[A to Z] The Ultimate Guide to Online Privacy
The Internet has a tremendous impact on our lives. It seems as though everything is relying on it, be it our personal lives or professional lives.
People spend a lot of time online. A lot of personal information of the user is stored on the internet. This gives rise to prying and snooping eyes having access to the personal information and trying to misuse the information.
This is where online privacy guide comes into the picture. People have to enjoy the benefits of the internet but they should also be careful so that their information is not misused.
In the recent years, it has come to the fore that even the Government is tracking people using their online activity.
Even though a person may feel there is nothing to hide, what a person browses on the internet is his/her personal choice and nobody has the right to know it, not even the government.
There are various ways in which a person can maintain the privacy of his/her online activity and some of the important ones are covered in this article.
What is Online Privacy?
Online Privacy, also known as Internet Privacy, is the right of an individual to protect and secure the data on the internet. It is also concerned about the storing, displaying and repurposing of the same.
Overall, Online Privacy is a very broad term that refers to all the factors, techniques and technologies that is related to the sensitivity and protection of any data, communication, and information.
The easy and fast transmission of information and the communication paths comes with its own cons too. But, if proper security measures are taken, it can prove very useful to humanity as a whole.
Importance of Online Privacy
Online Privacy is very important as it secures are data from harm and amendments. In today's world, with the increasing technology and use of the internet, new ways are being revised for the breach of one's privacy and accessing his data.
This data might, later on, be used to have control over that person or carry out illegal activities. It may also be amended and used to degrade someone's reputation and image apart from causing issues regarding the same.
Sometimes, these data are also used for creating conflicts between casts, political parties, religions or races.
For corporate houses, it is important that their business strategies and patents are safe from their competitors as the leak of which may cause the others to follow the same.
Some important reasons to have Online Privacy are as follows-
Three Major Development Worldwide regarding Online Privacy
As we have already discussed how important Online Privacy is, the breach of it is a serious issue. And understanding this significance of Online Privacy, several laws have been made regarding it.
Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)
It has been discussed how Online Privacy is important but since there are many who even misuse it, this law is very important. It leads the government to have access to your online data for security and other legal purposes but only after the data is 180 days old.
Thus even the government, no matter what reason they have, can't access your data prior to 180days.
Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA)
CISPA is a body which works for the protection of the information that company shares with the federal government. It also looks into the cyber threats, hackings and data-leaking issues.
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)
CFAA is known to be very strict and restrict when it comes to protecting information. If it is found that any information that is protected is shared unethically or without the permission of the information holder, it takes very strict action and also charges heavy penalties for any kind of breaches.
Steps to secure your Browser
Here are 5 steps to help you in securing your browser-
- Configure the security and privacy settings of your browser.
- Regularly update your browser and always keep it updated.
- Sign up for the alert providing services, like Google Alert, for getting constant alerts regarding the safety of your browser.
- If you install any plugins or extensions, be very cautious about the service and ownership changes in your browser.
- Always keep an antivirus installed so that it provides constant protection against any kind of virus or security issues while surfing the net.
Virtual Private Networks
Virtual Private Networks or VPN is a technology that has been developed recently, especially for small branch offices and its users so that they can access the applications and resources of their corporate houses.
It is a network that is safer and creates an encrypted connection over a less secure connection such as one of the internet.
In simple language, it encrypts all your data traffic and transfers it to a server that is physically present in some other location.
It ensures safety against your Internet Service Provider, to whom only the transfer of data will be visible through VPN secured tunnels. These tunnels are protected and require passwords, tokens or other such identification methods in order to gain access.
However, there are numerous types of Virtual Privacy Network available today based on the requirements of the users. They are classified on the basis of-
Also Check :- VPN Types
Proxy servers are the servers that act as the intermediary. They process the requests made by the clients that seek the service of other servers. Other servers are endpoint devices such as a computer.
Proxy servers were invented in order to add some structure and provide an envelope to the distributed systems.
The proxy servers may exist in a different machine, forwarding the request with the help of firewall server, or in the same machine in the form of a firewall server.
It is a server that can serve all its users through cache as the frequent users and their requests are most likely to be there in its cache. It also saves the response time. Today, there are various web proxies that provide access to the World Wide Web anonymously.
How is VPN not quite same as Proxy?
Both Virtual Privacy Network and Proxy Server protect the IP address of the user and make him look like he is connecting to the internet from some other network. However, there are differences.
A proxy is a middleman that controls the internet traffic so that the internet connection may appear to be off somewhere else.
They are great for simple tasks like accessing data that are region or number of IP address limited.
They only hide your IP address and requires the settings to be managed for individual browsers or software. And the internet provides can still access the data traffic. However, the case is opposite in VPN.
Along with hiding IP address, it gives an overall security to the whole of the internet connection. Thus no additional settings for each browser and no risk of data leakage to the internet provider.
Be careful with Social Media
Social media is a wonderful platform to connect with people and also to voice one's opinion on issues which are important.
It has gained so much importance that companies have a separate department called social media marketing.
Social media also involves a lot of personal information of its users. This has resulted in a lot of privacy breaches. Some of the ways in which social media can be secured are as follows.
1) Strong password
This aspect is often ignored by people and they keep passwords which are easy to remember. Strong passwords make use of special characters and so the password becomes difficult to remember.
However, strong passwords have a significantly greater chance of protecting against hackers and other snooping people.
2) Installing antivirus software
Antivirus software especially antivirus with internet protection will go a long way in keeping our social media account secure. There are free versions available on the internet, so people running on a tight budget can use the free version.
3) Using two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication usually makes use of two different components to confirm a person’s identity such as password and a confirmation code which is sent to the person via mail or message. Not using this feature will be suicidal on the part of the user.
Keeping it Safe
Access the web via TOR
TOR or The Onion Router is a worldwide network of servers which allows its user to browse the internet anonymously. It was developed with the U.S Navy but now they work as a non-profit organization.
TOR network disguises our identity by moving our traffic across different TOR servers and also encrypting the traffic so that it cannot be traced back to the user. One main disadvantage of TOR is it is slow as compared to our normal servers. But in terms of security, it is top class.
Also Check :- VPN vs TOR
Avoid public Wi-Fi
Nowadays cities around the world are providing public Wi-Fi to its citizens in order to cater their internet needs. But using public Wi-Fi is very risky as it has little to no protection to offer the users.
Third parties can easily intercept the traffic and misuse the account of the user. The best thing to do is to avoid using public Wi-Fi.
DNS Leak Testing
DNS or the Domain Name System is the connection between a device and the internet. It is basically a directory for the internet.
A DNS leak is a security flaw where our web activity is revealed by sending requests to the ISP DNS server.
This is a threat to the privacy of the user as they may be sharing important information without any knowledge about the leak. DNS leak can be prevented either by changing the DNS server setting or by using the DNS leak protection.
These two form part of the DNS leak testing done to identify and rectify DNS leaks and keeping the user account secure.
Encrypt your Email
Emails are extremely important ways of conversing on the internet. It is also the most commonly used way to communicate officially.
Millions of important emails are sent every day and this becomes a favorite hunting ground for hackers and snooping eyes to get confidential information.
Encrypting email means converting the readable plain text to scrambled cipher text. This way only the recipient who has the private key that matches the public key can decipher the message for reading. This has come as a boon and is one of the key ways of securing our online presence.
Using secure email
Nowadays, electronic mails are the best medium when you want to transmit information from one person to the other in minimum time and in a more professional manner.
But, with the help of emails, not only day to day communications are handled, but very sensitive information is transmitted too.
This information if leaked can compromise the security of the country, servicemen and other individuals whose information is being transmitted.
Although, such type of information is not communicated through conventional email portals but is transmitted through secure emails.
Secure emails are the portals which have properties of self-destruction upon reading, encryption, high level of security, etc.
Pros of using a secure email
Reviewing permission given to your device
Whenever you are installing a new application on your device, it asks for permissions to access various parts of your operating system. These permissions can be reviewed as follows.
When you give an application to access the storage of your device, it can read the data such as documents, pictures, videos, contacts and basically everything on the hard drive of your phone. Make sure you do not permit it unless you trust the application completely.
When the application asks for a permission to access the contacts, it can read the contact information such as phone numbers, email IDs, date of birth, etc. If you do not think it is important for the application to know, disallow it.
This is one area where you have to be very careful. If you give an application the permission to access your location, it can know where you are at that time. The server of the application can store this data and can use to harm the person.
Update to a newer device
There are new mobile devices being launched in the market almost every month. These devices have a higher version of security every time the system is updated. The firewall settings are updated along with the security versions.
Security version updates make it impossible for the intruder to hack your phone. When you look at the very high-end mobile phones, you will know that they are hack proof and no information can be stolen unless a very professional hacker works on it.
As and when your mobile device gets older, the number of applications installed and uninstalled are increased. This also makes it prone to attacks such as malware, phishing, etc. So, it is always recommended to update to new devices not every month but at least after a year or year and a half.
Use file shredders
As the name suggests, the digital platforms used for scrapping the files that are no longer in use. Just as the physical means that are used to shred the documents, files, folders, etc. that are not in use using the help of paper shredder in most cases, there are various applications by trusted sources which help in shredding the files.
If your device contains information that is very sensitive but then, it is of no use, you can use the shred files option on the device.
This will delete the files from the memory completely but it will be available on the hard disk. This means, that the files will be technically unreadable.
What is Encryption?
Encryption can be attributed to as modern forms of cryptography which are to make the transfer of information safe.
They use a cipher which turns the normal texts into random characters making it too difficult to decode the message.
The use of a decryption key can turn them again into readable texts which are only possessed by the sender and the receiver of the message.
Encryption is a required essential to make our data safe in this world where we leave our digital lives to keep unexplored. The two most probable methods of encryption are-
- Public key encryption which uses recipient’s public key or a matching key
- Private Key encryption, which can use only the recipient’s private key.
Is it Secure?
Encryption is safe. The amount of time required to decode the encrypted messages into readable ones is an uphill task, but encryption can be vulnerable to some disadvantages such as the presence of backdoor. Backdoor access is the hidden access to the private key, decoding without breaking the encryption, which even encryption cannot suppress.
Why is encryption important?
Encryption is the method to make the transmission of the information in the most secure way. When the plain text is converted into a jumbled text according to a specific pattern, the method is known as encryption. Encryption can be done row by row or column by column. This text is then deciphered by the recipient by a certain software.
Pros of encryption
All the kinds of sensitive data such as in the military, air force, industrial top management, commerce, etc. can be transmitted using encryption
Use ad blockers
Online Advertisements are a bigger source of revenue to tech companies and for advertisers, they are the greater chances to woo the audience for their product. Some ads deliver viruses which can steal critical information from a system, making it vulnerable.
Ad blockers are software which can pretty stop the advertisements from loading on the page without prior information, blocking suspicious ads reduces the risk of exposure to security threats.
The ad-blockers at first block the connections with advertiser servers and additionally shutting down on visual elements which still load without a connection. They depend upon blacklisted domains to block any intrinsic or harmful ads.
Use the privacy/incognito mode
Incognito browsing mode is particularly different from regular browsing. Every browser available online is it Google, Microsoft Edge, Safari or Firefox have an additional incognito mode installed.
In regular browsing, the browsers keep a record of the websites visited and also your sensitive information in form of cookies or others which provide an opportunity to load a personalized site faster.
But this can lead to compromise of data recoverable from cookies. What’s more, the tech companies like Facebook can track your movements from regular browsing. All this can be stopped by incognito mode, where no data is stored which website one is visiting or searches done.
For bank transactions, the cookies can steal information which puts our focus on incognito again. It prevents others from seeing your recent online searches, yet it cannot block the ISP address.
Block web activity trackers
It is common that Facebook and Google keep track of our movements, collecting data about us. Web trackers, ranging from online shopping websites or cab aggregator services or social networks, they follow us everywhere.
They make it difficult as they keep eroding our data privacy, basically, they keep a digital record of what goes in our life. We may be awarding them these source of information without any knowledge of ours.
They compile all these data which is then sold to third parties which help the advertisers make or sell a product according to our online presence.
This information if landed in the right hands can be disastrous as they can be used to stalk ourselves online. So, it is recommended to block the use of web activity trackers like Scriptsafe.
Don’t input sensitive personal data on non-HTTPs websites
HTTPS is a secure version of the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) which forms the backbone of the connection of data between the browser and the website. In HTTP sites, they lack an HTTPS or secure website track which is open to hacking easily.
It is easy to steal confidential information if present on non-HTTPS websites, without any form of encryption. HTTPS websites provide encryption between the communication channels, preventing anyone other the user and the website administrator see the data flow, maintaining the integrity of information.
In the banking sector, it is advisable to provide information on only the HTTPS version of the official website. So, non-HTTPS websites are a big no-no, as it is a trap for hackers to obtain information easily.
Cookies are small data packets of information saved by the browser containing the details of site access.
It is a time saver as it removes the need for entering the same information for visiting the same website again. Cookies are something that operates in the background, without affecting the way the website operates.
But it can be a hindrance if the data stored does not match the website data, perhaps they were modified.
They also store the online activities of a user, which is to be deleted to keep your privacy safe from the prying eyes of miscreants. So, the cookies are to be cleared regularly or deleted, if possible.
Set up a Password Manager
The most important rule to secure your online privacy and be safe is to have different and uncommon passwords for each and every site.
Using different passwords keep you safe from having all the accounts compromised simultaneously.
And having long and unpredictable passwords protect your accounts against brute-force attacks. However, it is not possible for any individual to generate and remember different passwords for all the accounts that he has, thus its best to have a password manager installed and just remember one long and very hard password.
Hide your browsing activity
All the search engines track browsing histories and build profiles in order to serve you better based on your search history.
If you don't want that, hide your browsing activities or clear them as often as possible. Also always keep an eye open on all that is happening and maintain the privacy settings of your browser.
Another important thing is to keep cookies and extensions from being download, if done so, delete them quickly. And log out of all the social media accounts in your browser.
Encrypt your Online Conversation
It does not do any good if anybody or everybody can read all the online conversations. Thus always encrypt your messages or use apps that have the end-to-end encryption services.
Also, encourage people around you like friends and family to do so. Because at the end of the day, no one wants their messages to be read by other without even their knowledge.
In the computing world, the virtual machines are the imitations of a computer system. They provide the functionality of a physical computer on the basis of computer architectures.
They are a kind of containers where the applications and guest operating systems run. They are designed to function in isolation from each other even when they are sharing the hardware. Hence, they run securely with shared hardware and uninterrupted performance.
Online privacy is important for every individual for multitudes of reasons, however, it is also important that we don't misuse any kind of right provided to us by carrying out any unethical, illegal or immoral activity with the shield of Online Privacy protecting them.
People using the internet should also take the responsibility of securing their online presence. This is important as no one else will take the responsibility to do this.
Even the Government cannot be trusted with this. It is not a very difficult task as there are various simple online privacy guidelines and some of them have been mentioned above. Following these guidelines will help us in enjoying the benefits of internet fully and securely.