9 Things You Can Do to Secure Your Online Data
Use these best practices on all your devices
With just an internet-connected device and a web browser you have a world of information available at your fingertips. But there is another side to that, and it’s easy sometimes to forget. The fact is, massive amounts of data are being collected and stored about you, from what internet sites you visited or where you have traveled around the country to records of emails, texts, photos and purchases.
Now what are you going to do about it?
The only foolproof way to protect your information online is to disconnect. Since that is not a reality for most people, there are some best practices to better protect your data.
1. Check your computer’s privacy settings
If you have Windows 10 installed, the privacy settings (including several different sub-menus) have all of the options to provide your information enabled by default when you install Windows 10. Deselect what you don’t want to share. Apple users can review their privacy settings via their Apple ID.
2. Audit apps connected to Facebook and Google
Many people establish a new account with third-party websites by using a “Log in with your Facebook account” feature because it is easier than setting up a new account. Google does this too (“Log in with Google”). On Facebook, go into the settings page and click the Apps tab and view the permissions you granted for each app listed. Remove apps you no longer use, look suspicious or don’t remember adding. Follow the same process for Google using this link.
3. Review your social media privacy settings
My sister questioned why my birthday on Facebook was slightly off. Everyone should minimize the information shared on a public profile, and don’t list private information that could be used against you by hackers. I also have a “junk” email account with variation of the spelling of my name that I use when browsing, helping me immediately identify when my name and email address have been shared.
4. Establish a Virtual Private Network
A VPN, sometimes called “tunneling” protects data transferred by your computer over the internet, even on an open public network, by connecting your device to a secure server. The data transferred by your computer via a VPN is encrypted, shielding it from others and masking the location of your computer.
5. Read those painfully long privacy policies
Don’t breeze past the terms of service when signing up for a new app. This is where you will find how your data will be shared. If something makes you uncomfortable, move on and find a different program.
6. Install an ad blocker
There are free extensions such as Ghostery, AdBlock and Privacy Badger that work with most browsers to block ads and web trackers, which also have the benefit of speeding up your online experience. Ad blockers make you anonymous when surfing, protecting your privacy. However, many websites refuse to load, or you will see a message asking you to disable your ad blocker for their site “to increase performance.”
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7. Install a tracker blocker
Similarly, you can install trackers embedded on websites. These may make parts of a website work improperly.
8. Clear your browsing data
To save the headache of using a tracker blocker, periodically clear your cookies and browsing history. Apple, Google and Microsoft have published instructions on how to clear data for their browsers Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer. Do this regularly as cookies and trackers will re-appear each time you search the internet.
9. Stick with known brands
Even if you are diligent about your online privacy, some apps will collect your info and immediately pass it along to other parties, flooding your inbox or even your phone with unwanted solicitations. I was looking for an online insurance quote from a company I thought was a legit broker, and am still getting several robocalls a day from spoofed numbers that look as if they are coming from my own community.
Unsure about a site? Here are some ways to see if it’s legit.
- Search for the website’s name and review the results.
- Make sure the website connects securely over https (not http).
- Look for the “secure” or a padlock in the browser’s address bar.
- Evaluate the website for poor grammar and misspellings.
- Create a Google Transparency Report.
- Check the site on the Better Business Bureau’s website to view complaints.