7 Ways to Keep Your Online Life Private
Given that we practically live on the Internet, it’s time we started taking our privacy a little more seriously. In the same way that you watch out for pickpockets in public places, install blinds on your windows, and lock your house up in the real world, there are some basic steps that you should take to ensure your safety in the virtual one.
1. Don't use free public Wi-Fi.
Public wi-fi is incredibly convenient, but it makes it incredibly easy to hack your phone or your laptop as well. As Forbes reports, free software makes it possible for anyone to spy on your online activity over a public network. If you absolutely must use Wi-Fi, make sure the websites you visit are encrypted by checking that the address in the search bar begins with "https." Better yet, use a VPN like Tunnelbear or Express VPN, which hides your IP address and the websites you access (in fact, since VPNs encrypt all your online activity, it's good to use them at home as well). However, even that isn't foolproof since there's a brief window between the time your device connects to the Internet and your VPN switches on—enough time for hackers to steal your passwords. Whatever you do, never, ever access banking websites or apps over free wifi.
2. Keep your social media profile info to a minimum.
Yes, getting flooded with greetings on your birthday is great, but remember that any information banks and telecommunications companies use to verify your identity should be kept private. Besides, a complete profile makes it easier for strangers to impersonate you. Your real friends already know your address, your telephone number, where you went to school, and where you work, and what your favorite bands, movies, and books are. Broadcasting that information to the world is riskier than it seems, not to mention it makes it easier for companies to flood your feed with annoying ads.
3. People you haven't met in real life shouldn't be your friends on social media.
Making new friends online might be fun, but you can never tell if that person really is who they say they are. For all you know, they could be stalkers, pedophiles, or part of a pastor hokage group. The last thing you want is to give those people access to all your photos and personal information.
4. Avoid using third party Facebook apps as much as possible.
Sure, those instant quizzes on Facebook are good for laughs, but according to the National Privacy Commission, these apps can sell your profile info and friends list to data companies. To cull some of the sketchier apps from your list, go to Settings, click Apps, and delete as you see fit.
5. Cover your webcam.
As anyone who's seen Mr. Robot would know, hackers can switch on your webcam and watch whatever you're doing. The simplest solution to this is to cover the lens with a sticker that you can easily peel off whenever you want to use your webcam.
6. Use different passwords for different websites.
This is one of the most basic practices, and yet hardly anyone does it. Yes, it’s hard to keep track of several passwords, but if you use the same one everywhere and a hacker gains access to one of your accounts, he’ll be able to break into all of them. Use a free password manager like LastPass, which can generate and keep track of strong passwords for all your accounts. And since it can sync across all your devices, all you’ll need to remember is your LastPass login key.
7. Use two-factor authentication.
This feature sends a code to your phone via call or text so that even if data thieves get ahold of your password, they won’t be able to log onto your account. If you want to go the extra mile, technologist and TED fellow Christopher Soghoian suggests getting a U2F security key. You can order one from Amazon.com, and all you need to do is plug this nifty device into your computer's USB port whenever you log onto services like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox. Soghoian says more online services will probably adopt U2F technology in the future, so your investment will be worth it in the long run.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does include some of the most basic practices for staying safe online. For more tips on protecting your privacy, check out this guide from the National Privacy Commission.