily schedule with the world may sound like fun, but it’s certainly not the smartest thing to do. We’re not saying that you should completely stop using social media apps and sites, but before you post anything, think about the consequences and what could’ve happened if someone with ill intentions managed to put his hands on that information.
You may be thinking that you’re not posting anything of high value or importance, but a good thief may piece together all the bits of information to use against you. He may know where you live because you once posted a photo from your window and he managed to locate the place by carefully examining the surroundings. He may know that you’re living alone because you wrote that in a comment under someone else’s post. He may know when you leave for work, leaving your home vulnerable and unguarded – and that’s when he’ll be able to get in.
Share less data and make good use of privacy settings in your social media accounts – there are options to hide your profile from people other than your friends, for example.
Sometimes getting scammed is as easy as clicking a scam link. You may get yourself a virus that will steal your data or you may be moved to a website that looks exactly the same as the one you actually wanted to visit – even the name may be similar enough to not raise suspicion of unaware users, such as amazon-shopping.com instead of amazon.com.
Always double-check if you’re on the correct website, and remember: if a deal looks to be too good to be true, it probably is. Having a solid antivirus installed on the computer certainly won’t hurt – it should at least make the virus threat much less dangerous.