As we’ve ventured further into the information age, we have become more connected than ever. This means it is easier than ever for our friends — and enemies — to find us. It’s easy to become paranoid, but you can have peace of mind if you take the proper precautions that will keep your information safe.
1. Use a VPN
Virtual private networks aren’t just for people with something to hide. Have you ever noticed that when you start searching for certain things on the internet, you start seeing advertisements for those things?
This is a (usually) perfectly legal and extremely prevalent practice. Search engines can track every search query that comes from your IP address and then give that information to different services that determine which ads to show you.
Luckily, a VPN will completely shield your IP address. They’re much more effective than peer-blocking programs and browser proxies, and reputable VPN companies do not log any truly identifying information coming from your IP address.
2. Stay Off Social Media
You don’t have to go as far as cutting yourself off from your family, friends, and colleagues, but social media is the easiest avenue to finding information on someone through the internet.
Anyone can search for your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter in a matter of seconds. If you don’t want to delete your account, all of these websites have privacy settings that will block anyone who isn’t your friend from viewing your profile. Basic information and profile pictures are usually still visible, though.
This is also a reason not to accept friend requests from anyone you don’t know very well.
3. Give Away Your Information Selectively
When you sign up for different online accounts, be sure to get informed about their data collection practices.
Google, for example, collects some data on its users. It’s possible to opt out of some of it, but the point still stands that different websites may have information on you that you aren’t aware of. It’s still perfectly legal as long as it is outlined in the terms of service (which everyone knows that no one reads).
4. Know Your Apps
This is related to the last point. Smartphones tend to collect location data and “always-on” apps may have access to this — and other information — by default. Always check your app settings and know the policies of the different apps and websites you use.
5. Use Multiple Passwords
Consider this very realistic situation: you make an account on a website using the username and password that you always use. It’s a dinky little website made by amateur web developers, and you only make an account to do one or two things (maybe ask a question on a message board). Then, you forget about it completely.
A couple of years later, an internet criminal gains access to all of the account information on the website, including yours. And — uh-oh — you’re using that same username and password for your online banking account, Facebook, and email.
It only gets better from here. The hacker isn’t going to keep the information for himself. He’s going to sell all of that account information to other cyber-criminals. That means the probability that someone is going to try that username-and-password combination on your bank’s website is going to skyrocket.
But you’d have nothing to worry about if you used a different username and password for each website!
6. Use Antivirus Software
You should obviously employ practices to prevent contracting computer viruses, such as not opening links in suspicious emails and staying away from sites that have excessive pop-up windows or misleading links.
Even if you do accidentally download malware, good antivirus software will be able to find it and remove it.
7. Avoid Public Wi-Fi
There has been some sensation in the past over “man-in-the-middle attacks” in which someone using the same unsecured Wi-Fi connection as you gains access to your computer. This is uncommon, but possible.
If you are really concerned about security — say if you are a lawyer and have very sensitive information saved to your laptop — you should probably avoid using unsecured connections such as those found in coffee shops.
8. Stay Updated
To ensure the security of any device you use, you should keep it as updated as possible. Software updates usually include security updates that protect against new kinds of malware.
The same goes for antivirus software. If it isn’t properly updated, it won’t detect newly-developed viruses.