Data Privacy Day: 30 Little Steps To Protect Your Privacy Online
Data Privacy and Protection Day is celebrated in more than 40 countries, including the US, Canada, and many European countries. This day should serve as a reminder to us all of growing online security and internet privacy issues.
We thought it would be a good time to share with you our simple guide for protection of privacy, data, and identity online. Below, you'll find 30 tips for how to protect yourself online.
For easier navigation, we've broken them down into categories. So you can read and use them all or focus on those that address your special needs.
How to protect yourself on social media
- Clean up your friend lists
Gone are the times when having 500+ friends on Facebook served as proof of how cool you are. In fact, unless you're Elon Musk, Selena Gomez, Ryan Gosling, or another well-known person, quite the opposite is “cool” these days.
Being selective in who you share personal news with and making sure you follow only those who are worth your time and attention is the new trend. In social media, less is now more.
To boost your security and privacy, clear your friend lists from the following categories of people: toxic people, your ex's exes, and anyone you don't know in person. Not only will you start spending less time scrolling your newsfeed, but you will also minimize the risk of threats from your network’s compromised online security.
- Review your social media accounts
If you're serious about protecting yourself on social media, you should always think twice before sharing anything on your personal page. Posting to your Facebook that you're off for a vacation? Think of how valuable this information can be for thieves in your neighborhood. Sharing pictures of your 10-year-old daughter? You cannot be sure who will download this picture and what for.
Posting things on Facebook is not much different from putting a huge banner on your front door. Don't publish on Facebook anything you wouldn't put as a banner on your door. Privacy starts with the everyday choices you make.
- Check your privacy settings on all your social networks
If you're not ready to stop sharing your personal life on Facebook, but you're still concerned about internet privacy issues, make sure your privacy settings are not working against you.
Go to the privacy settings for all the social media you use and make sure your updates are only visible for people on your friend list. Get at least some control over who can follow your life online.
- Log out of social media accounts
Make it your habit to always log out of social media accounts—especially, if you use public computers sometimes or you check Facebook from a corporate laptop.
If it's already too late and you realize you forgot to log out, there is still a chance to save your privacy. Fortunately, now Facebook allows you to control your logins remotely. To do this, go to Security and Login settings and click Log Out of All Sessions.
How to protect your identity online
- Enable two-factor authentication
Simply put, two-factor authentication (2FA) serves is just an extra layer of online security. When it's enabled, a person cannot access an account unless he or she has successfully presented two types of credentials (for example, a password and an answer to a security question.) You can enable 2FA for your email and social media accounts.
- Set up Google Alerts for your name
Once you do this, you will receive alerts each time someone mentions your name online. That's how you will know when someone starts gossiping about you on a forum or if a company you work for accidentally publishes a spreadsheet with your social security number and forgot to make it private. Google Alerts is super easy to set up and it is free.
- Get familiar with the most popular scam schemes and stay alert
Phishing, cryptomining, spoofing, ransomware, identity theft, cyberstalking—if at least some of these words sound like a foreign language to you, google them one-by-one and make sure to read a detailed definition of each.
These are all kinds of popular online crime schemes.
If you truly care about your privacy and security online, learn how each and every scheme works. Knowing the ins and outs of cybercrime trends makes you a more difficult target for criminals.
- Train yourself not to open emails from strangers
Email scam is not new but still popular. By simply knowing your email address, online criminals can trick you into sharing some sensitive information or, even worse, steal your identity.
To keep yourself safe while using email, don't open emails from unfamiliar senders. If it's already too late and you opened one, do not panic and ignore whatever this email tells you to do. In 99.99% of cases, it is nothing but a cheesy manipulation trick.
- Disable the "Save password" feature in your browser
This feature is good at saving you time and effort, but it's not so safe from a privacy protection perspective. If your passwords are saved, anyone who gets a chance to access your laptop can access your personal chats, private photo library, scanned documents, etc.
You can never be 100% sure about intentions of people around you—especially, if you work in a large open space with dozens of people around. It's better to be safe than sorry.
- Remember to disable Bluetooth when you don't need it
Bluetooth itself is safe. It's the way cyber crooks can use it that poses a threat to your security and privacy online. Without digging too deep into technical details, Bluetooth may serve as an "open window" through which online criminals can spy on information stored on your device. To minimize the risk of Bluetooth attack, keep Bluetooth disabled unless you're using it—especially if you happen to be in a crowded public space such as airport, mall, or hotel.
- Secure your Wi-Fi network with a password
Keeping your Wi-Fi network open to everyone is not a good idea whatever way you slice it. Not only do you allow strangers to slow your internet down, but you also give hackers another weakness to exploit. Of course, keeping your network unprotected does not mean anyone can access your connected devices, but it certainly helps hackers do their work. Don't help hackers.
How to stay safe when shopping online
- Stop using unverified Wi-Fi connections
We all love Wi-Fi. It is obviously one of the greatest inventions in the world. Unfortunately, cybercriminals think so, too (but their reasons are different than ours). For hackers and cybercriminals, Wi-Fi networks serve as another tool to do their dirty business. Don't buy anything online while connected to a public Wi-Fi network.
- Get yourself a low-balance card for online purchases
Each time you proceed to checkout after your shopping session online, you and your money become vulnerable. The moment you input your credit card number to pay for those shiny shoes is also the moment when criminals hold their breath trying to steal your bank credentials or CVV code. If something like this happens, it's better if the card they get access to is not the one with all your savings.
- Activate email or message alerts for bank transactions
To keep under control each and every purchase made with your credit card, set up alerts for bank transactions. This way you’ll know if someone is enjoying shopping at your expense (and how you'll know when to call your bank to block a compromised card).
How to stay anonymous on the internet
- Install a good VPN
If you don't want everyone to know your current location, use a VPN. It's a simple and legitimate way to mask where you are at the moment. If you don't have a VPN, your internet service provider gets access to your entire browsing history. Plus, you're at risk of someone eavesdropping on your internet activity.
- Turn on private browsing
Your browsing history is something not only hackers but also marketers and advertisers can fight for. While criminals may use it as a source of information, they can later use to blackmail you, marketers and advertisers use it to target you with impossible-to-resist ads that match your needs perfectly. None of the perspectives looks good, right? You know what to do. Whenever browsing, turn private mode on.
- Disable location tracking for apps you don't use
Let's face it: most of the apps you use can actually do what they were developed for without having access to your contact list, photo library, geolocation, etc. The more apps that are allowed to track your location, the easier it is for hackers to detect your location, and the harder it is for you to stay anonymous online.
- Clear your cache and get used to doing it regularly
Think of cache like traces you leave on the sand. With proper examination, they can tell a stranger who you are and where you're going. If you care about staying anonymous on the web, make it your habit to clear cache on a regular basis.
How to protect personal information online
- Change passwords to stronger ones
Your birthday is not a strong password. Your cat's name is not a strong password. The name of your beloved does not make a good password.
A good password should be difficult to guess but easy to remember. Ideally, it needs to be at least 8-12 characters long, contain numbers, symbols, and capital letters.
- Lock your hardware with a password, touch, or face ID protection
We live in amazing times when you can unlock your phone by simply looking at it. On Macs, we can now use our fingerprints as our password. Protecting your devices from other people's sight has never been easier, so why not making use of it?
- Lock or hide screen notifications—lots of sensitive information pops up
If you're like the majority of modern people, your phone stores lots of personal information you'd rather keep private. If this sounds like you, think about all the information popping up on a screen of your (locked and password protected) phone for everyone to see. Push notifications can reveal our secrets. Be smarter, don't leave alerts on for everyone to see.
- Start encrypting sensitive emails
If you need to send some sensitive, truly private information via email, consider encryption. This way, you will keep your data hidden from everyone except the recipient, even if hackers manage to intercept your letter.
- Enable remote device-wiping
It's likely that your phone stores gigabytes of information you'd prefer to keep private. Now imagine that your phone or laptop has been stolen, and there's a high chance the thief can access your information (either because you forgot to protect it with a password or because the one you chose was easy to guess). In such a situation, it would be great to delete all those pictures and messages and notes remotely. With a remote device-wiping feature enabled, you can do just that.
- Learn the difference between HTTPS and HTTP
Here's all you need to know. HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, while HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure. Needless to say, "secure" is an operating word here. Long story short, HTTPS make it harder for hackers to access your personal information.
How to protect your Mac from malware and viruses
- Update your OS and keep it up-to-date
If you believe that keeping your operating system updated to the newest version available is for perfectionists or obsessed geeks, it's time to change your mind. With every update released, operating systems are getting more and more resistant to online security threats. Engineers work hard to improve your safety, installing updates as soon as they become available is the best way to tell them "Thank you" for doing this.
- Promise yourself to never download software from unofficial websites
Let us put the record straight here: it is just not worth it. Not only do you put your device at risk of getting infected, but you also support piracy. Not to mention that there's nothing on the web that is really free. You may think you save money by not paying for the license, while in fact, you're paying them much more in a different currency—your personal data (remember those "leave your email to download this" pop-ups?)
- Regularly check your computer for viruses, and keep it virus-free
If you do not scan your Mac for viruses and malware regularly, they build up. As a result, it is getting increasingly hard for your computer to resist their malicious powers. That's how your Mac becomes slow and more vulnerable to possible threats.
- Train yourself to pay attention to security warnings
What do you normally do when a security warning pops up? If you're anything like most people, you probably ignore it.
Don't do this. Do not just close it.
Read the message carefully and take the suggested action. Don't follow that suspicious link. Don't proceed with downloading that questionable software. Security warnings don’t just show up without reason. If you see one, there's probably a threat you still have a chance to avoid.
- Keep your browsers up-to-date
Much like with your operating system, keeping your browsers updated ensures you are getting the most advanced protection available. It is one of the easiest online security measures you can take, and it's free.
- Mind your clicks
One of the easiest way to keep yourself safe online is to rely on your common sense. Do not open suspicious emails. Do not download apps from questionable sources. Do not click on links sent from someone you do not know. Act online just as carefully as you normally act offline.
Think about it.
Would you agree to walk alone at night in some unsafe neighborhood? Would you eat a strange-looking cookie sent from someone you don't know? Would you let a complete stranger in your house without a proper reason? Probably not. Remember that online life is just another layer of real life. The rules of safety are not much different.
Now you know what everyone needs to know about protecting yourself online. Make sure to practice what you've learned. Pass this knowledge on, so more people know how to stay safe online.