9 Tips to Protect Your Privacy Online in the New Year

As the world continues to move online, we often spend more time on mobile phones than computers, and as social media becomes more and more prevalent, it’s as important as ever to understand how to protect your privacy online. We’re breaking down the top 9 Tips to Protect Your Privacy Online in the New Year.

  1. Limit the personal information you share on social media.

  • Don’t overshare on social media. It’s (almost) as easy as that. Providing personal information on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is unnecessary and makes it easier for cybercriminals to obtain identifying information, which could allow them to access your financial information. Many people use details like their high school mascot for passwords for bank accounts or other personal information. Imagine if you share this information on Facebook and a hacker obtains it to log-in your bank account. It happens
  • Create strong phrase-based passwords. This will help prevent others from logging into your social profiles in your name. Use strong phrase-based passwords such as ihatefacebook123!. Phrases are easy to remember and the length makes it extremely hard to brute force. What not to use? Easy to guess information like your birth date, pet name, high school mascot, etc.. 
  • Check your social private settings. Change your social network privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. so that you choose what is shared with whom. Turn off showing anything to the public by default!
  1. Browse in incognito or private mode. 

  • Have you ever searched for something on Google only to go over to Facebook and already find yourself staring at an ad for that exact product? Creepy, right? This is called retargeting. 
  • A perhaps little known fact is that you can surf the web in private mode. If you don’t want your computer to save your browsing history, temporary web files, or cookies, opt to do your web surfing in private mode.
  • It’s different in every browser: for instance, in Chrome it’s called Incognito Mode, Firefox is Private Browsing and Internet Explorer calls it InPrivate Browsing. Same difference. 
  • When private mode is turned on and you close your browser, all that tracking data is purged and your next browsing session won’t be plagued with prior tracking data. Private mode is not bulletproof, however. Google and other advertisers are known to track you based on things like your browser’s unique fingerprint, IP address, and other factors. We still recommend using private mode when you’d like your cookies and history purged on browser close.
  1. Don’t use public storage accounts for private information.

  • We all love Google Drive and Dropbox. They’re great for certain things, but if you’re considering a Google Doc of passwords or a scan of your passport, consider a more secure location. In general, don’t use services meant for sharing for storing secure private data. 
  • If you must store private data on public storage, turn on two factor authentication to protect your data from someone trying to login with your credentials.
  • Please note, if you’re using a free service, you’re the product. Your mailbox and data may be secure by two factor, but Google and Dropbox will use your information to target you with ads and other for profit activities. 
  1. Use a different search engine. 

  • While Google is many people’s default search engine, you don’t have to always use Google. There are alternate search engines that don’t collect or share your search history. 
  • The #1 privacy-focused Google alternative is DuckDuckGo https://duckduckgo.com/
  1. Keep your main email address private. 

  • If you share your email address with every online retailer, expect hundreds of spam emails. Same goes for your phone number. To avoid this, we recommend having a “spam” email: a separate, disposable email that you don’t check regularly, but simply use to provide an email to retailers online.
  • One trick we use is to sign up for one real account and one throw away. Forward the throw away to the real account and have a rule that puts all mail from the throw away to a subfolder. Check the subfolder at your own pace and enjoy a clean primary inbox.
  • Bonus trick – if you have a major event coming up, like a wedding, create an email address just for that event. Give this email to all the various vendors and add it to your phone. When the event is over, delete it and now you won’t be hounded by spammy vendors. 
  1. Be careful where you click. 

  • Always be careful where you click and know what you’re clicking. One of the top attempts to hack is through phishing attempts. With phishing, scammers try to trick you into providing valuable financial or personal information. Many times scammers will email asking for bank or financial information. Be vigilant about where you click and who you are providing sensitive information to. Always double check and verify the source.
  1. Use public Wi-Fi minimally. 

  • Public Wi-Fi networks (think airport, Starbucks, etc) do not typically encrypt traffic. What does this mean? Anyone with the aptitude could intercept your unencrypted traffic (websites without the padlock). 
  • If you check your secure accounts that likely use SSL (padlock) on a public network, know that the general domain name of where you’re going is discoverable. I.e., an attacker can see you’re going to https://wellsfargo.com. For the attacker to intercept and steal your data, it’s much harder and in 2019/2020, it’s generally considered safe BUT not recommended. Turn off Wi-Fi and use a secure hotspot or your cellular data to check your bank. 
  1. Secure your mobile devices.

  • So many of us spend just as much, if not more, time searching the web, answering emails, purchasing online, etc on our mobile devices as we do our computers. That’s why the same precautions for online privacy should be taken when it comes to your phone as you do your computer. 
  • The first item is to make sure you always have a passcode on your phone. While a passcode doesn’t protect against everything, it’s a great first layer of defense, especially if your phone is ever lost or stolen. 
  • Be careful when downloading apps. Make sure they are reputable apps with good reviews. Often times apps can contain bugs or viruses that end up on your phone when you download the app.  
  • Don’t ignore software updates for apps on your phone. Similar to your computer, developers are constantly updating applications to fix weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Regularly updating your phone with these app updates will keep you maximally protected against scammers and viruses. 
  1. Use quality anti-virus software.

  • Install anti-virus software on all your applicable devices- not just your primary computer. Anti-virus software adds a layer of defence that MAY prevent an attack. Security is all about layers of defence.
  • We recommend Sophos Home anti-virus software for home computers. Link: https://home.sophos.com/en-us/free-anti-virus-windows.aspx
  • For business, contact us to discuss which solution(s) fits your situation. We typically deploy 3-4 layers of security for business clients!

If you have additional questions about how to improve your personal or business privacy online, or if you’re interested in getting a quote for PK Tech services, we’re here to help answer any questions and provide more information. To contact PK Tech, click here.

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