Cyber Security

10 Ways to Take Back Your Privacy Online

July 30, 2015

Guest Author

Unless subjected to cyber security awareness training or exposed to parents who take privacy seriously, the average Internet user indulges in negligence when managing their personal information online. Previously, we addressed the immediate steps to take once you know personal information is compromised. Now let’s examine the ways you can take control of your personal information and privacy online. There exists no one set of tools or methods to completely secure your identity and ensure your saftey online, but these suggestions place you in the right frame of mind.

1. Search with DuckDuckGo

Are you addicted to Google? Ditch the search king for the privacy friendly search engine. DuckDuckGo prides itself on making privacy matter and not tracking your activity to sell for advertising. So if you’re serious about protecting your online browsing habits, then say bye to Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

If you can’t say no to Google, then at least enable the “Do Not Track” feature in the Chrome and Firefox browsers.

2. Visit HTTPS websites

Protect your info while browsing on only HTTPS secured websites. Look to your browser address bar to see the “HTTPS” at the beginning of the URL to signify the encryption type. Secure browsing gives you more protection. Another good practice involves being very skeptical of all file downloads, including images, documents, and videos. Only download files from trusted websites, those with HTTPS, and verify the files and websites with VirusTotal too.

3. Set Up OpenVPN

OpenVPN is a free open source VPN capable of functioning in the home and enterprise. This offers a cost-effective alternative to paid VPN services and gives you, the user, complete control of the level of privacy while masking your search activity from ISP providers.

4. Stop Websites from tracking your IP address

Browsers, search engines, and websites track your browsing activity. They log your IP address, what sites you visit, reveal browsing history and record this metadata for website analytics and advertising purposes. Websites using Google Analytics usually add a disclaimer onto their website in a privacy policy slying hidden in the bottom navigation. With such tools as Google Analaytics, the data remains anonymous and helps in enhancing the website’s UI, specific pages, and making it all that more enticing for you, the user.

If you’re not sold on the “it’s not that bad” arguement, then enable the “Do Not Track” features in Chrome, Firefox or whatever browser you’re using. You could install tracker blocking software such as Ghostery, which is compatible with all of the major browswers, or the Firefox TrackerBlocker extension.

5. Audit Social Media Profiles

This section is simple, but typically ignored. Everyone (almost) has a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat or whatver account(s). Review the privacy settings and enable what you want. If you don’t agree with them, then don’t use the platform.

6. Refrain from giving out your phone number

“Please fill out your name, email address, mailing address, mobile phone number, and additional information for this white paper.”

When is too much information too much? Be resilient in giving out your contact information on websites. When you must use legitimate information, only give the bare minimum and avoid using your Social Security number at all costs. The most important way to control privacy online entails controlling where and how often you give out the contact info. I even go as far as testing the validity of trusted websites to ensure they’re not duplicates used solely for the purpose of scamming users. Phishing artists will go to extreme lengths to rip people off.

To acquire useful white papers, case studies, and resources off blogs and websites, use false info or junk email addresses. Websites usually do not email downloadable resources to you, but redirect you to the PDF or web page with the downloadable file after filling out an online form. By understanding online form functions, you can easily bypass giving out your info. Also, be weary of forms or account registrations that ask for too much information.

7. Protect emails with mailvelope or Virtru

Gmail, hotmail, yahoo and other free email service providers host your email messages on their servers. When using free email services you lose complete control of the content. To protect the content of the email messages you could use Mailvelope, which is a browser extension that employs OpenPGP encryption to encrypt email messages.

Virtu’s browser add-on tool provides an alternative to encrypt the email messages. Virtu utilizes the Trusted Data Format to “wrap messages” and hosts it for the other party to access from Virtru’s secure remote server. Their technology allows users to create expiration dates, disable forwarding, and revoke sent messages.

8. Bypass the Internet Service Provider (ISP)

You many delete cookies, search history, and use the incognito option for Chrome, but the ISP (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) sees and records all web activity. If subpoened by law enforcement, they must hand over all related ISP information for your IP address. Well if you have nothing to hide, then there’s no reason to worry about their practices. However if their practices leave you uneasy or you become the suspect of crimes committed that are tied to your IP address, then sidestepping ISP tracking is a priority. You must protect yourself from various types of fraud.

One way to stop activity tracking includes using a VPN. To the ISP, the activity through a VPN appears as indecipherable information. Earlier I mentioned OpenVPN. The configuration may overwhelm you or perhaps you just prefer a simpler option. Not everyone has the time to setup and manage their own VPN on a small home network. There are a number of paid VPN services boasting complete anonymity and protection. You could also use the CyberGhost VPN Free Proxy for free anonymous online browsing.

9. Disappear with Tor

Tor uses a relay of several VPNs to mask IP addresses of users. It is the only web browser that offers complete anonymity. However, the skeptics question its claim on anonymity due to Tor’s origins as a U.S. Naval project.

10. Go Completely Undercover with Tails OS

Tails (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) is a Debian-based Linux distribution designed for anonymity and security. Tails sends all external network connections through the Tor browser. People work with Tails usually as a live USB or operating system booted over an already existing system. Security minded users may turn to Tails for anonymity, but the act of using Tails can provoke suspicion of your actions by outsiders monitoring your activities. 

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