Since the past few decades, the online privacy of the average internet user has been under attack.
Government bodies around the globe have created NSA-style surveillance programs to monitor and gather people’s personal data.
Examples range from mild surveillance activities such as the collection of emails, instant messages and Facebook posts to strict measures like censorship and tracking in countries like North Korea.
Besides government agencies, hackers are also interested in stealing your personal information.
As you open a website, post a tweet, login to your online banking, or perform any other activity online, you leave digital footprints that can be traced back to your identity.
This could allow hackers to conduct identity theft, online fraud, email scams, phishing and many other illegal activities without getting caught, as they will be using your identity to hide their own.
The good news is that there are some relatively simple steps that even privacy noobs like you can take to tackle online privacy issues.
In this ultimate privacy guide, we’re going to take a brief look at some of the biggest threats to your online privacy and provide you with a list of measures you can take to safeguard your personal information.
Let’s get started!
Biggest Threats to Online Privacy
Many people use the internet daily without even considering that they are placing their privacy at risk.
Have you ever browsed casually, just to be interrupted by an annoying ad that seems to be specifically targeted at you? Yeah, those ads aren’t popping up just by coincidence – you’re being watched.
Here are some of the biggest data privacy risks you may encounter online:[lwptoc title=”Watch Out For:” skipHeadingLevel=”h4,h5,h6″ skipHeadingText=”*What Does Encryption Do?|*Biggest threats to online privacy|*Boosting Your Online Privacy and Security|*get a vpn|*watch out for non-HTTPS Websites|*Use a Password Manager|*Clear your cookies and DNS cache|*set up a virtual machine|*send and receive anonymous email|*install ad blockers|*manage your social media privacy settings|*use tor to stay anonymous on the internet|*consider using a privacy-focused search engine|*get a new mac address|*use a secure payment method|*Encrypt Your Local and Cloud Storage|*Review Permissions Requested By Your Mobile Apps|*Install Antivirus and Firewall Programs On All Devices|*Avoid Using Windows 10 Altogether If You Can|*Take Advantage of File Shredding Tools|*Communicate Using a Secure Chat App|*Conclusion: It’s Easy To Improve Your Online Privacy”]
The All-Spying Eye of the Government
When searching for online privacy tips, you’ll probably come across a lot of articles that mention the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes Alliances.
These are networks of countries that have collaborated to collect and share data of individuals from around the world.
Back in 2013, Edward Snowden, a former employee and subcontractor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), blew the whistle on several worldwide surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Five Eyes Alliance.
In short, if your personal data passes through one of the countries that form a part of either the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or Fourteen Eyes Alliances, it’s likely to be intercepted by the government.
Below is an overview of all the members of these associations:[table id=1 responsive=”scroll” /]
Search Engine Tracking
Search engines play a very important role in internet browsing. However, while you use them to navigate the web, you’re placing your security at risk.
Popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing all collect and store your personal data. Some of them even share your information with third parties.
Depending on the search engine you’re using, this information could range from your IP address to your online purchase history to your home address.
Google even states in their Privacy Terms that they collect sensitive data such as comments you’ve made on YouTube videos and even the people you share content with.
Although they’re not doing anything illegal, an attack on their systems could lead to a direct compromise of your sensitive information.
Browser Fingerprinting and Hijacking
It’s common for web browsers to collect and store information about your internet session. They’ll collect details like your IP address, the browser you’re using, the device you’re using, etc. and then create a “browser fingerprint” that websites use to display themselves correctly.
For example, you could be the only visitor using DuckDuckGo as your primary search engine. A website can will this knowledge to display itself correctly in your preferred browser.
The negative aspect of browser fingerprinting is that it could make your information easier to identify as you take additional privacy enhancement measures.
Let’s say you switch on a VPN for added privacy.
Although the website you’re connected to and your internet service provider won’t have a clue about who you are, your browser fingerprint can still reveal some of your details.
Another browser-related threat comes in the form of browser hijacking.
Browser hijacking happens when unwanted software changes a web browser’s settings without the permission of the user. A common sign of this is unwanted pop-up ads showing in your browser, which can take you to a fraudulent webpage.
In some cases, browser hijacking can result in serious privacy issues. So the next time you see a pop-up offering you a free antivirus for your computer, be careful! I also recommend blocking unwanted ads to help keep your information safe.
Phishing Attacks and Malware Threats
Many internet users have fallen victim to malware and phishing attacks. Over the years, cybercriminals have become more creative in planning sophisticated schemes. Their main objective? To gather as much of your personal information as possible so they can use it for their own financial gain.
Hackers have become experts in disguising malicious emails and websites to look like the real deal. Though there are various phishing methods out there, most phishers impersonate some kind of trusted entity such as your bank, telecom provider, or even the company you work for.
Their goal is to convince you to give up sensitive information by either responding to their communications or clicking on malicious links that install malware on your computer.
For example, a cybercriminal may set up a website that, at a quick glance, looks exactly like the one you use to perform your online banking activities. However, by entering your login credentials on this fake site, you’ll be placing your security at great risk.
Now that the hackers have your username and password, they can easily log into the authentic website and withdraw all of your money. Sigh.
Security Issues in Cloud Storage
The cloud has become an everyday storage method for most users. Even companies are using cloud service providers (CSPs) such as Dropbox and Google Drive to store and share sensitive files between members.
Though some CSPs do encrypt the data of their users, this doesn’t mean that your privacy is guaranteed.
Many popular cloud storage vendors have been known to share, or even sell, their users’ files and information with authorities such as the NSA.
Lack of Privacy on Social Media
Despite their claims to have data protection measures in place, there’s a lack of privacy on social media platforms.
Because we associate feeling connected with our family, friends, and coworkers with these platforms, it’s easy to forget there are others out there looking to take advantage.
Whatever you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. can be used with malicious intent by third parties such as hackers, spambots, and revengeful acquaintances – to name but a few. These cybercriminals can steal your personal data to create fraudulent identities and compromise sensitive accounts.
That’s why it’s important to protect all of your social media accounts against privacy issues.
What Does Encryption Do?
No online privacy guide would be complete without a section on encryption. After all, it offers an effective way to safeguard your internet communications, data, and behavior.
However, encryption has become a key target for organizations such as the NSA in recent times. Although governments have laws that prevent software vendors and online service providers from creating backdoors in their encrypted offerings, Edward Snowden’s revelations uncovered that spying agencies are actively working on decryption methods.
Another thing to note is that the NSA can decide to gather and keep encrypted data for as long as they desire or until they’re able to decode the information. This applies to the data of both US and non-US nationals. The agency aims to own a master key for all things encrypted, but until that becomes a reality, they’ll have to continue decrypting protocols, one at a time.
The good news is that there are various types of encryption in existence, and many of them are pretty safe when it comes to preventing the NSA from invading your privacy. VPNs, for instance, use the AES 256-bit and Perfect Forward Secrecy encryptions that are challenging to break. Until quantum computers arrive in a large number, you can rely on these encryption protocols to protect your privacy.
Boosting Your Online Privacy and Security
Now that you have a better idea of how your personal information can be breached, let’s look at some steps you can take to protect your privacy online.[lwptoc numeration=”decimalnested” numerationSuffix=”dot” title=”Steps to Take:” toggle=”1″ labelShow=”show” labelHide=”hide” titleColor=”” useNofollow=”0″ skipHeadingLevel=”h4,h5,h6″ skipHeadingText=”*Biggest Threats to Online Privacy|*The All-Spying Eye of the Government|*Boosting Your Online Privacy and Security|*Browser Fingerprinting and Hijacking|*Search Engine Tracking|*Phishing Attacks and Malware Threats|*Security Issues in Cloud Storage|*Lack of Privacy on Social Media|*Email Data Breaches|*Unsafe Passwords|*Artificial Intelligence Invading Privacy|*what does encryption do?|*Conclusion: It’s Easy To Improve Your Online Privacy”]
Get a VPN
The most effective way to protect your privacy online is to use a VPN (virtual private network). It provides you with anonymity and security by masking your internet activity – whether you’re connected to your home WiFi or a public WiFi hotspot.
Essentially, VPNs work by directing your internet connection through a remote server located in some other country to make it seem as if you’re another person from somewhere else.
This prevents prying eyes from seeing your original IP address. Instead, they see the IP address of the VPN server.
As a result, VPNs can be used to prevent many forms of tracking, as well as get around things like the Great Firewall of China.
They’re also easy to set up. For the best protection, I recommend installing ExpressVPN on your smartphone or computer.
Besides IP masking, VPNs offers several other privacy protection features to ensure your online activity is anonymous and secure. Below are some of the noteworthy ones.
OpenVPN is both a program and a VPN protocol that utilizes various tactics to secure site-to-site and point-to-point connections.
Basically, it helps create an encrypted tunnel between the VPN server and a VPN program.
By routing your VPN connection through this secure tunnel, OpenVPN protects you from data tracking.
For various reasons, a VPN connection could unexpectedly drop at any time.
When it does, your online privacy is exposed for as long as you remain connected to the internet.
What a VPN kill switch does is it automatically disconnects your device from the internet until an active VPN connection is restored.
This means you never have to surf unprotected.
Protection from 14-Eyes Alliance
Can you trust a VPN provider not to share your personal information with the authorities?
Well, if you’ve subscribed to a reliable VPN service, then yes.
Many of the best VPN providers out there operate outside the 14-eyes alliance countries. In addition, they have a strict no-logs policy, which means they do not keep any record of your online activity.
Various Types of Encryption
Top VPNs leverage various types of encryption algorithms to secure the connections of their customers, including AES 256-bit encryption and Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS).
AES is a popular cipher, alternatively referred to as a mathematical algorithm used for encrypting data.
AES uses a unique key to decrypt and encrypt data, and the only way someone can read that data is by trying random combinations until they guess the correct key. 256-bit encryption key has the most combinations possible.
PFS, on the other hand, uses temporary and ever-changing encryption keys to boost your privacy and security significantly.
So, even if a hacker manages to guess one key, he or she would only read a small amount of information at worse. The rest of your information would remain encrypted.
These are just a few benefits of using a VPN to protect your privacy online. Many VPN companies also enable you to set up personal profiles that can be configured to reflect your specific privacy needs. Plus, you can use a VPN alongside the other solutions I’ll mention in this guide.
Watch out for Non-Https Websites
In plain language, HTTPS is the secure version of the standard HTTP protocol that your browser uses while communicating with different websites.
HTTPS connections are secure because they tell your web browser to check the security certificate of a website and verify if it was issued by a legitimate certificate-issuing authority.
This allows you to ensure that your data is encrypted and no one can steal it in transit.
Knowing whether you’re connected to a site using the HTTPS protocol is easy. You just have to look at the website’s URL address and observe if the address bar has the “https://” sign and a padlock next to it.
Here’s what Google Chrome displays when you visit www.privacynoob.com:
Fortunately, HTTPS is becoming the protocol of choice, and the majority of the sites you visit for online shopping or banking will have it.
Important to know: Entering sensitive information on HTTP websites could mean handing over your data to cybercriminals. That’s because there is no validation of identity when it comes to HTTP connections. Make sure to avoid entering social security numbers, credit card details, or any other sensitive data that you don’t want hackers to spoof on non-secure websites.
Use a Password Manager
Given the number of times we type our credentials into different programs and sites on a daily basis, it’s natural for us to reuse passwords.
But reusing passwords means an attacker who gains access to one of our logins could easily gain access to multiple accounts.
Password management software can reduce the risk of this security threat. It’s a kind of program that remembers all your accounts’ passwords for you.
Though a lot of internet users are doing well by storing passwords in Chrome and other web browsers, a good password manager will provide unique passwords for every platform, help you create complex passwords, notify you about suspicious activity, and even change your passwords when they get too old.
Are password managers safe? Password managers are as safe as the other applications you use to protect your privacy online. The companies offering password management software encrypt your data and don’t store the master password (the main password needed to access the software). So, if the network or servers of these companies get hacked, the data is unreadable without the master password which only the user knows. As long as you create a unique master password, keep it to yourself, and don’t forget it, you’ll be safe.
There is a large number of password managers available in the market. Personally, I like Dashlane and LastPass because of their ease of use. Both of these password managers sync themselves across all the devices (smartphone, laptop, PC, tablet, etc.) people tend to use.
Additionally, password managers will automatically fill in passwords to the platforms and websites you visit on a daily basis, allowing you to continue your activity and keeping you safe from password thieves.
If that’s not enough to convince you to download a password manager, you should know that many of them also offer an extra layer of protection in the form of two-factor authentication (2FA).
Every time you try logging into your password manager program, 2FA will send a verification code to your smartphone.
To gain access to the program’s dashboard, you have to enter the correct code, besides your master password and username.
This makes password managers much more secure than any browser-based program offering to help you store and manage your passwords.
Clear Your Cookies and DNS Cache
Cookies are tiny text files that are stored on your computer and mobile devices.
Their main function is to save packets of data related to your online activity in connection with a given site. This allows you to log into those sites without having to re-enter your information every time you go back.
As such, I recommend that you DO NOT disable them completely. If you do, you’ll find it difficult to use platforms like Shopify, Facebook, and other websites where a login is needed.
A better approach is to clear your cookies on a regular basis. This will help limit the risk of being fingerprinted and spied through your browser.
Learn how to clear cookies in:
- Firefox for Android
- Firefox for iOS
- Chrome (for desktop, Android, and iOS)
- Safari for Mac
- Safari for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch
Note: Some browsers will also present you with a pop-up where you can choose to accept or reject the cookies. I reject them on websites that I do not trust.
Additionally, make sure to clear Flash cookies – cookies that leverage Adobe’s Flash plugin to hide cookies on your device that cannot be managed by a browser’s privacy controls – as well.
The best way to eliminate Flash cookies is to use the CCleaner program.
CCleaner not only removes Flash cookies from your PC, but it also deletes files and programs that leave traces of your activity. Plus, it’s available for both Windows and Mac users.
Another thing you can do to improve your privacy is clear your DNS cache.
DNS cache is what helps websites and services recognize your computer.
All computers connecting to the internet use DNS and are assigned a unique IP address by their ISP (internet service provider).
As you might have figured, these things allow site owners and service providers to track information about you to use for displaying relevant content and marketing materials.
For those who would like to remain anonymous, this can be a big issue.
Fortunately, you can clear the DNS cache and stop websites from tracking your activity by taking the steps below.
In a few moments, your computer will flush the DNS cache, enabling you to browse anonymously.
Set Up a Virtual Machine
Virtual machines (VMs) enable you to install and use a virtual operating system within your own operating system (OS). If you want to keep the activities and processes that you perform on your main OS private, a virtual machine will come in handy.
Whatever you do on the virtual OS will stay on it, and your main OS won’t be affected. This process is referred to as sandboxing. Also, you can limit the virtual machine in several ways. For example, you can disable the internet connection for the machine so that no one can track or log your offline activities.
Once you’re done, you can even delete the virtual OS and remove every trace of the information.
To use a virtual machine, you’ll need to install a VM app. I recommend installing VirtualBox because it functions on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Additionally, it offers all the features you require to set up a virtual machine.
Send and Receive Anonymous Email
Popular email services like Gmail and Outlook take several measures to encrypt your emails.
However, the procedures they use only tend to work when the recipient is aware of and willing to participate in the process. How would you convince all of your contacts to use the service provider’s encryption?
It’s unrealistic, and any attempt to do so could make the recipient suspicious of you.
A better way to send and receive anonymous email is to use a secure email service. Two of the most secure email providers are Tutanota and ProtonMail. Both of these services encrypt the metadata of your emails, as well as allow non-users to securely reply to anonymous messages.
Install Ad Blockers
The ads you see on the internet may seem harmless, but they gather a lot of data. Then there are web activity trackers that watch your every move and report back to a website’s server. All of this data and activity tracking is then used to serve you targeted content in the future.
While none of that is illegal, some ads and activity trackers go further. They’ll trick you into installing malicious software, try generating accidental clicks by hiding in a website’s background, or attempt to track your location and media consumption habits. The best solution to protect yourself from harmful ads and privacy violation is to block them altogether.
As far as I’m aware, the simplest way to block ads and web trackers is to install an ad blocker.
Ad blockers will protect your browser or device from being infiltrated by malware. Plus, they may indirectly improve your loading times and deliver a smoother browsing experience. Moreover, many of them double as privacy extensions and use their anti-tracking abilities to block activity trackers.
To help get you started, I have compiled a list of the best ad blockers (many of which also serve as privacy extensions) for various browsers.
Whether you’re looking to block ads on Chrome or looking for Safari ad blockers, the options below should come in handy.
Chrome AD Blockers and Privacy Extensions
- AdBlock: AdBlock eliminates pop-ups and also works as a YouTube ad blocker.
- Ghostery: Ghostery blocks site analytics, web activity trackers, and general ads.
- uBlock Origin: uBlock Origin blocks pop-ups, malware, and web activity trackers.
Firefox AD Blockers and Privacy Extensions
- AdBlock: It works in a similar fashion as AdBlock for Chrome.
- AdNauseum: AdNauseum blocks most types of ads and also functions as an anti-tracker.
- uBlock Origin: uBlock Origin offers the same benefits as on Chrome.
Safari AD Blockers and Privacy Extensions
- Unicorn Blocker: Unicorn Blocker is three times faster than other ad blockers when it comes to blocking pop-ups, scrolling ads, and more.
- Ghostery Lite: The lighter version of Ghostery blocks ads, adult content, site analytics, and even comments section from web pages.
- Better Blocker: Better Blocker can be configured to block tracking pixels, tracking scripts, and behavioral ads.
Many of these ad blockers have mobile apps for Android and iOS devices. Install your favorite ad blocker’s app to enjoy the same privacy and security enhancing benefits as on desktop.
Bonus: Some VPN providers offer built-in apps that safeguard you from malicious ads and activity trackers. NordVPN, for instance, offers a security suite called CyberSec that stops and protects customers by blocking requests from servers involved in adware, spyware, and activity tracking. So, if you’re planning to sign up for a VPN service, check if they offer any such app for improving their customers’ privacy.
Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings
The best solution from a privacy and security perspective is to delete your social media accounts entirely. But if you aren’t ready to leave your favorite platform or app, consider changing your social media privacy settings.
Below is a breakdown of how to manage your privacy settings on different social media networks.
On Facebook, you can modify your privacy settings in two ways:
- By using the Privacy Settings and Tools menu, which can be accessed by clicking the downward-pointing arrow at the top right hand of your screen. Select “Settings” > “Privacy.” Now you’ll be able to choose how “public” you want your details to be.
- By clicking in the Update Status field where it says, “What’s on your mind?” Once you do, a drop-down menu will appear, and you’ll be able to decide how public you want your Facebook posts to be.
I personally prefer the first option as it gives me more control over my Facebook account’s privacy settings.
To protect your information from prying eyes, choose “Friends” or “Friends of Friends” for the Who can see your future posts?, Who can see your friends list?, and Who can look you up using the email address you provided? sections in the Privacy Settings and Tools menu.
By default, Twitter allows everyone to see what information and tweets you’ve posted on its social networking platform. Fortunately, there are ways to make your Twitter account private.
With better privacy on Twitter:
- Only those approved by you can view and subscribe to your tweets.
- All of the @replies you give will not be visible until you decide to share them with your approved followers.
- Tweets that were posted as “can be viewed by anyone” will be hidden from the public and can only be seen by approved followers.
To improve your Twitter privacy, click the “wheel icon” at the top right of your account homepage, choose “Settings,” and then click “Security and Privacy” in the side-bar navigation. Then, under the “Privacy” tab, check the box for “Protect my tweets.”
I also recommend not checking the “Add a location to my Tweets” box. This will prevent cybercriminals from tracking down your real location, which is critical to enhancing your physical security. Once done, click the “Save changes” button at the bottom of the screen.
By default, Snapchat only allows your friends to send you a Snap. When an unknown person tries to send you a Snapchat message, you will get an alert that they added you to their list, but they will not be able to see the Snap unless you add them as a friend first.
Other than that, Snapchat has a few settings you can modify to improve your privacy further:
1) Who Can View Your Story?
2) Who Can Send Me Snaps?
For the Stories privacy setting, you can choose to limit the audience of your Stories to just your “Friends” or create a custom list of people you feel comfortable sharing your Stories with.
For the Snaps privacy setting, I suggest choosing the “My Friends” option rather than “Everyone.”
Pinterest’s privacy settings are easy to change.
All you need to do is click the three dots button in the top right-hand corner on your Pinterest dashboard, choose “Edit Settings,” select “Privacy and Data,” and check the box in front of “Hide your profile from search engines.”
Taking the above steps will prevent search engines from displaying your Pinterest profile.
Additionally, if you joined Pinterest using your Facebook account, you might want to keep your Pinterest information separate from your Facebook activities. While Pinterest won’t post your content without your permission, you can place a barrier between the two websites.
To disconnect your Pinterest account from the rest of your social media accounts, click “Edit Settings”, choose “Account Settings,” scroll a little, and uncheck the boxes in front of “Use your Facebook information to login” and “Use your Google information to login.”
Besides taking these steps, be mindful of the boards you join, as well as the type of audience you share your Pins with.
By default, Instagram allows everyone to see your profile and content. While this may be beneficial for a business trying to grow its follower count, it can leave you vulnerable to identity theft.
The good news is that you can make your Instagram account private so that only those you approve can see your videos or images or location pages or hashtags.
To set your account to provide, open the Instagram app on your mobile device, go to “Settings,” tap “Privacy” > “Account Privacy,” and then tap next to “Private Account” to make your Instagram account private.
If you are brave enough to keep your account public, be careful about sharing your location as it could be used to compromise your physical presence.
Before you post an image, Instagram allows you to add a location to the photo. I recommend not sharing that information. If you’re tempted to tell people where you are, just add hashtags of that city or country.
While talking about your professional accomplishments could get you a job or a project, oversharing your career profile could give hackers enough details to commit social engineering or tax fraud. As a result, it’s a good idea to make yourself familiar with LinkedIn’s privacy settings.
To see which details you can hide from or share with the world, hover your mouse over your image in the top-right corner of your screen, and then choose “Settings & Privacy” from the drop-down menu.
LinkedIn will now give you several options from which the following two are related to privacy:
- How others see your profile and network information
- How others see your LinkedIn activity
From these two settings, you can switch your activity broadcasts on or off, decide whether you want to keep your networking list private or share it with your first-degree connections, and define what information people will see when they view your profile. You even have the option to be anonymous – LinkedIn gives you the option to switch off your profile’s visibility.
For maximum security, consider allowing only your first-degree connections to view your profile details.
Making your TikTok account private is the best way to ensure you’re only sharing videos with people you know on the app.
To switch your TikTok profile from public to private, tap the three dots at the top right corner of your mobile screen and choose “Privacy and Settings.” Then tap the “Privacy and Safety” option and turn the toggle for “Private Account” to “On.”
Please note that making your account private won’t prevent your existing followers from accessing your videos, so make sure you’re okay with all the people who can view what you’re sharing on the app.
Use Tor to Stay Anonymous On The Internet
Tor is the short name for The Onion Router, which is an open-source privacy network that routes your internet connection (including your IP address) through many nodes before it reaches its destination. Due to that, no one is able to see or track your online activity. And because Tor uses specific default settings that are identical for everyone connected to its network, it makes it challenging to identify browser fingerprints.
Using Tor is a simple process – you just have to install the official Tor web browser, launch it on your device, and set up a connection with the Tor network in one click. Once connected, your activity is anonymous and secure. Below is an image of the Tor browser:
In many aspects, Tor offers the same benefits as a virtual private network. However, a VPN routes your internet connection through one encrypted server, while Tor uses a variety of them.
Consider Using a Privacy-Focused Search Engine
Earlier in the article, we explained how popular search engines collect and store your personal information. Because of their large portfolio of services, the companies behind these search engines share your data with various parties (and governments when they get a request to do so).
Whether you’re comfortable with this level of privacy is up to you.
There are some companies, however, that take search engine privacy quite seriously. One example is DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo is an interesting alternative to Google that keeps all of your search events completely anonymous. It also doesn’t track the online activity of its users. Additionally, it won’t use your past search history to refine your search results.
What more can you ask for? Private search engines like DuckDuckGo will help keep your information safe from third-parties and the all-spying eye of the government.
Get a New MAC Address
Did you know that your computer has a unique identifier referred to as the MAC address?
Similar to an IP address, the MAC address functions as a protocol for your computer to link to a network.
However, the MAC address isn’t dynamic, so it won’t change periodically as an IP address will. It’s configured to be the same so that your machine’s driver can use it to get on the internet.
The issue with a static MAC address is that it can be recorded and stored somewhere, making your computer easily identifiable.
Use a Secure Payment Method
Another way to improve your online privacy and security is to use secure methods of payment.
If you can avoid it, don’t share your credit card details with a website for just one item.
Instead, use a secure third-party payment service like Apple Pay, Visa Checkout, and PayPal. Although these services aren’t anonymous, they have advanced protection measures in place and are proactive in finding and addressing any vulnerabilities in their offerings.
Additionally, see if your bank offers extra levels of security for online transactions.
First Bank, for instance, allows you to authenticate your online banking session with your password and username, both of which are encrypted as they pass through the internet.
Bank of America takes online security a step further by creating temporary credit card numbers to assist customers in hiding their real credit card numbers from prying eyes.
But if you really want to remain completely anonymous, paying with Bitcoins might be your best bet.
You’ll increasingly come across websites and services that accept Bitcoin and other similar cryptocurrencies.
There are also methods to buy Bitcoins anonymously if you don’t want to use your credit card details to make a purchase, such as buying cryptocurrency offline with cash.
Pro Tip: You can also use a VPN to pay for stuff securely. Using a virtual private network will also enable you to shop from websites that might be blocked in your country. Plus, you may be able to benefit from specific discounts that are only available in certain countries.
Encrypt Your Local and Cloud Storage
Encrypting your files, folders and drives is a crucial step towards improving your privacy and security. I recommended that you encrypt your files locally before uploading them to the cloud. You can either use your operating system’s integrated security features or use encryption software for the purpose.
Mac users, for instance, can use the built-in FireVault disk encryption to secure their local storage.
Windows users, on the other hand, can take advantage of VeraCrypt. VeraCrypt is an open-source program that can be used to encrypt full disks, hard drives and even the whole OS.
Apart from encrypting your files locally, make sure to encrypt your cloud storage. The simplest way to do that is to use encrypted storage service. Some good options are:
Among these, SpiderOak is the most popular because of its end-to-end encryption and zero-knowledge policy.
However, using an encrypted cloud storage service doesn’t guarantee that your online privacy is 100 percent protected.
If you go through the storage provider’s terms and conditions, the most popular services have the right to share your data if they’re requested to do so by the court.
And that’s the way it is.
If you don’t feel safe using an encrypted cloud storage, an alternative is to use Syncthing.
Syncthing is a p2p file synchronization app that allows you to share files with different devices over the internet or on your local network. It’s robust, cross-platform, and more secure than some of the cloud services out there.
Review Permissions Requested By Your Mobile Apps
Every app on your Android, Windows, or iOS device will request certain permissions before performing their functions. Make sure to be careful about the ones that go too far, such as requesting access to your location. In many instances, you can revoke permissions like these without affecting the functionality of the app.
For example, you can open the Settings menu on your device, scroll down to the app section, and then set the location to “Never” for apps that don’t need it to deliver their functionality.
Another good habit only to download apps from trusted developers and sources. No matter how cool that APK-based app looks, you’ll have peace of mind when you download an app from a verified source.
Install Antivirus and Firewall Programs On All Devices
I believe no operating system is immune to viruses, not even macOS.
While you’ll hear Mac users say that the Unix architecture in their computer’s OS makes virus infiltration difficult, Macs do get attacked by viruses and need to be secured.
Desktop owners using Windows also require an antivirus software, and it’s more important than ever for iOS and Android users to protect themselves from malicious apps that seek to steal their identity, data, or money.
Is it worth paying for Antivirus software? Depending on the company, free antivirus for PC and mobile can be as good at fighting viruses as paid-for programs. However, paid versions offer superior customer service and complete suites of antivirus program. The best paid antivirus solutions will usually protect your devices from a variety of threats by combining anti-malware, anti-phishing, and antivirus functions.
To help you fight viruses, I recommend the following free antivirus for PC and mobile. Please note that the majority of these programs also offer a paid/premium version of their software (so feel free to upgrade!).
Personally, I use Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac. It has everything I need to keep my Mac protected, including anti-malware protection, web shields, and WiFi security scanning.
The company behind the software also offers a premium version that goes the extra mile to combat ransomware and uncover WiFi intruders.
Windows users can utilize the built-in Windows Defender antivirus for real-time protection. But if you’re looking for an external antivirus, I suggest using the free version of Malwarebytes to perform a manual scan of your system.
There’s also the option to get the premium version of Malwarebytes, which offers real-time protection along with automatic scanning.
I’ve heard good things about ClamAV. It’s a free antivirus for Linux that directly installs to your PC repository. Plus, it has a command-line scanner that enables it to scan for Trojans, worms, and viruses and major file extensions.
ClamAV, however, doesn’t offer a premium version of its software. If you’re looking for a paid antivirus for Linux, a good option is Sophos.
The premium version of Sophos for Linux comes with enhanced real-time protection, password managers, and learning abilities to filter out new malware. Here’s how to configure Sophos on a Linux computer.
You may be shocked to learn that there are no real antivirus apps for iPhone and iPad.
Unfortunately, I’m not joking.
While you’ll find apps that claim to offer mobile security, they won’t protect you against malware and other similar threats.
That is because they don’t get full access to the iOS operating system and have to run in a sandbox that restricts what actions they can perform. In fact, mobile security apps can’t even see what other apps are installed on your device, much less scan it for malware. The most they can do is offer a secure browsing experience, block calls, and hide the images on your device behind a password-protected vault.
In my opinion, iOS users should combine the use of mobile security apps like Norton Mobile Security with other security hygiene practices, such as installing the latest firmware and using a VPN for iPhone.
If you open the Google Play Store, you’ll find many options for Android antivirus apps, both free and paid for.
However, I only recommend apps from reputable cybersecurity companies. Bitdefender, for instance, offers a free antivirus app that protects Android devices from viruses, ransomware, and spyware.
If you’re looking for an upgrade, Bitdefender also offers a premium version of its Android antivirus app. Bitdefender premium comes with additional features like Account Privacy that checks if your email account has been compromised.
Avoid Using Windows 10 Altogether If You Can
Windows 10 can waste all of the efforts you’re making to protect your online privacy.
With its default configuration, the OS is instructed to share all of your personal data with Microsoft and other third parties.
Moreover, the OS is set to synchronize the browsing history of Windows 10 users back to Microsoft’s servers.
Things have gotten even worse since the version 1607 of the OS removed the option to deactivate Cortana.
Cortana is a service that gathers a large amount of information about you by tracking your activity and recording your keystrokes. While its aim is to provide a highly personalized experience, a lot of people aren’t comfortable with getting a good experience at the expense of their privacy.
The best thing you can do in terms of privacy is to use another OS. Linux and macOS are much better.
Take Advantage of File Shredding Tools
You can’t just move a file to the recycle bin and think it’s deleted forever.
In many instances, the file can be recovered. This is because your computer actually keeps a type of hidden copy of deleted files on the hard disk. So, if a person knows where to look, they can still get to those files.
The best way to make the deleted files unrecoverable is to use a file shredding tool.
From full programs to text documents, the best file shredders completely erase all traces of sensitive information by overwriting them with irregular datasets.
Here are the recommended ones for all of the major operating systems:
Linux users can follow these custom shred commands to permanently delete files from their system.
Communicate Using a Secure Chat App
The popular VoIP and messaging apps don’t do much to protect your privacy.
Skype, for instance, is the product of Microsoft, which is a company known to share its users’ data with law enforcement and government agencies.
WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, on the other hand, raise other privacy concerns because of being interconnected with each other and other services. Additionally, these communications are often targeted by cybercriminals. How many times have you heard of a data breach related to your favorite chat app? A much better way to protect your privacy is to use secure messaging apps.
The best secure messaging apps like Pidgin and Signal use end-to-end encryption to keep your communications secure. You can also use them to make voice calls, which is a much safer way to talk with your family and friends than making traditional calls.
Conclusion: It’s Easy To Improve Your Online Privacy
That’s it. You’ve arrived at the end of my ultimate privacy guide.
I spent a lot of time writing this post because I feel everyone needs to protect their online privacy — from state-sponsored agencies, cybercriminals, and others who are actively working to steal our digital identities.
And I hope you’ll be able to improve your privacy by taking at least some of the measures I have recommended above.
Many people have different views on what is the most important digital asset to protect, but it’s worth remembering that nothing is foolproof. Hence don’t do things that make it easy for others to spy on the vital aspects of your life.
Your online privacy is rightfully yours and should remain yours alone.