In this online privacy guide, we shall discuss the importance of online privacy. Furthermore, I’ll talk about the measures you can take to stay protected while using the internet. After reading this, it’s guaranteed that you’ll know how to protect yourself.
Why Take Online Privacy Seriously?
The internet is a very dangerous place. It’s full of individuals that commit heinous acts like:
- Identity Theft
- Private Data Collection
- Illegal Surveillance
Don’t think that scammers and hackers are the only ones with malicious intentions online. Your ISP or government might also do you bad. How? They can monitor your activities, sell private information, slow down internet speeds, and implement blocks.
With so many bad third-parties on the web, everyone must take online privacy seriously. Failure to do so could result in many unfavorable repercussions. It's better to be safe than sorry, so you must do all you can to stay safe.
What Devices Are Involved?
You should know your digital privacy could get breached on any device you utilize to access the internet. Harmful software, government monitors, mischievous services, and hackers can tap into everything from desktops to smartphones. In fact, they could even cause harm to people using all kinds of gadgets or peripherals such as:
- Fax machines
- Feature phones
- Digital Cameras
How To Protect Your Privacy Online
Yes. I know that it can be scary to browse the internet, especially when you’re aware of all the threats present. Fortunately, there are a plethora of ways to protect your online privacy. Let us talk about each one so you’ll get to fully safeguard yourself during browsing sessions.
1. Use A VPN
The best way to secure your privacy when browsing is to use a VPN. The right service provider will provide absolute anonymity whenever you surf the web. It achieves this thanks mainly to various security features like RAM-disk servers, kill switches, and encryption protocols.
You can choose from a broad array of VPN service providers. Each has its pros and cons that you must know about. I suggest that you do your research before purchasing a VPN and not just go with the cheapest one.
Some VPNs have been known to invade the privacy of their users rather than protect it. They covertly gather data and sell it to websites that send out targeted ads. Sometimes, these websites do more than just that. As such, it’s best to be very cautious.
Fortunately, we’ve got a guide on this website to help you determine what’s the best VPN for you. Our team has also published comprehensive reviews of each major VPN service on the market. We have articles about the various security features that VPNs have.
2. Use Firewall And Anti-Malware Software
Many VPNs have built-in ad and malware blockers that help keep you protected. But, it is still better to use third party software as they’re fully dedicated to providing security. Examples of great anti-malware applications include:
- Norton 360
Here are some good firewalls that are available:
- SolarWinds Network Firewall Security Management
- OpenDNS Home
- System Mechanic Ultimate Defense
- Comodo Firewall
If you’re wondering, firewalls and anti-malware software are not the same things.
Anti-malware software safeguards your device from internal attacks like trojan horses, while firewalls act as barriers for traffic going into a system. One isn’t better than the other. For complete protection, it’s recommended that you use them together.
3. Use A Password Manager
Creating and then remembering a strong password for all your online accounts isn’t as easy as it seems. Password managers exist to help with this.
Password managers are software that generate passwords and keep passwords for all your online accounts. They work by encrypting all your passwords with a master password. It is that master password you’ll have to remember to access everything.
Many benefits come with using a password manager. The main one is that you only have to remember one password. Besides that, you also won’t have to type in your complete login credentials as they’re automatically filled in for you.
Well-known password managers with good track records include:
- Sticky Password
I don’t recommend that you use password managers of browsers like Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox. They cannot compete with specialized password managers because they store passwords in an unencrypted form. On top of that, they’re massively unreliable and have complicated or unsightly interfaces.
4. Use Two Factor Authentication (2FA)
Two Factor Authentication or 2FA is a security measure that others won’t get into your online accounts. It adds another layer of authentication, making it harder to log in.
Often, this would be a PIN number, secret question, or another password. Some 2FAs go further and require users to have their fingerprints scanned.
If anything, the possibilities of this technology are limitless. Consequently, it is used by many online services, airport security networks, telecommunication companies, digital stores, government agencies, and even dating sites in one way or another.
5. Use Secure And Private Browsers
A secure and private web browser is a must-have for people who want to maintain their online privacy. Most common browsers like Chrome or Firefox contain your private information, which may be collected and exploited by everyone, from hackers to government monitors.
Things that can be used against you on your browser include:
- Login credentials
- Autofill information
- Cookies and trackers
- Browsing history
Configuring your browser’s settings and switching to incognito mode is not enough. Even when that’s done, your IP address, and thus your location, is revealed to every website you visit. The best way to hide it is to use a VPN that successfully keeps you anonymous.
Remember that all web browsers aren’t created equal. Some are better than others. Here are a few of the top picks of digital security experts:
- Tor Browser
The Tor (The Onion Router) Network is an open-source network that enables anonymous communication. It directs web traffic through a volunteer overlay network to conceal user information from anyone watching.
Tor Browser is essentially a specialized version of Firefox that’s optimized to run on the Tor network. It’s very secure and protects you from browser fingerprinting by default. Even so, the browser does have its own set of weaknesses.
Sluggishness is a main drawback of the Tor browser. Hence, it’s a poor choice for downloading and streaming content. In addition, in default settings, it causes some websites to crash because of script blocking.
Finally, the Tor network has many drawbacks like malicious exit nodes, high latency, and full dependence on US government funding. Many say that this dependence makes it completely compromised.
Of course, you can use Tor with the Tor network disabled. However, doing so would defeat the entire purpose of employing the browser. That is even true when you have a VPN service like NordVPN that has Onion Over VPN running on top of it.
- Ungoogled Chromium
Those that wish to experience Google Chrome without its privacy issues can give Ungoogled Chromium a shot. It’s the result of an open-source project whose aim was to develop a safer version of Chrome.
Ungoogled Chromium is tweaked to give users more control, stay transparent, enhance privacy, and improved security. From my personal experience, using it feels exactly like using Google Chrome, making it an excellent alternative.
- Iridium Browser
Iridium is another secure browser that’s based on Chromium. Although it looks nothing like Chrome, it can still be a decent replacement for it. It supports Chrome browser extensions and offers a much greater degree of privacy.
While Iridium offers a lot of privacy and security enhancements to Google Chrome, it does have disadvantages. The main one is that it only has support for Windows, macOS, and Linux. Because of that, people that mainly use mobile devices are out of luck.
- Pale Moon Browser
Pale Moon Browser is an open-source spin-off of Firefox that specializes in efficiency and free customization. It offers a wide range of customization options for those wishing to express themselves. The browser also supports some Firefox add-ons along with its own.
You can download Pale Moon on Windows and Linux. Don’t feel left out if you use another platform. Versions for other operating systems are currently in development.
Reviews of Pale Moon Browser are generally positive. Still, some people have written about negative experiences with it. I personally think that it’s a decent browser that’s definitely worth trying out.
- Brave Browser
The last web browser on this list is Brave. Developed by Brandon Eich, it is Chromium-based and geared by default towards privacy, security, and speed. Unlike most competitors, it has its own ad blocker and fingerprinting protection.
Many praise Brave for blocking ads, trackers, and scripts by default, protecting against browser fingerprinting, and automatically upgrading to HTTPS.
Unfortunately, like everything, the browser does have its disadvantages. It runs ads despite having an ad blocker and layers websites with content promoting itself. Regardless, it remains a popular option for those looking for simple out-of-the-box privacy.
Problems With Common Browsers
You’re probably curious about what’s wrong with your browser of choice. After all, you’ve most likely been using it for a long time already. Thus, a lot of trust has been built up. Below is a list of issues that mainstream browsers have from a privacy perspective:
- Google Chrome
By far, Google Chrome is the world’s most popular browsing platform. It’s user-friendly, has wide compatibility, and is loaded with useful features. Sadly, it is a data collection magnet which makes it a horrible choice for privacy and security.
Little to nothing you do on Google Chrome remains uncollected. Almost everything is saved to a data profile and used for targeted advertising. This is how the browser mainly makes money.
Safari is Apple’s proprietary browser that’s used by default by their iOS and macOS operating systems. Experts say that it isn’t such a bad browser as it doesn’t collect nearly as much data as Google Chrome. However, the problem with it lies in its developers as Apple has:
- Secured a partnership in the PRISM Surveillance Program
- Once been caught secretly hoarding Safari browsing history
- Collected deleted Safari history even when the browser was used in private mode
As you can see, there are many reasons why you should not trust Safari. Nevertheless, on the bright side, it implements cross-site tracking protection and blocks third-party cookies by default.
- Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge is mostly regarded as a replacement for Internet Explorer, which was once the world’s leading web browser. It’s 100% owned by Microsoft and is closed source, making knowing what happens behind the scenes impossible.
Microsoft’s track record when it comes to maintaining the privacy and security of its users isn’t good. It once handed out encrypted messages to the NSA upon request. Because of that, anything tied to the company shouldn't be trusted to provide high levels of privacy and security.
6. Block Ads And Trackers
Billions of ads are served every day by Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and nearly every other popular website or app.
This is terrible from a privacy and security standpoint since these sites and apps aren’t “closed black boxes”. They watch everything you’re doing online and use gathered data to serve you targeted ads.
What’s stated above is perfectly legal. Many even consider the tracking algorithms used by Google and Facebook to be genius.
Though being served targeted ads doesn’t seem so bad, there’s another degree to this. In some instances, websites and applications aren’t able to filter out malicious ads. These fool you into thinking they’re not ads, infect your computer with malware, or covertly install unsafe software.
Because of that, it’s essential that you download, install, and use an ad blocker. With one, you’ll be able to stop trackers and the targeted ads they bring about. As stated earlier, some VPNs have built-in ad blockers. The same thing can be said for anti-viruses. However, these ad blockers aren’t the best as they’re not fully dedicated to the job.
I suggest that you get a blocker extension as they’re usually free, easy to set up, and very user-friendly. Examples of which that I’ve had good experiences with include:
- AdBlock Plus
- uBlock Origin
- Opera Ad Blocker
With these extensions, you’ll get to add yet another layer of security to your online experience. That’s especially true if you use them alongside a password manager, secure browser, VPN, and antivirus.
7. Do Not Put Information On Non-HTTPS Websites
For those that do not know, HTTP is the standard protocol used for sending data between a site and your web browser. It is a tried and tested technology that’s been in use for decades. Sad to say, it’s not secure enough to maintain your privacy.
You shouldn’t give away any information to sites that are connected via HTTP. Doing so would only increase the chance of it being collected. To tell whether you are connected to a website via HTTP, just look at your browser’s URL and see if the address begins with http://.
Only share personal data on websites that connect via HTTPS, a newer and more secure version of HTTP.
With it, a cryptographic key exchange takes place when you enter a site. All your subsequent actions on that site shall then be encrypted and hidden. While others can still know what sites you browsed, telling what exact pages you interacted with will be impossible.
8. Use Secure Payment Methods
Every online transaction puts you at risk. As such, it is important to be mindful of who you do business with online and regularly check your bank records. You must also make it a point to utilize secure payment methods—they allow you to remain anonymous.
Cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Bitcoin are becoming increasingly popular as alternatives to traditional methods of exchange. This is despite the bad reputation for being the financial medium of terrorists, scammers, and drug dealers.
What makes cryptocurrencies secure is their freedom from banking institutions. Payments made with them are not traceable in any way. Thus, with them, anyone that wishes to stay unidentified shall not have a problem.
The phrase “cash is king” still very much applies to our modern world. Even with the advent of countless other mediums, cash has managed to remain as the top payment method across the globe. Unfortunately, it isn’t widely accepted online as there are no ways to directly exchange it between buyers and sellers except through retail partners.
Like cryptocurrencies, cash lets you retain a high degree of anonymity. However, it is not nearly as secure as you still have to show up in person to use it. Needless to say, it’s still way safer than credit cards since no record needs are created after every payment.
9. Use A Secure Search Engine
Mainstream search engines like Google and Bing keep information records of things like your IP address, date and time of queries, cookie ID, and query search terms. They claim to do this to provide you with a better user experience.
What you’re often not told is that records of your information get sold to websites that serve you targeted advertisements. Besides that, those records are also freely handed over to the courts and governments that request them.
Fortunately, there are search engines that don’t collect user data. Here are some examples:
DuckDuckGo is probably the best-known private search engine. It maintains a pledge to never track any of its users. As a result, zero user records are maintained, rendering you anonymous with every search event.
My time with the search engine was decent. It isn’t anywhere as good as Google, but it gets the job done. Anyone willing to trade off convenience and quality for privacy is sure to enjoy it.
A great alternative to Google is StartPage. It’s a Dutch search engine that provides you with the same search results as Google. But, it anonymizes all your searches and promises not to share or store any of your information or utilize identifying cookies.
YaCy is a decentralized search engine that’s distributed and built using P2P technology.
It’s a newer search engine that’s not as established as others on this list. Hence, the claims that it makes to keep no information hasn’t been verified by experts yet. With that said, it looks very promising and is certainly worth trying out.
The developers of Ixquick are the same people behind StartPage. For that reason, the two are very similar. The only difference is that Ixquick doesn’t deliver Google search results. Instead, it provides results from other search engines like Bing.
10. Do Not Use (Or Limit) Social Media Apps
Ideally, it would be best to ditch social media apps like Facebook and Instagram altogether. This is most probably out of the question, which is why you should instead be careful with the kinds of data you share on these platforms.
Many people have been robbed after troublemakers discovered their location via social media. Thus, it is best to never share your location with every Facebook post that you create. It’s also best to never publicly share contact and banking info online as you’ll never know who’s checking out your profile.
11. Use Secure Email
Email isn’t the most secure method of online communication. However, the world relies on it for doing everything from shopping to business. Because of that, it’s not possible to refrain from sending out emails. Thankfully, it is possible to make the platform more secure.
First of all, you have to stop using common email solutions like Gmail and Outlook that are free to use. As an alternative, opt for secure email services like ProtonMail or Tutanota that have completely encrypted mailboxes.
You may also double the encryption of the inbox of the email service you’re using. Gmail users can download free or paid browser extensions that provide comprehensive encryption for your messages and attachments.
12. Use Secure Messaging Apps
Messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Viber are all insecure platforms that don’t protect your privacy. The corporations that own them have their own agendas that make the ways they handle user data questionable.
To make sure that nobody is snooping into your conversations, you should use apps like Signal or Telegram. Both utilize end-to-end encryption and have native apps for almost every major operating system.
Telegram, in particular, has an excellent interface that makes it incredibly user-friendly. It’s also way faster than most competing digital messengers.
13. Secure Your Voice Conversations
Phone calls are never secure, whether they’re on landline or mobile. Governments in nearly all countries make it a point to record and listen to their citizens’ conversations. You must be picky when it comes to what app you use to make calls.
A lot of secure messaging apps with a call feature are available. My favorite is Telegram, since it is already my go-to for chatting. However, you can also opt for Signal as it’s also safe and, more importantly, free to use.
14. Use Secure Cloud Storage
Long gone are the days when you had to invest in an expensive SSD or HDD if you wanted more storage. The advent of cloud storage services has made keeping files cheaper and easier than ever before. Unfortunately, most of these services are not secure.
The biggest players in the cloud storage industry are Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Dropbox, and Apple. All of them have collaborated with the NSA on one or more occasions. They even say on their terms and conditions that, when requested, they reserve the right to investigate your files and report their findings to the government.
Here are some measures that you can take to ensure that your files remain secure in the cloud:
- Encrypt Your Files Before Uploading Them
The simplest yet most time-consuming way to protect your files in the cloud is to encrypt them before uploading. Software programs like EncFS or VeraCrypt are available for this. In most cases, these software applications are inspected by experts to ensure they can be trusted.
- Utilize An Encrypted Cloud Service
TeamDrive, SpiderOak, and Tresorit are services that automatically encrypt your files before you upload them to the cloud. Each is available on iOS, Android, and desktop operating systems. Use them to eliminate the need for manual encryption and to make life easier.
One drawback of the services mentioned above is that they’re closed source. Hence, there’s no way to find out the inner workings of their operations. You have no choice but to trust them to safely encrypt all your data.
15. Always Update Devices To The Latest Software And OS
Developers constantly strive to provide better security to the programs and operating systems they create. To do this, they make new features that are designed to give users a safer experience. Each of these features is rolled out via regular system updates.
It’s essential to use devices that run with the latest operating systems and frequently check for new updates. When you do this, you’ll get your hands on the latest security features that will help you maintain the utmost levels of privacy.
16. Only Download From Trusted Sources
Never download anything from an untrusted website as you most likely won’t be getting what you really want. Instead, you might accidentally download and infect your computer with malware that compromises your privacy.
To ensure that you remain safe when downloading, always download from the official site of the program you plan to use. It’s also advised that you research the website you get files from before getting any content from it. With these simple steps, you will certainly avoid accidentally infecting your device.
17. Do Not Use Public Wifi
Public wifi hotspots are prime locations for data theft. Avoid connecting to them at all costs since doing so could lead to the invasion of your privacy. Nevertheless, if you have no choice, make sure that you’re using a VPN. Though it won’t guarantee 100% protection, it’ll add another layer of much-needed security.
18. Encrypt Files, Folders, And Drives
While this guide’s main focus is online privacy, a key aspect of securing your digital life involves securing your locally stored files so they won’t get accessed by any malicious third parties. The best way to do this is through encryptions.
As mentioned earlier, many services automatically encrypt your data. The best of which is AES Crypt and VeraCrypt. I highly recommend that you download either one as each can help ensure that every file on your computer remains secure.
19. Always Log Out
Logging out of your accounts isn’t only necessary when you are using a computer that is not yours. You must log out every time you’re done accessing your accounts because you’ll never know if someone is trying to remotely tap into your PC.
I suggest using a password manager since it’s a hassle to remember and type in your account passwords multiple times a day.
20. Block Location Services
Lots of services need your location to work. However, many do not but ask for it anyway because they have their own agendas.
Never let these services access your location if you wish to maintain absolute online privacy. In case you ever do, always use a VPN service as it’ll mask your true whereabouts and show that you’re in someplace else.
Putting It All Together
Even if the internet is a very dangerous place, you shouldn’t be afraid to use it. There are many ways to protect yourself. Just follow the precautions mentioned here, you’ll remain safe whenever you browse the web.
It may take some effort but improving your digital privacy is achievable. And if you’re wondering, there is no single foolproof way to ensure your privacy. The best thing to do is not skimp around and do everything you can to stop all malicious third parties from gaining access to your life.
Our team takes pride in playing a part to make the internet a much safer place to be in. We genuinely hope you were adequately informed about the importance of your digital privacy and how to maintain it.