We live in the age of digitization, which comes both with perks and challenges. On the one hand, everything we need is always one tap or click away: friends, information, entertainment, even jobs. On the other hand, a digitized world comes with a lack of online privacy. From cybercriminals who constantly perfect their techniques to unethical companies who collect user details and sell them to advertisers, various unauthorized parties can access your personal data if you’re not careful.
According to recent studies, 74% of Internet users in the US are worried about their online privacy, and most people generally do not trust social media ads and government agencies. And yet, the number of exposed records continues to grow, leaving most wondering how they can control their personal data and avoid falling victim to hackers and other malicious third parties.
Here are a few things you can do now to protect your privacy on the Web and avoid falling victim to cybercriminals.
Don’t share personal details on social media.
Most of the time, cybercriminals don’t use sophisticated hacking practices to access your personal data – not when it’s out there for anyone to access, on social media. While platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram may be great for staying in touch with friends, they can also be a tool in the hands of cybercriminals. One study showed that 48% of people shared information about their children on social media, 33% about their location, and 42% about their travel plans, which increases the risk of identity theft. As tempting as it might be to share what you are up to do, keep in mind that anyone could be eavesdropping, so don’t post your whereabouts in public posts or with people you don’t know.
Install a VPN
Back in the day, the Internet used to be a friendlier place. Now, in the age of Big Data, everything you do can be tracked by third parties and then sold to advertisers, who use the data to show you personalized ads. One way to avoid this is to install a VPN, which acts as an added layer of security between your device and the website you’re visiting, preventing your ISP from tracking your activity. Additionally, if you connect to an unprotected Wi-Fi network, like in a café or airport, the Wi-Fi encrypts your Internet traffic so that you can’t be hacked. There are many great VPNs available, and if you don’t know how to choose the right one, you can use resources such as VPNBrains to compare prices and features.
Protect ALL your devices
Hackers can gain access to your personal data from any unprotected device, whether that’s a work laptop, tablet, smartphone, or even IoT device. As long as it’s connected to the Internet, it can be hacked, so follow the same cybersecurity practices for all the devices you use, not just your main one. You should install a VPN on all the family’s computers and phones (many VPNs don’t have a device limit), secure the home router with a strong password, and make sure you access smart home devices through legit, updated apps.
Practice good password habits
Is your password still qwert123 or letmein? That’s like an invitation for hackers to access your accounts. To prevent breaches, you should have a strong password for EVERY website or app you use. That means it should have at least nine characters, use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers. Ideally, it should be randomly generated so that no one can guess it. Many times, hackers can use social engineering to figure out your passwords if they include your children’s names, date of birth, favorite movie, etc. Last but not least, you should change your passwords regularly, and if a password you used on multiple sites was involved in a data breach, you should change it right away and take further steps to protect your account.
Use software and apps with a high level of encryption and strong privacy policies.
Even if you follow the best privacy practices, change your passwords, and try to be careful when sharing information online, your data can still be accessed if the apps you use aren’t encrypted or don’t respect user safety, so be selective of what you install. Also, make sure the apps are up to date because an outdated app is easier to breach.
Learn to recognize and avoid phishing attempts
Like burglars, cybercriminals prefer easy targets. Before getting to advanced hacking practices like brute force attacks, they’ll try to steal your information the easy way: through phishing attempts. A type of social engineering, phishing is a practice by which hackers trick you into revealing private information. The most famous example is the “Nigerian Prince” scam, but keep in mind that current phishing strategies are much less obvious and laughable than that. For example, a hacker can send you an email to recover your password from an email that looks almost like the real thing, or they can impersonate your employer. To avoid becoming a victim, always look carefully at email addresses, watch out for suspicious links and attachments in emails, and never give sensitive information such as passwords and credit card numbers over the phone or email. If an email asks you to click on a link, hover the pointer over the address to see if the website could be fake.
Always use an antivirus.
Even after taking all the measures above, your computer could still be infected with malware or spyware if it’s not protected by a good antivirus and firewall, so, if you don’t have one already, install an antivirus right away. There are both free and paid options available, and the antivirus is your first line of defense against hackers. To make sure the antivirus offers you maximum protection, keep it up to date. Cybercriminals find ways to breach security systems every day, and security patches ensure the antivirus keeps up with them and offers ongoing protection.