how to protect your privacy online
Internet Tips and Tricks

12 Powerful Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online

Do you know how to protect your privacy online? You should – privacy is a basic human right. Yet, the USA lacks comprehensive privacy laws to protect it. While California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) offers some security, it only applies to Californians, leaving the rest of the nation exposed. This makes personal steps to safeguard online privacy protection more important than ever. 

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Many people say, “But I have nothing to hide,” when confronted with their privacy being compromised daily. This mentality is misleading and dangerous. Protecting your privacy isn’t just about you – it’s about shielding your loved ones from bad actors who could exploit your data to access theirs. Privacy is a collective responsibility, and everyone has a role to play. 

Imagine this: Jane, a diligent professional, thought she had nothing to hide. She reused the same password for her email, social media, and banking accounts. She frequently posted her location, vacation plans, and even photos of important documents on social media. One day, hackers gained access to her email through a data breach on a shopping site where she had an account. With the same password, they accessed her bank and social media accounts. Soon, her bank account was drained, and her friends were receiving phishing messages from her accounts. 

Jane’s story is not unique. It’s a stark reminder that online privacy is about more than just hiding information – it’s about controlling who has access to your life. 

In this blog, we’ll explore practical steps on how to protect your privacy online. Remember, you don’t need to do everything at once. Start small and don’t get discouraged – each action you take is a step towards a more secure digital environment. 

Use Strong, Unique Passwords

Using strong unique passwords for every account is your first line of defense against cyber threats. Imagine your online accounts as locked doors; each one needs a different key. 

Every account needs its own unique password. Reusing passwords is like using the same key for your house, car, and office. If one key gets stolen, all your locks are compromised. By having separate passwords, a breach in one account doesn’t lead to others. 

Many modern devices, like Apple products, already take some steps towards stronger password security for you. When you create a new account, your device suggests a strong password and offers to save it.  

Here’s how it works: 

  • When signing up for a new service, your device proposes a strong, random password. 
  • It then saves this password in its secure vault, accessible only by you. 
  • Next time you log in, the device can auto-fill your credentials using your fingerprint or face recognition, saving you from remembering complex passwords. 

Use a password manager. Managing so many passwords can be overwhelming. That’s where password managers come in. Tools like 1Password (especially great for MacOS) and Bitwarden (a free option) can help. These managers generate and store strong passwords for each of your accounts. 

Here’s how they work: 

  • They create complex, unique passwords that are difficult to crack. 
  • They securely store all your passwords in an encrypted vault. 
  • You only need to remember one master password to unlock the vault. 

What if the password manager gets hacked?  

It’s a common concern. If a password manager is hacked, you need to act quickly: 

  • Change the master password. This is the key to your vault. Make it strong and unique. 
  • Update all stored passwords. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s necessary to secure your accounts again. 

Using these tools and features simplifies your digital life and significantly enhances your security. Strong, unique passwords and reliable password managers are the first thing you should use to protect your privacy online. Don’t wait until it’s too late! 

Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Your password is a sturdy lock on your door. Now imagine adding a security guard who checks IDs at the entrance. That’s what 2FA does – an extra layer of security to keep the bad guys out. 

Two-Factor Authentication is a security process where you provide two different authentication factors to verify yourself.  

Here’s how it works: 

  • First factor: Your password (something you know). 
  • Second factor: Something else (something you have or are). 

There are several types of 2FA: 

  • Text message (SMS). You receive a text with a code to enter after your password. This is the least popular choice as you have to set it all up again if you change your number, of if you’re abroad and have a foreign SIM + it can cost a lot to receive messages, esp when abroad. 
  • Push notification. A notification pops up on your phone; you approve or deny the login attempt. 
  • Authenticator apps. Apps like Google Authenticator or Authy generate time-sensitive codes. 
  • Time-sensitive codes. Similar to authenticator apps, these codes expire after a short period. 

Enabling 2FA might sound like a hassle, but start with the essentials, such as banking, social media accounts, work-related accounts, and email. Once you get comfortable, expand 2FA to other accounts. 

Use Encrypted Messaging Apps

Encrypted messaging apps ensure that only you and the intended recipient can read your messages. They prevent anyone – hackers, corporations, even governments- from intercepting and deciphering your private communications. 

Encryption vs. Metadata 

Most messaging apps now provide end-to-end encryption (e.g. Messenger, WhatsApp). But while WhatsApp encrypts your messages, the story doesn’t end there. Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, still collects detailed metadata. 

Metadata is like the envelope information on a letter—it doesn’t include the content of your message but provides other details such as: 

  • Who you’re talking to 
  • When you’re online 
  • How frequently and how long you chat 

This might not seem like a big deal, but metadata can reveal a lot about your habits and relationships 

Why Signal Stands Out 

If you want to protect your privacy online, consider using Signal. This messaging app takes privacy a step further. The only metadata it collects is: 

  • Phone number used for registration 
  • Date of initial registration 
  • Date of last use 

That’s it. No peeking into your usage patterns or contacts. Signal’s minimalist approach to data collection means your privacy is respected to the utmost degree. 

Your choice of messaging app should align with your privacy needs. If the idea of someone knowing your messaging habits makes you uneasy, Signal is your best bet. It offers encryption and minimal metadata collection, so your private conversations remain just that – private. 

Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi can be a hacker’s playground. Sure, it’s convenient when you’re sipping a latte at your favorite café but using these networks for sensitive activities can spell trouble.  

Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured, meaning anyone nearby can potentially intercept your data. This could expose your passwords, private emails, and other personal information. 

Another risk is not knowing who operates the network. As SURF points out, it’s easy for attackers to set up a Wi-Fi network with an inviting name like “Free Coffee Shop Wi-Fi.” Once you connect, they can monitor all your online activities, and even alter your network traffic to show fake login pages, potentially stealing your credentials. 

If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a VPN and only do the most basic tasks (avoid banking). Using a VPN while on public Wi-Fi creates a secure tunnel for your data. That way, even if someone intercepts your Wi-Fi traffic, they won’t be able to read it. Your activities are masked, and your privacy is maintained. VPNs are a small investment in a big peace of mind. 

Learn to Spot Phishing and Malware

Phishing attempts often come through emails or messages that look legitimate but are designed to steal your information. Here’s how to spot them: 

  • Suspicious email addresses. Phishing emails often come from addresses that look a lot like those of legitimate companies. 
  • Urgent language. Phrases like “Immediate action required” or “Your account will be closed” are red flags. 
  • Links and attachments. Hover over links to see where they really lead. Be cautious of unexpected attachments. 

I’ve clicked on a phishing link – now what? 

If you’ve clicked a phishing link, don’t panic. Here’s a step-by-step guide: 

  • Do not enter credentials. If the link asks for your login details, close the page immediately. 
  • Disconnect from the internet to further data transmission. 
  • Restart your router and device to reset any temporary threats. 
  • Delete downloads. If clicking the link downloaded a file, delete it without opening. 
  • Change passwords. For any accounts potentially compromised, change your passwords immediately. 
  • Enable 2FA. This adds an extra layer of security to your accounts. 

I’ve given my credentials – now what? 

If you’ve entered your password or other credentials, act quickly: 

  • Immediately change the password for the affected account and any other accounts that use the same password. 
  • Enable 2FA for an additional security layer. 
  • Check for unauthorized access. Review your account activity and look for any unauthorized transactions or changes. 
  • Inform your bank, credit card company, or the service provider if sensitive financial information was involved. 
  • Keep an eye on your accounts for any suspicious activity and consider setting up alerts for any unusual actions.

By taking these steps, you can mitigate the damage and protect your information from further compromise. Remember, the key is to act swiftly and decisively. 

If you didn’t enter any information after clicking a phishing link, your risk is lower. The main concern is that your email address might now be targeted for more spam. If you downloaded a file, your risk increases, but not significantly if you didn’t open it. 

Only Use Secure (HTTPS) Websites

Next time you’re browsing, remember to check for that “https://” and padlock icon. HTTPS encrypts sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and personal details. 

The difference between HTTP and HTTPS: 

  • HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) sends data in plain text. Anyone can intercept and read it. 
  • HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) encrypts data. Only the intended recipient can open and read it. 

How to Spot HTTPS 

Beginners, it’s easy to check: 

  • Look at the URL. Secure websites start with “https://”. 
  • Padlock icon. A small padlock icon appears next to the URL in most browsers. 

Most modern browsers automatically warn you if you’re about to enter an unsecured HTTP site: 

  • Google Chrome displays a “Not Secure” warning in the address bar. 
  • Mozilla Firefox shows a padlock with a red line or a warning symbol. 
  • Safari indicates “Not Secure” next to the URL. 

These alerts are your browser’s way of saying, “Hey, think twice before entering personal information here!” 

Avoid Tracking Browsers & Search Engines

We use browsers and search engines daily, so understanding how they function is crucial for protecting your privacy online. 

Your choice of browser matters. Some browsers, like Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Edge, are notorious for tracking user activity. Instead, opt for privacy-focused browsers like Firefox or Tor Browser – the latter routers your traffic through multiple servers, hiding your IP address. 

Similarly, avoid tracking search engines. Search engines can be data hoarders. Google, Bing, and Yahoo log your searches and build profiles on you.  

Switch to: 

  • DuckDuckGo – Doesn’t track or store your search history. 
  • Brave Search – Focuses on privacy and security without tracking your activities. 
  • StartPage.com – Provides Google search results without tracking. 

Disable Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are the sneaky spies of the internet, tiny pieces of data stored on your device by websites other than the one you’re visiting. They track your every move across different sites, helping advertisers and trackers build detailed profiles of your preferences, habits, and interests. This isn’t just an invasion of privacy – it’s practically stalking. 

Ever notice those “cookie consent” pop-ups when you visit a site? Clicking “Do not consent” can help, but it’s not foolproof. To truly safeguard your privacy, use privacy add-ons like uBlock Origin to block these third-party cookies and keep your online activities under wraps. 

Remove Unnecessary Extensions

Browser extensions can be useful, but they also pose privacy risks. Each extension has the potential to access and collect data from your browsing sessions. The more extensions you have, the more unique your browser fingerprint becomes, making it easier to track you. 

Not all browser extensions are detectable, but many can track your activities. It’s inaccurate to say every extension makes you more identifiable, but it’s a good habit to minimize them.  

Protect Your Data on Cloud Storages

Imagine cloud storage as a virtual locker where you store files like photos, documents, and videos. Services like Google Drive and iCloud are popular, but they come with privacy concerns.  

These platforms can access your stored data to build advertising profiles and, in some cases, third parties might get access too. Therefore, choosing a secure cloud storage solution is vital if you want to protect your privacy. 

Secure Cloud Storage Options 

To keep your data private, opt for services that encrypt your files before they leave your device. Here are some recommendations: 

  • Proton Drive encrypts your data and makes it unreadable to anyone but you. 
  • Files.io is another great choice for secure, encrypted storage. 
  • Nextcloud is ideal for those comfortable with self-hosting, offering maximum privacy and control over your data. However, you’ll need to handle all security configurations. 
  • Cryptomator is an open-source tool that adds an extra layer of encryption to your cloud storage. 

If you’re an Apple user, enabling Advanced Data Protection on iCloud Drive adds end-to-end encryption, securing your files against unauthorized access. 

Avoid Unnecessary IoT Devices

IoT devices include anything from smart speakers to connected refrigerators. While convenient, they can be vulnerable to cyberattacks. According to Check Point Research, the surge in IoT cyberattacks is alarming: 54% of organizations suffer from attempted cyber-attacks via IoT devices weekly. 

To protect your main network, place IoT devices on a separate guest network. This means creating a distinct network for your IoT devices, isolated from your primary one.  

Another, more complex solution is to use VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks). VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks) allow you to segment your network into separate parts, making it harder for an attack on an IoT device to compromise your entire network.  

A typical setup would be having a LAN (your main network) for your computers, a VLAN for IoT devices, and another VLAN for guests. 

PIN Lock Your Credit Files

PIN locking, or freezing your credit, means that no one – including you – can open new credit accounts in your name without first unfreezing your credit. It’s like putting a lock on your financial profile that only you have the key to.  

This is essential because, while credit bureaus have fraud detection mechanisms, a freeze blocks any new credit lines from being opened entirely. 

How to Lock Your Credit Files Online 

  1. Create accounts with major credit bureaus:
  1. Log in and freeze your credit:
  • Avoid deceptively named services like “credit lock” which may cost money. A credit freeze is free by law. 
  • Be cautious of upselling tactics from credit bureaus. You don’t need any additional services. 
  1. Temporary thaw for credit checks:
  • When you need a credit check, log in and unfreeze your credit temporarily. 
  • Credit Karma provides convenient links to the appropriate pages on TransUnion and Equifax. 

Note: Consider freezing your ChexSystems file too, which is used by banks to approve new accounts. 

A credit freeze doesn’t affect your ability to raise or lower your credit score based on existing accounts. It merely stops new credit lines from being opened.  

For more information and to start the process, visit Identity Theft.gov. 

Secure Your Email Communication

Email is the backbone of modern communication, but not all email services respect your privacy. Many popular email providers, like Gmail, are not private.  

Google scans your emails, analyzing your personal conversations, purchases, travel plans, and files to build advertising profiles on you and the people you communicate with. Your emails are stored on their servers, accessible to both their algorithms and, at times, external developers.

Understanding security vs. privacy is key here; while Gmail is secure (protecting against hackers), it is not private (Google accesses and analyzes your emails). 

For sensitive communication, consider using a service like ProtonMail, which offers end-to-end encryption and does not scan your emails. However, be cautious about sharing your ProtonMail address with friends and family to prevent it from being stored in less secure contact lists. 

How to Switch Email Accounts

Switching from Gmail to a privacy-focused email service like ProtonMail is a huge undertaking, but it’s worth it. Here’s a strategy to make the transition smoother: 

  • Create an account with ProtonMail or other secure services like AnonAddy, 33Mail, Simple Login, or Mailo. These services provide various levels of privacy and anonymity. For instance, AnonAddy offers anonymous email forwarding, allowing you to create multiple aliases to protect your real email address. 
  • Use a password manager. 
  • Change the email address for your most important accounts (e.g., banks, utilities). 
  • As new emails arrive in your Gmail inbox, update the email address with those services if you want to keep using them. 
  • Let unwanted emails remain with the old address to reduce clutter. 
  • Keep your Gmail account active for several months during the transition, so you don’t miss any important updates. 

Final Thoughts on How to Protect Your Privacy Online

Now you know how to protect your privacy online. Chances are you feel overwhelmed right now, but don’t worry. You can’t tackle everything in a day, and trying to might just lead to frustration. Start small. Focus on one step at a time. Begin with creating strong, unique passwords and enabling two-factor authentication. Once that becomes a habit, move on to the next task. 

Remember, each small change is a step towards a more secure digital life. Celebrate each success, no matter how minor it seems. Stay patient, stay persistent, and keep moving forward on your quest for increased online privacy. 

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At Race Communications, we take the privacy and security of our subscribers seriously. Through our Wi-Fi management app, Race CommandIQ®, we block threats automatically. 

Order our fiber internet today to get started and take control of your online privacy and security. 

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