Privacy Checklist – A Beginner’s Quick Start to Online Privacy

Online privacy is way more critical than you may think and protecting it has never been this important. In order to protect yourself, you need to focus on various aspects like your digital footprint, sharing of personal information in public spaces, your social network and other complex internet privacy issues. 

To help you understand and protect your internet privacy, we have created this beginner’s guide to online privacy that will help you protect yourself in the digital world. But first, we need to fully understand what online privacy really is!

What is Online Privacy?

 

Online privacy is pretty vast and involves various components. However, to make it simple, online privacy can be defined as the act of keeping your information (financial and/or personal) private and away from the public sphere on the internet. 

Interesting Read : 9 Best Anti Tracking Softwares To Protect Your Online Privacy

As the use of the internet is growing, the risks associated with it grow as well. The information that can be categorized under online privacy commonly include your name, address, credit card info and phone number. 

So, in order to keep you safe from any online privacy threat, the best weapon is to stay informed. In the following sections, you will get all the sufficient information to keep you away from harm’s way.

Beginner’s Quick Start Guide to Online Privacy

1 . Password Management

Every account and every app starts with the signup process where the users fill out their information and secure their accounts with a password. Password management is the first step in securing your online privacy because an easy password can be cracked without any hassle and might compromise your online privacy. 

Password management is crucial in securing your online identity. It also requires you to constantly update and keep your password safe.In order to create stronger passwords, use at least 8 or more characters. Furthermore, you can use special symbols and letters so that your password becomes harder to crack.

Interesting Read : 11 Password Security Faux Pas You’re Probably Making

As a general rule, avoid using passwords consisting only of alphabets, common numbers (like your phone number, date of birth etc.) and combinations that are are easy to predict. If you think this is too much to handle – try using password generators to help you in coming up with strong passwords which are hard to crack. 

Another important tip in password management is to use different passwords for all the different accounts. We are all guilty of using the same passwords for all our social media accounts and other accounts. However, this practice is pretty bad considering the risk involved. 

For instance, if a hacker is able to crack down on one of your social media account, naturally all of your accounts can be easier to hack. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you use different passwords and use an authentic password manager so you don’t have to stress about remembering all your passwords.


2. Secure browsing

Everyone knows that they need a web browser in order to surf the web. But, optimizing these browsers to protect your privacy is something which many do not know. For example, you must consider limiting your cookies in the browser for better privacy protection. 

If removing cookies completely affects your browsing experience, a better option would be to allow cookies until the session is over. Ads and pop-ups are annoying as well as the threats to your privacy, so you should disable these in your browser. 

Moreover, Flash, JavaScript, passport saving and auto fill options should also be disabled. There are many browsers available on the market that serve users who have privacy concerns in their mind. These browsers are efficient in securing your online privacy and also avoid any data leakage.

Security of famous browsers

 

Here we are listing down famous browsers and how to compare them with each other in terms of security. We will also guide you about securing your browsers because at default settings they are pretty vulnerable and can possibly leak your privacy details. 

1 . Microsoft Edge

 Microsoft Edge is the latest browser of Microsoft which is the default browser in the Windows operating systems. It predecessor, Internet Explorer, was replaced by Edge with the release of Windows 10. 

This new version has ended the IE era and provided users with much more efficient browsing and powerful security. This browser also comes in with built in Cortana – an AI to compete with Alexa and Siri. Lastly, it contains extensions from Microsoft store. 

Interesting Read : Security and privacy for the most popular web browsers in 2019

One of the biggest advantages that Edge has is that it is the default browser for Windows 10 computers. This means that Edge is better than other browsers in terms of integrating better with the Windows OS ecosystem. 

As far as power usage and the security of data is considered. Further built-in features include Code Integrity Guard (CIG) and the Arbitrary Code Guard (ACG). These codes are designed to stop malicious codes from entering into the computer’s memory.


2. Safari

Safari was developed by Apple for iOS and OSX. Safari 13 is the latest edition of this software which was released in September 2019. Safari 13’s security is pretty good considering it copied the baseline security features from its previous edition Safari 12. 

These features include, Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0 and Automatic Strong Passwords. It uses password strength analyzer that helps in preventing you from keeping weak passwords. This feature is built-in and comes with FIDO02 USB security key authentication support, sign in support with Apple, Apple Pay and an encryption which is pretty good compared to other browsers.

Afterall, Apple is known for its security. However, Safari falls short where other OS are considered because the only full support of Safari is available for iOS and OSX platforms. Rest of the OS might not be as strong as these operating systems. Therefore, if you use Windows, Safari will probably not be the best option for you.


3. Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox was developed by the Mozilla Foundation. It is completely free and open-source that is available on all platforms. Even the platforms such as Unix and other related operating systems (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, illuminos, and Solaris Unix) are supported by Mozilla Firefox. Since it is an open source platform, it lacks in the security department, especially when you use it on a publicly accessible computer. 

However, you can make this browser pretty safe after tweaking settings to some extent. For a single-user’s business device or personal use, Mozilla is quite secure; however, not the most secure browser out there.

In order to make Firefox a better browser, the developers have allowed people to find flaws in their browser and actually get rewarded for it. This program is called the bug bounty program – a quite unique approach for a browser. Mozilla promises that anyone who can detect flaws in their security and breaches that can potentially damage user’s privacy, will not be legally held accountable, if it’s done in good faith, of course. 

Some of the notable features of Mozilla firefox include, “Do not track” privacy feature, blocking of malware and phishing & Noscript Anti-XSS add-on (which detects the execution scripts on websites).


4. Google Chrome

Google developed Chrome as a cross-platform web browser which is also the default browser for Google products such as Chromebooks and Android operating system. Chrome has a builtin feature known as “Sandboxing” which is a security feature that allows Chrome to separate the programs which are running. 

Interesting Read : How To Stop Websites From Tracking You On Google Chrome

Through sandboxing, Chrome can prevent the vulnerabilities from spreading on to other programs. It also has a list of malwares and phishing scams that is utilized to warn users about the harmful sites that might compromise the online privacy. These lists are regularly updated in order to keep up with the new phishing and malware attacks. Once a new threat is identified, Chrome is automatically updated within 24 hours. The regular updates come after every six weeks because of isolation and phishing protection feature.

Google’s incognito mode is pretty good when it comes to keeping your activities private since it is used anonymously. We will discuss Google’s incognito mode in detail later in this article. It is worth mentioning that there are a few other browsers which are solely dedicated to security such as Tor. 

Secure messaging

 

Online messaging is the new way of communication after the internet became mainstream. The chatting apps are probably the most famous part of the internet these days and with many options available to users, it is crucial that you opt for such apps which are end to end encrypted, for example – WhatsApp. 

These apps work on most platforms and incase the apps are not supported on some platforms, browsers fill that gap. Our online messaging contains every bit of information from useless things to private information which you wouldn’t want anyone else to see. 

The end to end encryption provides users with the needed privacy and security that can keep their private messaging, completely hidden from prying eyes. Even if someone gets their hands on your data, all they will see is random alphanumeric information that is very difficult to understand, thanks to the strong encryption that various messaging apps offer. 

Facts about Operating Systems

1 . Windows

Recently, operating systems are also becoming a target for security breaches. A weak OS will not be able to protect you in case of an online attack. OS such as Windows 10 is considered a weak choice in terms of security given that it has an advertising ID which is used by apps. 

Furthermore, Cortana, the digital assistant also collects your data. The scary part is, we do not even read the terms and conditions before agreeing to it. There are some parts in the agreement that allows the OS to collect personal data to use it for various purposes.

Having said that, Windows is probably one of the most powerful operating systems. However, it doesn’t have a good reputation when we talk about privacy and security. Most of us underestimate the importance of a good operating systems, however, it is crucial to choose the most secure one. 

Since we enter our personal information and financial information in the computers, the weak operating system can easily become a source for information theft. In order to ensure our data is safe and sound, we need to make our computers as secure as possible. After a little research, you should be able to choose what level of security you need in terms of settings and which browser is most suitable for your needs. 

Windows isn’t the best choice for security concerns because it has faced many attacks. The level of security provided by Windows is not adequate and after every new version, the Windows faces multiple security flaws that can easily be exploited. These flaws are gateways for hackers to easily access your computer and steal information or private data.


2. Mac OSX

Mac claims in its campaigns that it is more secure than Windows. However, this is far from the truth. The reason why it seems that Windows is much riskier is because it is used much more than Mac. If the number of users of Mac OSX become the same as Windows’ number of users, they might be equally risky. 

Since Mac receives less attention from hackers and other general users, its security gaps are less visible. Windows is the most popular OS in the world which brings a lot of unwanted attention from hackers and other people looking to steal information. Hackers focus more on Windows, solely because the number of users exceed from Mac’s users. This is why most viruses and scripts are written based on Windows rather than Mac.


3. Linux

Linux is even less popular than Mac however if we judge all the operating systems on the same grounds, they all are equally insecure and vulnerable to attacks and hacking attempts. Therefore, no system can guarantee 100% security.

However, with the right settings and tools, Linux can be one of the most secure operating systems. Same is the case with Windows. But, Mac has its own perks and downsides when it comes to privacy and security.

Some studies suggest that Mac might be the most insecure operating system which is hard to accept for many people (probably users of Mac). One of the first virus written for Mac contained illegal printed versions of iLife. This was a Trojan that infected the PC as soon as that application is downloaded.


 4. Mac Virus

The very first Mac virus was bundled along with illegal pirated versions of iLife. If Mac users downloaded this application their computer was infected with a Trojan. This Trojan worked in exactly the same way as a PC Trojan by opening a backdoor into your computer which criminals could then use to steal information. 

Even after these virus attacks on Mac, Apple continued to claim that the Mac OS is the most secure one in the market, which is obviously not true. Even though there were only a limited number of PCs affected, it still proved that Mac can be vulnerable to attacks.

All in all, Windows has suffered major attacks in the last couple of years but it has also provided ways to deal with them. This means that the major flaws can be addressed for all operating systems and Windows OS is still not the worst option in terms of security. As an added measure of security for your computer, you should always consider using firewall and antivirus.

Best Practices to Protect your Privacy

1 . Use a VPN

It is crucial to use a reputable VPN when you surf the web. A VPN or virtual private network is a gateway through which you access the internet. It provides you with a tunnel through which you enter the world of the internet, with different IP addresses. 

A VPN’s job is to hide your identity online which means that if anyone is attempting to hack you or spy on you, the changed ID address will make it harder for them to do it. Furthermore, VPN converts your data into bits of jumbled up information which is very hard to crack, thanks to string encryption. 

The best VPNs come with 256- bit encryption and also provide you with a built-in kill switch. Therefore, as a final step, use a VPN to make sure your identity is completely hidden and your privacy is protected.


2 . Always Browse in Anonymous Mode

Anonymous mode or as Chrome calls it – incognito mode. It is not the final solution to your online privacy concerns. Although it does add an extra layer of protection, but it is not the answer for your online privacy protection. Every browser has its own name for the anonymous mode.

INCOGNITO MODE

Where Chrome calls it incognito mode, Firefox and Safari call it Private Mode.

Anonymous mode blocks all cookies therefore most of the tracking is defeated.

Anonymous mode

As a matter of fact, you might have noticed that every ad you see online is specially tailored for you. These ads are targeted towards you on the basis of your online habits. Cookies are to blame for this. If you block the cookies you will reach a little closer to privacy.

Here’s a demonstration of how you can change the default settings.

  • In Windows, right click on the chrome icon and select properties.

Windows

  • Add -incognito to the end of the text in the Target box.

incognito

Firefox and Safari has much easier method of changing your default settings.


3. Firefox Privacy Settings

In Firefox, you need to open settings and

  •         Click the privacy tab located on the left side of your window.
  •         Select “Never remember history.”

Firefox Privacy Settings

After this, whenever you open Firefox, it will use this setting.


4. Safari Privacy Settings

On Safari, open “Preferences”

Then select the “Safari opens with” box and select “A new private window.”

Safari Privacy Settings

And just like that, you will start browsing in private mode.

Once you are through this, the next steps would be about changing your default search engine.


5. Changeup your default search engine 

There are a few basic things that you need to understand about search engines. They do have to make money for the services they provide, one way or the other. Generally, donations and/or profit from ads are two options which are available for search engines.

Nothing’s free in the world and the same goes for the digital space. Even if the product or service is free, they are definitely making money, one way or the other, to sustain in the market. It’s also possible that you are the source of their income. Search engines track your data and information to use for purposes such as selling the available data to advertisers for money. In order to avoid this, you need to use a search engine that is not funded from ads and rather works on donations.

DuckDuckGo is definitely on top of the list among the search engines that does not invade your online privacy. You still get ads on this search engine but they are based on the keywords only, rather than specially tailored and targeted to you based on your online activities.

DuckDuckGo

This way, the company is still making money without saving your data and tracking you, which means that your online privacy is completely protected. 

Additionally, Firefox is pretty good in this as well, if you switch to the private mode as a precautionary measure.

Next is the privacy options of the social media accounts that many people do not think about while using these platforms.

Change your Social Media privacy settings

 

All of us are using social media these days and making the same mistakes which is to accept the default setting. However, as we discussed earlier, nothing is “free” in this world. You might be the source of their income which is why the product or service is free.

CNBC

It’s pretty shocking to learn that we are being sold but you can take a few reasonable actions to protect your privacy on social media.

Let’s see how you can do that!

1 . Facebook

There is an option in Facebook which allows you to change your privacy settings as your needs and preferences. It consist of a very detailed settings page, but some of the best ones to reconsider among these settings include changing your post audience and location. 

You can further hide your friends so any unknown person won’t be able to look into that section. On top of that, photo settings must be adjusted to make sure you only allow those who you trust to view your pictures.


2. Twitter

You should consider keeping your entire twitter private so that only people who know you can see your tweets and the activities. There’s no need for the entire Twitter community to see what you are up to, unless you are good at restricting yourself from sharing any personal information in a public tweet. 

Enhance your browser’s security with these extensions

online privacy

Here are some additional tips on improving your online privacy. There are many extensions available on the internet that will help you in making you more secure and private. Let’s look at some of these extensions.

1 . HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere

The HTTPS Everywhere extension forces visitors to use a secure connection. This helps in making sure that your online traffic is not being spied on by any unauthorized third party. 


2. Ghostery Browser Extension

Ghostery

The Ghostery plugin helps in making your browsing experience faster by blocking unnecessary data tracking items. You can decide which websites you want to use Ghostery on.


3. NoScript

NoScript_online privacy

NoScript gives added protection by enabling Java, Flash and JavaScript, among other plugins only on trusted sites. This way, it helps in protecting you against clickjacking and XSS attacks.


4. Figleaf

Figleaf

Figleaf provides you the control over your personal information on the World Wide Web. With this tool, you get to choose the information you want to share on any site or service.


5. Breach Alarm

Breach Alarm

Breach Alarm helps you in monitoring any breaches in your security. You can anonymously check your personal details, if they are posted online or breached. You can even set a notification on your data to get the real time updates in case of any privacy breach. 


6. Privacy.com

online privacy

Privacy.com provides you with a different credit card number so no one can steal your money and your credit card number can’t be breached. It masks your credit card with different operational details which can be utilized for single transaction.

So, these are some of the things that you can do to protect your online privacy in a better way. As stated above, the best way to protect your online privacy is to stay informed and cautious. Let us know about your thoughts on this in the comments below!

A Complete gamer and a Tech Geek. Brings out all her thoughts and love in writing blogs on IOT, software, technology etc