A Detailed Online Privacy Guide for Staying Safe on the Web
In the past decade, numerous companies, including Facebook, Home Depot, Target, Yahoo, and countless others, have experienced data breaches and password leaks. Hackers have probably compromised your personal information from at least one of your online accounts.
Modifying the settings on your online accounts and devices can help you maintain data security and privacy. It is important to keep frequent checks on how much of your personal information is safe when you’re online. The increased exposure of sensitive information like browsing histories and passwords has made this a growing concern.
When you stop to consider what aspects of your life you are comfortable sharing with total strangers and which you would rather keep to yourself, you will quickly realize the value of protecting your online privacy. Not everything in your shopping cart, bank records, or medical history needs to be made public knowledge.
The importance of maintaining good online privacy practices is increasing as more and more companies report security breaches. Any time a person or company engages in an activity online, whether it be shopping, banking, communicating, or otherwise, they run the risk of having personal information compromised.
Global Online Privacy Breaches Over the Past Few Years
The internet is not a safe space anymore; the worst thing is that the threats are increasing with every passing day. Let’s look at the rise in data breach events over the past few years. The threats have only continued to rise over time rather than decrease despite the availability of online security tools.
According to The Ponemon Institute’s cost of data breach 2022 study, the average cost of a data breach in the US was around $9.44 million, whereas $4.35 million is the average global cost. What’s more astonishing is that the highest average data breach cost with respect to industry was healthcare, which was around $10.10 million. This staggering number is almost equal to a country’s GDP.
The study also stated the Costs of common attacks:
- Phishing – $4.91 million
- Business Email Compromise – $4.89 million
- Credentials Hacked or Stolen – $4.5 million
- Malicious Insider – $4.18 million
You will be surprised to learn about some of the biggest data breaches that have occurred over the period of the last five years. Here’s a list of the few victims of data breaches in the last five years to give you an idea of the threats around us:
- Alibaba (2019): An affiliate marketer’s developer spent eight months using crawler software to scrape users’ personal information from the database of Alibaba’s Taobao. Around 1.1 billion pieces of user data, including usernames and cell phone numbers, were scraped.
- LinkedIn (2021): In June, a hacker breached the database of LinkedIn and scraped the data of around 700 million users, and posted it on the dark web for sale.
- Facebook (2019): In April, sensitive data of 530 million Facebook users were exposed on the dark web, which included phone numbers, account names, and Facebook IDs.
- Dubsmash (2018): The video messaging service had a data breach in December, and the data of 162 million user accounts was stolen.
Now the point to ponder is that all of these companies mentioned above are industry giants. All of them have data security protocols in place, but still, they were victims of the data breaches.
When companies like these have faced such issues, what makes you think you’re safe anymore? Here is just a glimpse of the threats that are happening every minute around the globe:
Now imagine the number of threats out there, of which you can be the next victim if you do not take the precautionary steps.
Threats to online privacy in 2022
The threats to online privacy have reached a new high over the past few years. It’s high time that every internet user gets to know about the threats that they can face in the digital realm. Following are some of the most commonly encountered online threats to user’s privacy:
Online Spying and user tracking
Numerous trackers, with varying goals, keep tabs on your online activities. Trackers monitor and log all of your online activity, including your searches. This is a severe breach of online privacy as it gives them a complete portrait of who you are and what you’re into.
Most of the time, advertisers are the ones who benefit from this tracking because they can target you with ads that are more relevant to you. However, cybercriminals sometimes use this data to endanger your online safety by engaging in illegal and unapproved behavior.
Government agencies also spy on users, claiming it as a tactic for counter-terrorism surveillance. A classic example of this was the NSA PRISM program, which was used for surveillance by the NSA. Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing brought this program to light, which was running for seven years, and throughout this time, the privacy of many people was infringed.
Malware and stealthy hackers aren’t the only ways our security can be breached. It’s not uncommon for us to fall for scams that would have us reveal sensitive information, such as passwords.
One of the most widely encountered cyber threats is known as Phishing. These attempts may be made via email, text message, or phone call. Most of these attacks aim to steal sensitive information such as login credentials or Social Security numbers. There are usually red flags that indicate these emails aren’t from a trusted source, such as poor spelling and grammar, broken links, or an unusual email address.
In February 2015, a health insurance company “Anthem” became a victim of a phishing attack. The attack was carried out through a phishing email, resulting in the theft of 78.8 million customer data. The data that was breached included the names, addresses, dates of birth, and employment histories of the customers.
“Malware” is shorthand for “malicious software” or “malicious data,” both of which are programs or files with malicious intentions. Crooks and cybercriminals use this to compromise your system and steal data.
Device-injectable malware can monitor user activity and transmit sensitive data, such as login credentials and financial data, to an attacker. One of the examples of a malware attack is Home Depot’s data breach that happened in the September of 2014. It was a malware attack on one of its POS, which resulted in the exposure of the credit card information of 56 million customers.
How to Protect Your Online Privacy
Use a VPN
VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. A virtual private network, or VPN, shields your online activity by routing it through encrypted tunnels and providing you bandwidth through its secure servers.
Using a virtual private network (VPN) will mask your IP address by replacing it with the IP address of the VPN server you are connected to. What this means is that your ISP or any other parties cannot monitor your online activity because your IP and DNS are masked.
VPNs protect users from identity theft by hiding their online activity and blocking malicious software and DDoS attacks. It also unblocks websites and apps that may be restricted in your country, allowing you to enjoy anything from anywhere.
There are a plethora of additional security-enhancing features available in VPNs. When you subscribe to a premium VPN service, you gain access to robust security protocols and fantastic features to meet any and all of your requirements.
Use a Password Manager
Keeping track of multiple lengthy and varied passwords for the various online accounts you maintain can be a hassle. It is a problem that can be easily remedied by using a password manager. Without the need for you to memorize any of them, they can generate and safely store extremely lengthy passwords.
People use more websites and platforms, meaning they use more usernames and passwords. Password management is essential. Dedicated password management services (password vaults) can help.
Many have over a hundred usernames and passwords for financial accounts, exchanges, email services, social media, and shopping sites. Most people use the same login and password everywhere. This is normal. 100 usernames and passwords are unrememberable.
Use an Antivirus
Protecting yourself from malware and viruses is not possible without using an Anti-virus. It is an essential protection tool to have on your device to maintain your data and privacy security.
Pop-ups, bitcoin mining, and identity theft are just a few of the many problems that malicious software can cause when installed on your computer. Antivirus software installed, particularly on Windows PCs, is a good idea if you have a tendency to click potentially dangerous links or if numerous individuals in your home use the same computer.
Back-Up Your Data
It is possible to lose data despite your best efforts to keep it safe on your devices and computers. Having an extra copy (or copies) of your data stored elsewhere, typically in the cloud, is how backups work to fix this problem. In order to guarantee the availability of your data at all times, investing in a cloud backup system is a wise and economical choice.
Ransomware is a major risk to user data because cybercriminals use it to extort money from you online. To a large extent, ransomware is rendered useless if you have backups of all your data; if the attackers manage to wipe your files, you can simply restore them from your backups.
Be Careful on Social Media
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others may seem like a great way to keep in touch with loved ones, but in reality, they are scavengers of personal information.
Facebook runs one of the largest ad networks globally, and it leverages the information you provide about yourself to personalize the ads you see on the platform. If you share only the very minimum of information, you can control how much of a profile Facebook creates about you.
Your personal information can be protected to a large extent by being cautious about what you share on social media. It’s important to remember that even the seemingly safest of posts might put you in harm’s way. An attack could constitute social engineering if an attacker poses as a friend to gather information.
Accepting friend requests from anyone is a bad idea on social networking and Messaging apps; instead, stick to communicating with a select group of people you genuinely know.
Additional Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy
1. Use Ads Blocker
For the same reason, that tracker blockers are effective; ad blockers are also effective at preventing advertisements from loading on websites. Ad blockers not only shield you from the potential privacy invasion posed by third-party ad trackers, but they also make the websites you visit much quicker to load.
2. Use a Secure Search Engine
If you use Google or Bing, you should know that these search engines collect your data and profile you according to your search history and online activity. The ads you see on your apps and different websites are targeted toward you based on the profiling data stored by Google.
The best alternative to Google is Duck Duck Go, which is a truly private search engine. It does not collect your information at all and keeps your privacy intact.
3. Delete your Google history
Constantly deleting your Google history is important as it ensures that the data, cookies, and credentials stored in your browser’s history cannot be used to invade your privacy. Logs of data are stored in your browsers, like your searches and your activity. This information can profile your interests and target you for adverts. This is why you should wipe your Google history timely.
4. Secure your email
Most email providers now offer encrypted HTTPS connections, and Google has taken the initiative to address the most significant security hole in SSL. That’s why we can trust these email providers. The email service is useless if it shares your data with an opponent, as with Google, Microsoft, and the NSA.
What’s needed is a method of encrypting emails from beginning to end. Here, the email is encrypted before being sent so that only the receiver who is supposed to read it may read it. The most significant drawback of adopting an encrypted email system is that you cannot mandate its use. You’ll also need the cooperation of your contacts (both those you’re communicating with and those who send you messages) for this to be successful. Nevertheless, protecting your privacy and data is what’s important, and for that, you should go for it.
5. Secure your Communication Channels
It’s essential to have full end-to-end encryption for all online communications because we often use messaging apps to share private information. More people are choosing secure and encrypted messaging applications out of concern for their personal data and online safety than are using the more mainstream alternatives.
Whatsapp and other Facebook-owned apps collect data from your phone and Facebook profiles. It’s stated openly in their terms of service about privacy. This is a major problem that requires immediate attention.
6. Encrypt your Files and Folders
There are encrypting tools available for protecting your local files and folders. You should use these tools to encrypt your files and folders so that if you fall prey to ransomware or malware, your data remains safe.
7. Use Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware and Firewall Software
The use of anti-virus software is a standard and well-known countermeasure. For the sake of your data and the health of your computer, they are tailored to defend against Trojans, Malware, and other viruses.
When it comes to protecting your privacy, anti-virus software is more like a shield against malicious malware. Nonetheless, several privacy features have been incorporated in recent upgrades to many of the best anti-virus software on the market.
8. Do Not Use 5, 9, 14 Eyes-based Services
The FVEY alliance was made to keep an eye on the online activities of internet users. The formation of this alliance has been a direct threat to users’ privacy. Therefore, you must do a thorough background check of all the apps you are using. If any of them are based in 5,9, 14 eyes country, then you will have to take additional security measures.
Using a VPN is the best way of bypassing this surveillance. However, the problem is that this alliance also keeps track of VPN users using providers based in these 14 countries.
If you want to avoid being monitored by the 14 Eyes alliance, a virtual private network (VPN) that is not situated in one of those nations is your best bet. User’s right to privacy and online liberty are two causes that Astrill VPN fights hard for.
The internet is a dangerous place to be right now because of how rapidly the world is evolving. Many government and private organizations are actively collecting data about your online activity.
Keeping your personal information safe online is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s ever-changing world. Every day, cybercriminals get more sophisticated, and if you haven’t taken adequate precautions, you’ll be a victim.
Author: Arsalan Rathore
Arsalan Rathore is a tech geek who loves to pen down his thoughts and views on cybersecurity, technology innovation, entertainment, and social issues. He likes sharing his thoughts about the emerging tech trends in the market and also loves discussing online privacy issues.