Protecting your privacy online is harder now than ever. Whether it is “Big Brother” or “Big Data,” it seems everyone wants to collect as much data as possible on every human on Earth. We are all being tracked all the time. For some, this may seem like an inevitable fact of digital life. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself online and at the very least become much less of a target for cyber criminals and marauding bands of internet marketers.

1. Lock down your social media.

Most people signup for a Facebook account and just start using it. When someone invites them to play a game or join a group, they just click the button to give those apps authorization to access and use their account information, their list of friends, etc. This data is later used by companies to create network graphs of all of the relationships a person has with others.

Our suggestions:

  • Use privacy controls in your Facebook settings.
  • Pay close attention to which “apps” you give permission to use your information.
  • Read through the many settings and options. It is worth taking 10 minutes to read each one on Facebook.
  • Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIN and others all have privacy and security settings. Take advantage of them.

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2. Use a secure browser.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has consistently shown that it is a favorite target of hackers. Use an alternative browser to Internet Explorer. Safari, Firefox, and Google Chrome are all better choices. Whichever browser you are using, also look into its security menu, extensions and privacy (in Safari) and set the security choices you are comfortable with.

Our suggestions:

  • Block pop-up windows by default.
  • Warn when visiting fraudulent websites.
  • Block cookies and website data from third parties and advertisers.
  • “Do Not Track” should be selected.

Remember, this will NOT protect you from all of the techniques that are used to track you with a web browser, but it is MUCH better than letting even the sloppiest of advertisers and companies track your every move.

3. Protect the data on your mobile phone.

If you want full protection, choose an iPhone from Apple. 99% of all mobile malware is on the Android platform. 92% of all Android phones are susceptible to known attacks. The Apps marketplaces for Android are wide open and filled with malware, spyware and viruses. Apple has been criticized for being very strict in their review and quality control of Apps that are allowed to be installed on an iPhone, but this has created the safest mobile environment that exists.

Additionally, Apple just announced even more privacy features in iOS 8 due out this fall. This includes a security tool that stops Apps from tracking your GPS location unless you are actively using the App. Their iMessages App is extremely secure. Even the NSA doesn’t like it. Also, they have deployed the first, highly reliable, and very secure biometric thumbprint scanner. This last week they also announced they would allow developers to start implementing using your thumbprint for authentication of various secure logins and more.

4. Be cautious of the word “FREE” in software, apps, and services.

Like your momma told you, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. People have clamored to get their hands on many “free” online tools and services without asking a simple question, “If this is ‘free,’ how do they pay for all the people and computers that make this service work?” The answer is that they are most likely selling YOU. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to easily tell which apps are tracking everything you do on your mobile device or computer. The best advice is to delete apps you don’t really use regularly and ALWAYS read the warnings that ask for your permission to let the software do something.

Recently, Google and Facebook both added features to let them use your microphone and camera on your computer or mobile device. While they could use your mic and camera for only legitimate reasons, consider turning off their access when you don’t absolutely need those apps to have it. For example, you can easily allows/disallow access to your “Location Services” on an iPhone or iPad, quickly turning it on for the Maps app when you need directions.

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5. Develop a password strategy.

Passwords have become a pain in the butt for many people. Forgetting a password when you need to get into something is a serious inconvenience, especially when so many different password policies exist. One simple solution is to come up with a PHRASE instead of a word or character string. Instead of “Bobby1989″ try using “Bobby was born in 1989!” These will often be easier to remember and much harder to crack. Note that it even uses a special character “!”, upper case letters, lower case letters and numbers.

An additional strategy is to develop some system for using a slightly different variation of your main password on every site you use it on. For example, you could use the same phrase, “Bobby was born in 1989!” on Hotmail.com and count the number of characters in the website domain name (7) and choose the first and last letters of the name (HL) and append that to your phrase “Bobby was born in 1989!7HL” On Chase.com that would be “Bobby was born in 1989!5CE”.

An attacker would need to gain access to several of your different passwords to figure out what additional pattern you use to change it from site to site.

A tool to check the strength of your passwords is at: http://www.passwordmeter.com

6. Change your IP address with a tool like ICLOAK™ Stik.

ICLOAK Stik is a USB device that renders your web browsing sessions invisible to everyone on the Internet. The same device also automatically spoofs your Machine Address Code (MAC) of the computer you are using ICLOAK on so that it doesn’t broadcast this identifier to every website you visit. You can learn more at https://icloak.org

7. Use a VPN service to connect to the Internet.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) can encrypt all of your web traffic from your computer to the destination site making it very unlikely for anyone to intercept your information as it will all be encrypted as soon as it leaves your browser. There are many VPN services available at a nominal cost to use them.

8. Learn about and use Crypto Currency, like Bitcoin.

Although Bitcoin is still a young technology, it has the potential to really allow individuals to make anonymous purchases online. Every time you use a credit card, there is a digital footprint made by that transaction. With crypto-currencies, they can be used anonymously.

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9. Encrypt your email and files that you send across the Internet with GnuPG.

GnuPG is the GNU project’s complete and free implementation of the OpenPGP standard. You can find more information including free software tools here: https://www.gnupg.org/related_software/frontends.html

10. Pay in cash more often.

We have all become accustomed to the convenience of paying with plastic. However, this is becoming more and more dangerous as card thieves have discovered ingenious ways to get and use your cards. Alternatively, use the features provided by some major banks that will issue temporary, unique Credit Card numbers for a single online transaction. At Chase they are called Single Use Accounts.

You can learn more here:

Chase Bank

https://www.chase.com/commercial-bank/treasury-management/single-use-accounts

Bank of America

https://www.bankofamerica.com/privacy/accounts-cards/shopsafe.go

Citi

https://www.citibank.com/us/cards/gen-content/messages/van/index.htm

11. Keep your antivirus software updated.

The Internet’s viruses are similar to real viruses in that they are always changing and adapting. The best thing that you can do to prevent an attack on your computer is to keep your antivirus software updated. There are several free antivirus solutions available; however, the one I have found most recommended by IT pro’s like Eric B. Delisle is the antivirus solution produced by Kaspersky Labs. You can find more about them at: http://usa.kaspersky.com

 

As a final note, there are passionate people working every day to guard against ever encroaching government and business interests into our personal lives. However, their jobs are made harder by ordinary people who are just too lazy to bother doing even the simplest things to keep themselves safe. Don’t be an easy victim of anyone who would ignore your right to your own data and your own privacy by ignoring these great tips. Instead, commit to giving yourself 30 minutes each day for a week to implement some of these suggestions and at the end of one week, you will be infinitely safer.

It is a known fact that by simply placing a FAKE “This property is protected by a monitored alarm system” sticker on your window or one of those Brinks signs in your yard, that the average, neighborhood burglar will simply skip your house and go to your neighbor who didn’t bother to do something so simple as put a sticker on their window.

You have been warned. Good luck.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via flickr.com

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