Keep your stuff safe from hackers and exes
Cybersecurity has taken a central focus in many of our lives. The FBI even has a “Cyber Most Wanted” list that details 42 of the most dangerous cyber criminals and groups. The types of cyber crime have expanded from the simple phishing attempts of the early-2000s to far more sophisticated and insidious attacks.
With this in mind, you may be in need of a privacy makeover. Here are steps you can take to ensure that your browsing experience—and all of your personal data—are safe from prying eyes and malcontents.
Install HTTPS Everywhere
HTTPS —or Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure—is the more secure version of the standard HTTP that starts any web address. You most often see it in use on bank websites and other login pages, but there is an extension you can use called HTTPS Everywhere.
If a website supports the use of HTTPS in standard browsing, this extension enables it automatically. This means your data is encrypted while you navigate any website that supports it. It’s a small step, but it’s an easy one to take to ensure just that extra bit of security.
In addition, check out our full list of browser extensions you should install to increase your privacy and security while shopping and browsing online.
Use a VPN
This site has talked about VPNs extensively in the past, and for good reason: they are one of the most effective ways to ensure security while on any network. You should never access highly personal information like banking data without using a VPN, especially on a public network.
VPN is an acronym for “virtual private network.” A VPN serves multiple purposes: the first is that it hides your IP address, so someone monitoring the network will be unable to track your computer.
The second is that it encrypts any data transferred over the network. Even if someone is monitoring the network and trying to pull your user name and password off it, the information will be useless without the encryption key.
A third and lesser-used function of a VPN is to mask your country of origin. If you’re traveling abroad and need to access a website that is locked behind a government firewall, a VPN is the easiest way to do it.
However, not all VPNs are created equal. There are numerous free options that have less features and less security than some of the more official, paid options. Don’t blanch at the idea of spending a bit of money on a VPN, though—there are a lot of affordable options. Just check out our list of the best VPNs for ideas.
What about Incognito Mode?
A lot of people think turning on Incognito Mode is enough, but all it does is stop your browser from logging your browsing history. It offers no protection for your data aside from hiding your online activities. Perfect for Christmas shopping, but not so much for encryption.
Up Your Password Game
Let’s face it: most people opt for easy-to-remember passwords instead of passwords that are secure enough to deter brute force attacks. If you want to make a truly awesome password, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Use a different password for every account.
- Don’t reuse the same password.
- Use a mixture of characters (uppercase, lowercase, numbers, symbols).
- Don’t use common substitutions (4 instead of A).
- Make it long—16 characters at least.
If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, that’s because it is. A great password should be impossible to guess, even by those that know you well. However, since it is a bit unrealistic to keep track of the dozens of passwords you’ll need for the dozens of accounts you have, our suggestion is to use a password manager.
These applications need only a single username and password for the “master” account. After that, the software generates a nearly unbreakable password for each one of your accounts and tracks them across multiple devices.
This means you only need to keep track of a single password, rather than dozens. One such option is KeePass, but there are other options like LastPass and OnePass.
Also, make sure to check if your password has leaked online. If it has, you need to make sure you change it anywhere that you may have used it.
Keep Software and Firmware Up to Date
Malware, viruses, and hackers exploit weaknesses to gain access to private information. One of the main ways they do this is through out-of-date information.
Make sure to enable automatic updates on all of your software, and perform checks for firmware updates as the need arises. This step will not only ensure all of your applications work as intended, but that there will be far less vulnerabilities in your system.
Use Secure Browsers
Chrome and Firefox might be two of the most popular browsers, but only one is concerned with your privacy. Chrome is notorious for privacy concerns and collects far more data than most people would be comfortable with if they were aware. Google collects a lot of information that allows their search engines to be the most powerful and their advertising services to be the most effective.
Firefox is not, by default, the most effective browser for privacy. It has many settings that can be changed and customized to provide you with the best possible browsing experience. Because it is open source, there are third parties that audited the code. Firefox receives frequent updates and provides the ability to disable telemetry and tracking.
Brave is another option. This browser is based on Chromium and built with privacy in mind. It blocks ads and scripts by default, automatically uses HTTPS Everywhere, and protects against browser fingerprinting. There are a few downsides—including the fact that Brave is based on the same source code as Chrome, but without the tracking features.
A final option is the Tor Browser. While it has a bit of a poor reputation due to its association with the dark web, it has excellent anti-tracking features, but it also has tremendously slow download speeds due to these same features.
It isn’t the best option for the majority of users, but for people that want to go above and beyond in the pursuit of anonymity online, it’s one of the few truly powerful options out there.
Use Secure Messaging Apps
Similar to web browsers, messaging apps are the primary method most people use to communicate with someone else online. If you want complete privacy, you need to ensure your communications are encrypted.
Normally, these types of breaches are fixed very quickly, which makes the situation a little better. For ultimate privacy, you should consider an app like Signal, which is pretty much the most secure messaging app out there.
Why Does Privacy Matter?
After all of these tips, you still might not be convinced that online security is important. After all, what use would hackers have with your data? Surely you aren’t interesting enough to land on their radar when there are millionaires and celebrities to target.
If that’s your line of thought, you’d be wrong. High-profile hacks make the news because they’re high-profile, not because they’re uncommon. Everyday identity theft of credit card numbers and personal information is the black hat hacker’s bread and butter. Sure, your credit card company will likely reimburse you for any damages, but by then the thieves have made off with a not-insignificant sum of money.
Nothing you do will ever make you completely secure. Even the best cybersecurity software will eventually result in better hackers. It’s a constant game of tug-of-war between security and those that want to break it, but low-hanging fruit is always the primary target. Even if you only take a few of these steps to make you a less desirable target for malcontents on the web, you’ll be ahead of the game.