Regardless of how you use the internet, it’s nearly guaranteed that you are being tracked in some way. Natalie Triedman recently shared how people, often unknowingly, are sharing their location. We aren’t saying that you should freak out and stop using the internet, but it’s a good idea to be smart about your browsing.
Follow these tips to start protecting your information online. We’ve included some quick steps that everyone can do, as well as some more difficult and advanced methods for keeping your web data secure.
In case you aren’t familiar with how cookies work: they are little pieces of data stored on your computer. They are used to remember information (like items in your online shopping cart, names, passwords, etc.) about your browsing activity. More secure websites usually have more secure cookies, but other sites’ cookies lack any encryption at all.
You can choose the level of security you want to achieve by allowing some cookies, like only those from sites you visit often, or by completely blocking them.
Disabling cookies works both on desktop browsers and mobile browsers (like Safari for iOS & Google Chrome for Android).
Most browsers — including Chrome, Firefox and Safari — offer some sort of private browsing window. Using these windows tells your browser not to save your browsing history and prevent websites from tracking you.
When you use a private window, called Incognito window in Chrome, the browser won’t save your browsing data or activity, but the website, your employer or your internet service provider (ISP) will still see your activity. So, this isn’t a total protection of your information.
There are quite a few options for privacy based search engines. These search engines work differently than big search engines like Google or Yahoo, because their business model is completely different. Many of them rely on advertisements within the search results for revenue, rather than selling their users’ information.
These are some good options for privacy focused search engines:
These methods aren’t necessarily “difficult”, as anyone with basic computer literacy could complete them. They will just take a few minutes to install or set up.
While most major browsers offer security features and allow users, somewhat, to protect their information, these take security to another level. These browsers have eliminated many non-essential features to provide a more secure (and minimalist) experience.
These are some good encrypted browsers to try:
VPN, or virtual private networks, allow you to connect to the internet through a remote (or virtual) server. As a result, the data sent between your device and this server is securely encrypted. Using a VPN gives you privacy by hiding your internet behavior from both your ISP and any other group that may be tracking your browsing information. These also work to access blocked websites, that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to due to internet filters, at school or work.
There are quite a few solid options out there for VPNs. They typically cost between $5–10 per month. It can be handy to have a VPN, though, if you need to remotely access a server or a website that isn’t available, while travelling.
While using a VPN, even if your IP address is hidden, it’s still possible to give clues about your identity via your DNS traffic. DNS works to turn a readable web address into an IP address that the computer understands. If information about this process is leaked, browsing information can be leaked. Luckily, there are tools that will tell you if your connection is leaking DNS data. Try DNSLeakTest.com to see if your connection is truly secure.
Using VPNs and encrypted browsers will protect you from the majority of threats. Web browsers are one of the more vulnerable factors for data breaches. However, snooping and data scraping can occur through files like PDFs. While these files may appear harmless, they can act as homing beacons, and potentially alert monitoring entities when you are viewing the “contraband” file. Setting up a virtual machine, can help eliminate your risk.
Virtual machines are like having a separate operating system running within your computer. If a file is suspect, download it onto the virtual machine, disconnect from the internet, and open the file. This makes sure that even if the file is harmful, it won’t be effective for tracking or snooping on your computer.
Live operating systems can be started on almost any computer from a USB stick or a DVD. Their goal is to maintain privacy and anonymity, or to work around censorship.
Tails, the live OS preference of Edward Snowden, uses cryptographic tools to encrypt your files, emails, and messages. And when you’ve finished using the system, simply unplug the USB or eject the DVD, and there will be no trace of your use on the host computer.
Regardless of how you feel about sharing your data with big companies like Google, it is important to at least understand the information you are sharing. These eight methods certainly won’t guarantee that your digital privacy is locked down completely, but they are a step in the right direction.