Do you have something to hide? Most of you will answer, “Not me, I’m an open book. No secrets in my closet”. And in a sense, your answer might be correct. But let’s take this a step further.
I’ll ask again. Do you have anything to hide?
I sure do. All kinds of things. For example, all the things that make up my identity. Some personal information is readily available. Using a person’s name and a general idea of where they live, a child could source their address and phone number. That in itself is a little scary, but we’re used to it and don’t give it much thought. But what if someone could add other information to that? More sensitive information? Maybe just one piece of info like your Social Security Number? Or your banking info? They could easily open a credit card in your name and have a lot of fun with it.
Since it’s unlikely you’re knowingly posting your SSN or your banking info online, let’s think of another scenario.
You know that website you visited yesterday when you were looking for a perfect gift for your best friend? You were so excited to find it and order it! You checked the reviews and all seemed legit, so you plugged in your credit or debit card info. You got an autoresponder email saying your order had been received, and all seems good. But do you know what kind of encryption is on that site? Do you know if it meets current standards for all e-commerce sites? Was it an HTTPS site? Do you even know what HTTPS is? Are you trained to look for that little lock icon in your browser’s address bar? Do you know what it’s for? How about a browser add-on that will block all sites that aren’t using HTTPS?
All of the above points to the fact that remaining anonymous online is to your benefit. Ultimately, it means your protection.
So what are you to do to ensure this protection? Fortunately, there is an array of tools that can help.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
Using a VPN is an excellent starting point if you want to maintain anonymity while online. Maybe you spend a lot of time online using public Wi-Fi. You don’t ever use public Wi-Fi? Excellent. But don’t be complacent. It’s not just some random guy in a coffee shop you need to be concerned about. Did you know chances are high your ISP is paying attention to everything you do while you’re online?
Pull the blinds on anyone who wants to play peeping Tom into your life. Use a VPN. There are several to choose from and they can come with many different features, but as a starting point, check out the PrivateVPN rating first.
What else can a VPN do to ensure your online safety? It can create a protected space—a tunnel, for the sake of description—between your device and your virtual destination. Without a VPN, all of your information is out in cyberspace unprotected. With a VPN, you are protected by the tunnel, and no one can snoop.
VPNs are simple to use and vary in cost, depending on what features are included.
This modified Firefox web browser will keep your traffic anonymous by channeling it through the Tor Network and can be used on Windows or macOS. As soon as your browsing session is complete, cookies, browsing history, and any other type of sensitive data is deleted.
Tor is a good free option, but be aware some web services block it—because they want your information!—and it does run slower than any mainstream browser.
Please note that Tor is not to be confused with Chrome Incognito or Firefox Private Browsing. All those services do is clear your history. They do not anonymize you while online like Tor does.
Ditch Google and use DuckDuckGo
Google is great. Google is the king of search. But Google is also collecting a ton of data on us. Ever searched for something and the next day start getting ads on it? It’s not magic or a creepy coincidence. It was Google spying on you.
If you’d prefer to keep your web searches private, DuckDuckGo is your alternative. Granted, it doesn’t have a fraction of the content Google has indexed, but who really needs hundreds of thousands of answers to their question?
When it comes to messaging, you want to be sure the software you’re using is secure and not bleeding whatever info you’re sharing out into cyberspace. WhatsApp is just one of several secure messaging services you can choose from.
Along with text, WhatsApp allows you to send video, voice, and photos from within the app, and you’re assured encryption is end-to-end.
At the outset, I mentioned HTTPS vs HTTP. Are you still scratching your head, wondering what the difference is? HTTP is the protocol that shares data between your browser and whatever site you’re visiting. The new standard is now HTTPS which adds security and encryption to that transfer of information. The problem is, there are still many websites that don’t meet this new standard, meaning you’re putting your privacy in jeopardy when you visit them.
The answer is HTTPS Everywhere. It will force websites to use an encrypted connection.
This is simple and easy to set up. Not to mention free! And you can have as many as you like. I probably have at least 10, and they are all used for different things.
Instead of having your name or any other identifying info in the address, create a completely generic email. Something like curlygirl@gmail or wintersucks@outlook, where you’ve signed up using bogus info. The other alternative is to use an actual fake mail service like Temp Mail or Mailinator.
While there are free proxies available online, I would suggest going with a paid service. I will use the free HideMyAss proxy for the occasional page I want to check, but I don’t make a habit of it.
A proxy is similar to a VPN, but only in that it connects you to your destination via a proxy server. This hides your IP and allows you to visit countries that may be geo-blocked. A proxy server does not encrypt your data like a VPN will.
While the above is by no means an exhaustive list, if you employ several of these tools or methods, you’re on the way to safer surfing.
Jane Austin for Yucatech – The Yucatan Times