To help you understand what is meant by protecting online privacy and how to achieve it, we offer 10 actionable tips. By following this practical advice for low or no cost, your online digital footprint is much less likely to be exploited, and life disasters can be avoided.
In a time when security breaches, public outrage over social media scandals, and falsehoods and unconscionable slander in social media are prominent, protecting your online privacy is more important than ever. Like it or not, the Internet affects all facets of our lives. Our online digital footprint can impact everything from careers to relationships with family and peers, so avoiding the topic of potential dangers on the Internet really is not wise.
Managing your online identity might seem time consuming and inconvenient, but this effort is far less of a burden than addressing a stolen identity, becoming the center of a social media scandal, losing a job, or worrying about what will happen now that someone has doxed you (published your personally identifiable information on the Internet for all to see).
At Presence Global we know the importance of managing online identity and personal, private information. Unfortunately, these security issues now are a non-stop concern. We at Presence Global have years of security knowledge and have a deep concern that much the public is either naïve, uninformed, or in denial about the seriousness of the dangers on the World Wide Web. Our blogs are intended to help make you an informed on-line consumer, one with control over personal privacy. The following sayings describe the aim of our blog posts:
“There is no knowledge that is not power.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Download and use antivirus software
Antivirus (AV) software can be one or a set of programs designed to prevent, search for, detect, and possibly remove viruses and malicious software. Malicious software can be ransomware, worms, trojans, adware, spyware, and more. Using antivirus software on computers and phones greatly helps to keep information secure and immune to hacking. Not sure where to begin? McAfee and Norton are some great, inexpensive options.
AV companies must frequently update their security intelligence because criminals frequently update their methods. If an AV program does not automatically download new intelligence to your device, you should check every day or two for updates to AV intelligence. Also, keep the operating system (OS) and all apps on your device updated. (Some AV programs can alert you to critical updates to the OS and to apps.)
Many companies have a free AV version that protects your device but lacks the additional robust features that come with a paid service. Check the website of individual companies. With a free version, you might have to accept occasional emails that urge you to buy the basic or premium version. (Possible free versions might be visible only after you click a Downloads tab to get to that part of the site.)
Autofill for forms is convenient when you’re in a hurry, but for online autofill to work, your information and a password must be stored online. Online storage of passwords can leave you vulnerable to online security breaches. So, disable autofill and take a little extra time to fill out your forms or use a more secure solution unless you find a secure alternative. For an alternative that secures online autofill, see LastPass in Tip no. 7, “Optimize your passwords.”
To deactivate a smartphone’s autofill service that requires online storage of a password and other information, open the Settings area on your device. In Settings, you might have to search on “autofill” to locate the services that support autofill. Not all of them require online storage of a password. For example, one device OS has Settings–>Tools–>Autofill service, which asks you to create a password, but the Personal dictionary service does not.
Turn off Your GPS
Turning off your phone’s (and computer’s wireless) use of location services (via GPS) helps to protect your online privacy. Typically, when you are using social media, by default your device broadcasts its geographic location as a precise longitude and latitude uploaded to a GPS satellite.
By disabling location services on your phone or just for apps that have no need for your location, you will prevent companies and people from tracking your location. (A security issue that most consumers do not know is that even if you do not use an app, it can be hacked and used to compromise you.)
For details about managing location services, see Your Smartphone: How to Manage Privacy in the Privacy area of Presence blogs.
Use private browsing modes
Browsing in private mode will improve your online privacy and help to protect your identity. Most browsers (Mozilla Corporation’s Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge, etc.) have a private browsing mode you can choose in the browser’s Settings.
Some search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and The Onion Router (TOR), do not retain your browsing history. Even if you delete browsing history in your browser, others might keep it, so take advantage of these additional options to minimize the possibility of data breaches.
Clear your browser’s cache and cookies every day. The reason is that a browser cache can contain malware and undesirable cookies that have somehow gotten into the cache during your online activities. This chore might seem tedious and annoying because websites will repeatedly ask you to accept cookies (after you clear them from the cache), but it is a simple addition to protecting your online presence.
In addition to the security benefit, clearing the cache avoids the browser performance problems that come with a bloated cache (sometimes, a browser does not work correctly until you clear an overly full cache).
Use a VPN to make browsing anonymous
Protect your online privacy with a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN is a technology that enables you to send and receive information across the less-secure Internet without disclosing your online identity or location. A VPN encrypts your data to create a secure virtual tunnel between your computer and the other end of your communication.
You should turn on the VPN you go on the Internet. Some VPNs have an option you can set for automatically starting up the VPN when you go onto the Internet, but you might have to manually start it up when you go on the Internet—but a VPN is worth the effort!
You have multiple VPN providers to choose from. See CNET’s list and rankings of VPN providers here. Some network security companies include a free VPN with a paid service but limit it to some daily traffic volume (for example, 200 Mbytes of download per day).
Use public Wi-Fi and hotspots with caution
Public Wi-Fi and hotspots are open networks, so third parties can intercept traffic of nearby users. Your online identity and the name of your device can be exposed. We advise that you:
- Use your own private hotspot when possible.
- If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a VPN to secure your traffic.
- Use complex passwords (see next tip, no. 7).
- Disable auto-complete forms (see also tips no. 4 and no. 7).
- Be sure that the sites you access are using HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), not just HTTP.
- Always use the latest version of your browser.
- Avoid logging into sites that have critical information (like bank accounts) from public Wi-Fi.
- Use two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication for any web site
sthat offers it. (See also LastPass in next tip. No. 7.)
Optimize your passwords
To protect your online identity:
- Use a strong password for your passwords and update them frequently.
- Do not use the same password for all your accounts.
You can also use a password vault and random password generator to create passwords. We endorse LastPass as a secure vault for storing passwords (which are accessible through a master password or passphrase that you create). In addition to randomly generated passwords for all your applications and login information, LastPass offers regular security checks, secure autofill for forms, multi-factor authentication, and other valuable services. LastPass offers a free version (so you have no excuse!); a premium version at a reasonable price, with excellent tools such as advanced multifactor authentication, dark web monitoring, and a security dashboard for you; and a family-size deal. In addition, like our Presence blogs, LastPass blog posts are a great source of knowledge to educate you in online self-defense.
Do not open spam emails
This advice is common knowledge yet a worthwhile reminder: “think before you click.” A suspicious or clearly spam email can be a phishing or spear phishing attack, where the latter is a phishing attack that specifically targets you. (Phishing: The act of sending email that falsely claims to be from a legitimate source. This email usually comes with a threat or a request for PII or other information. For example, the email claims that an account is locked or will close, a balance is due, or information is missing from an account.)
When you receive an email that appears to be spam (for example, if it has an uncharacteristic Subject or addresses you by your entire email address), mark it as spam immediately. (Your email program might automatically put it in a Spam folder, which you should periodically check and empty.) Do not open or even download attachments in any suspect email or click on links in a spam mail.
If email from someone you know seems unusual to be coming from that person, contact them to confirm. If a phone call is not convenient, Forward the email to the person and manually type the email address—do not Reply to the suspicious email—and ask if they sent it. Even if they sent it, did they create it or just forward it from a known or unknown source?
Monitor your social media
Social media are a significant risk factor for online identity theft and hacking, so it is crucial to be vigilant with your social media usage. Avoid oversharing and sharing personally identifiable information (PII) such as your maiden name, children’s names, and locations. This PII can give online identity thieves what they need to answer security questions for your bank account or use personal information for other criminal or harmful activity, such as doxing you (maliciously publishing all your PII on the Internet). Also, if you receive a connection or “friend” request from a total stranger on a social platform, know that accepting the request from a hacker can open the door to downloads of malware to your device.
In a 2018 study, the Identity Theft Resource Center found that approximately 52 percent of respondents shared personally identifiable information through social media sites. The same survey found that about 48 percent of respondents shared information about their children, while nearly 33 percent shared their location information. A total of 42 percent of respondents shared information about their travel plans through social media. Do not become a statistic. Monitor, audit, and control your social media accounts.
Manage your online footprint
Download the Presence app to manage your online identity. Presence offers a visual tool to help you see and manage your online privacy on social media and across the entire Internet. Presence Global gives you the ability to detect, protect (by auditing security and privacy settings), and control your online identity— download the Presence Global app to get started at Apple Corporation’s App Store or the Google Play Store.
Join the movement #privacyfirst