May 21, 2019
Online safety and privacy are complicated and sometimes overwhelming subjects. Since the earliest days of the internet, cyber-criminals and scammers have been finding ways to lie, cheat and steal from innocent, uninformed users. The growth of social media, online banking, and e-commerce has meant an explosion in tactics to exploit your private information and use it to spy on, manipulate, and steal from you.
Whether it’s greedy corporations and marketing agencies, or repressive governments and dangerous criminals, this is a very scary idea. Fortunately, as complicated as their tactics are, there are simple steps you can take to keep yourself safe online. The five we recommend here are quick, easy to understand, and best of all, don’t cost a cent.
1. A Password Manager
It’s very likely that if you were to guess how many private online accounts you have, only accessible with a password, it would be considerably lower than the real number. We use passwords to access email, social media, online shopping, banking, paying bills, insurance, streaming, work accounts, and so much more. Really, the list is endless. Many of these accounts are linked with credit cards and contain very valuable private information. All of this information can be used to steal from you, exploit you, and manipulate you. The easiest way for scammers and cybercriminals to access your private accounts is by cracking your passwords.
Like most people, you probably use very simple passwords, share them amongst numerous accounts, and keep them stored in an unsecure folder or notebook. If these are found or figured out, you will be in a lot of danger online. To make sure this doesn’t happen, use an online password manager to securely store your passwords in an online vault and generate more complex, stronger, and unique passwords for your accounts.
1. Use a Proxy
Using a proxy server to browse the internet provides a quick layer of security by hiding your IP address and, thus, your physical location. A proxy works as a filter between your personal network, such as your home or workplace internet, and the wider network it is connected to (the internet).
Without a proxy, you connect directly to the wider network with much of your information and browsing easily viewable. Connecting to the internet via a proxy server keeps your location hidden. While not completely anonymous, this adds a significant layer of protection. Some proxy companies also automatically filter out websites containing malware and phishing that you may otherwise fall victim to.
As soon as you open your web browser, you are inundated with 1,000s of ads daily. These come in the form of pop-ups, banner ads, videos, and 100s you don’t even realize you’re looking at. Most of these are just annoying and distracting, but harmless.
There are plenty, however, that pose a real threat to your online safety. Pop-ups and banner ads are a great way for cybercriminals to insert a virus or malware into your device, using these to exploit or steal from you later on. It can be incredibly difficult to tell genuine marketing ads from malicious scams – especially when you are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of both.
The easiest way to protect yourself from dangerous fake ads is to block all ads on your browser. A free adblocker does exactly that. All ads are cleared from the websites you visit, leaving blank spaces instead. Not only does this make using the internet more enjoyable, but also safer.
3. Up to Date Anti-Virus Protection
The list of viruses, malware, spyware, ransomware, and other tools of cybercrime constantly roaming the internet and automatically searching for easy victims is endless. They are all programmed to find weaknesses in your many software products and use these to infect your device, attack you, or steal from you.
Anti-virus protection is a great tool to keep your devices safe from these threats, running in the background while you’re both offline and online. Not only will anti-virus keep new threats out, but it can regularly scan all the software you have installed to ensure there have been no previous breaches or infections.
It’s vital to keep your anti-virus package updated with all new versions, to ensure you are safe from the most recent forms of viruses being used online.
4. Use the Tor Browser
The Tor Browser is an alternative to mainstream platforms like Google Chrome, Firefox, and Apple Safari that is dedicated to complete online anonymity. Unlike the other three listed, Tor is specifically built not only to not track the websites you visit but also to keep your identity completely hidden.
By using a complex system of layered encryption, Tor separates your online identity (such as your IP address, physical location, device) with your browsing activity (the websites you visit). This means your online activity can never be used to exploit you. It is for this reason that Tor is so popular amongst privacy experts, political activists, and journalists. And why it is so unpopular with the governments of China, Iran, Venezuela, and other repressive regimes trying to spy on their citizens.
5. Anti-Tracking Software
According to some estimates, Facebook’s Pixel software is installed in over 8 million websites. This one piece of code is used explicitly to track your browsing activity and target you with more effective and manipulative advertising. Facebook, however, is not alone in doing this. There is no way of knowing how many websites you have visited are currently tracking you, watching everything you do online. Most of this is to satisfy marketing and corporate greed. However, there are plenty more dangerous and criminal organizations using tracking software to spy on you.
If this makes you uneasy, the best thing you can do is disable tracking software on your browser. Anti-tracking plugins and extensions automatically detect tracking code on a website you visit and disable it. This saves you a lot of time, working in the background as you browse, and providing some peace of mind. With fewer websites tracking your online activity, there will be far fewer opportunities for your identity and information to be stolen or exploited for criminal means.
Staying safe online means protecting yourself from a huge number of diverse and ever-present threats. This doesn’t mean it is impossible to do so, however. By implementing the quick, easy, and free steps we’ve outlined, you will be immediately better protected from online fraud, spying, viruses, and identity theft. You can enjoy all the riches the internet has to offer, without worrying about the dangers that lurk there.
Ariel Hochstadt, is a successful international speaker and author of 3 published books on computers and internet. He’s an ex-Googler where he was the Global Gmail Marketing Manager and today he is the co-founder of vpnMentor and an advocate of online privacy. He’s also very passionate about traveling around the world with his wife and three kids.