In the past year, people have become increasingly aware of digital privacy and how their data is being used online. In light of recent news of data leaks and unethical use of personal details, Internet users confess themselves concerned and confused about their digital rights, and the vast majority of them feel that they have no control over their personal information. Data has become the most valuable resource of the 21st century; the Internet is full of advertisers that are looking to collect your data to build up your profile and then send you personalized ads. Companies are willing to pay big money for user data because that allows them to target niche market segments.
Fighting back against all these companies and maintaining your digital privacy can feel like an uphill battle because, by default, all the Web services you use are trying to track you. The good news is that proper cyber hygiene can prevent companies from tracking you and put you back in control of your data. Here are five ways you can protect your digital privacy online:
1.Use a VPN to encrypt your data.
Why do you see ads for a product after randomly looking it up once? It’s because your Internet connection isn’t encrypted. Surfing the Internet from home through an unencrypted network leaves you exposed to other malicious third parties and hackers. This results in your IP address being exposed, a loss of privacy, and even sensitive information potentially being leaked out to cybercriminals. Especially now that more people are working from home, using a non-encrypted network has become a cybersecurity vulnerability. To avoid that, you can use a VPN to hide your IP address and encrypt your Internet connection from home so that others online cannot see it that easily. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) establishes a secure connection between you and the Internet and makes your location invisible. When connecting to it, you can select what country you want to appear from, and this offers an extra benefit: you can unlock geo-restricted content, such as local news websites and streaming services.
2.Secure your accounts
Although many advertisers can access your personal data through an unencrypted network, that data can also get into the wrong hands if cybercriminals manage to break the security systems of websites you’re already using. In the past few years, hackers have managed to breach millions of accounts, from social media to major online retailers, exposing personal data and selling on the dark Web. This is not fair for users and, according to a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center, 81% of Americans now believe that the risks of using certain platforms outweigh the benefits. So does this mean that you’ll eventually have to delete all your accounts and get off the grid because your personal data could be compromised? Not yet. By securing your accounts, you’re building a strong line of defense against cybercriminals and making it harder for them to access your data. The first thing you need to do to strengthen account security is to change your password; create a unique password for each website, preferably a random one that includes numbers and special symbols. Next up, set up two-factor authentication, so that whenever you want to log into your account, you’ll receive a security code on your phone. From time to time, check your email address on websites like Have I Been Pwned to make sure it hasn’t been compromised.
Some say that sharing information about your personal life is inevitable and take pleasure in telling your social media friends what they’re up to. Unfortunately, oversharing also makes it easy for cybercriminals to access your private information and use it for unethical purposes. For example, sharing the year you were born, the name of your children and pets, and the high school you went to might not seem like much, but websites often ask precisely these things like security questions. According to data from the Identity Theft Resource Center, 52% of Internet users have shared personal information online. Ideally, you should share as little information as possible. For example, you shouldn’t post on social media that the entire family is away on holiday because you’d be making yourself an easy target. If you do share personal things, at least make your profile completely private so that only friends can see it, or change the privacy settings for each post.
4.Learn to recognize phishing attempts
Even after all these years, phishing remains one of the primary methods used by hackers to get your personal information. Why? Because most of the time, it works. Hackers exploit Internet users with poor cybersecurity skills to click on malicious links and give them personal data such as phone numbers and bank accounts willingly. In the past, the most common phishing attempt was the ‘Nigerian prince’ scam, but most people have learned not to trust them. Now, phishing attempts are a bit more sophisticated: hackers can pretend to be from your bank, employer, or credit card provider and ask you for things such as the social security number or your bank account. However, no reliable institution will ever ask for these personal details via email. In most cases, if you look at the sender’s email address, you’ll notice that it’s not an exact match.
5.Update your software as soon as patches are available
When they’re not using social engineering to trick users into downloading malicious files and sending them their private information, hackers exploit software vulnerabilities to gain access to the data they need. The software can be anything from a messaging tool to accounting software, and what makes this type of cybercrime particularly dangerous is that you may not realize you were hacked until it’s too late. To avoid becoming a victim, you should update your software as soon as patches are available. Updates don’t just add new features and enhance user experience; they also fix security flaws, so don’t delay them any longer.
The global big data market is expected to reach $274 billion by 2022. Your personal data is worth a lot in the hands of advertisers but also in the hands of cybercriminals, which makes it all the more important to practice good cyber hygiene and protect your online privacy.