When it comes to browsing the internet we often forget about the volume of information we are sending over the internet. Not only do the websites we interact with gain insight into our activities but more often than not third parties like Google, Facebook and other companies are tracking us behind the scenes too.
Through this article we'll take a look into the most effective ways we can block this invasion of our privacy and learn how to better protect ourselves online.
1. Choose a Good Web Browser
It's time to throw Google Chrome in the trash and start using a web browser that takes your privacy seriously. Firefox and Brave are good alternatives for both desktop and mobile browsing that provide a safer experience overall through their privacy and security settings.
I personally prefer the experience Firefox gives me on my computer, but I use Brave on iOS for its built in adblocking and tracking protection.
2. Use a Trustworthy Search Engine
When searching on the internet it's important to use a trustworthy search engine that respects your privacy. This means finding a search engine that doesn't track your behaviour, and doesn't filter results based on what it thinks you want to see.
DuckDuckGo is a very nice search engine that provides similar results to Google. It provides a lot of search shortcuts through bangs and has many other convenient search tools.
The downside for using a search engine that doesn't track you is that you will have no personalised results. This difference can take a while to get used to but it's a trade off you have to make if you want to protect your data online.
Set Your Default Search Engine
In your browser preferences you will be able to change the default search engine to one of your preference. Below is an example of how to do so in Firefox.
3. Recommended Browser Extensions
The following extensions are ones that I use every day and recommend for increasing your privacy online. They help to block advertisements, trackers, and ensure you are always using the secure version of websites where available.
Brave already has adblocking, HTTPS Everywhere, and tracking protection bundled into its app so these extensions are just for Firefox and Chrome.
uBlock Origin is an extremely efficient ad blocker that blocks ads on most websites as well as helping to filter out malicious domains. It has a bunch of predefined lists but is also easily customisable.
HTTPS Everywhere ensures you are always using the HTTPS version of website when available. Any data you send over HTTPS can't easily be decoded by attackers who intercept your requests.
Privacy Badger brings a whole lot more tracking protection and removes link click tracking to websites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
Warning About Extensions
It's important to take care when installing extensions. It is amazing how much freedom malicious extensions have to exploit your system once you give it permission to do so by adding the extension. Never install more extensions than what you absolutely need and only install extensions that you trust.
4. Use a Password Manager
A password manager is a tool that provides you with a secure vault where you can store and generate unique passwords for every website you visit. Using a password manager provides you with two major benefits:
- The only password you need to remember is your "master password" (the password to access the vault). This means you can (and should) use different, randomly generated passwords for every account.
- If one account becomes compromised you can simply change the password for that account and not have to worry about changing your passwords everywhere.
Before switching to a password manager you should make sure that your web browser is no longer saving logins unnecessarily.
1Password is a paid, cloud hosted vault that allows you to generate and store login details, secure notes, and other items. It will also alert you if an account has been compromised through it's integration with Have I Been Pwned.
In my opinion, 1Password is best suited for Mac and iOS users as it has amazing integration on those operating systems. There are also browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome and other browsers that help provide a seamless experience across other platforms.
LastPass is a great alternative to 1Password and is also cloud hosted. It works well across most operating systems and has extensions for most browsers.
KeePassX is a free, Open Source password vault. It is very secure and works well, but you will need to manually transfer or look at other ways to sync your vault to other devices.
When coming up with a master password think of a pass phrase, not a password. Using a password consisting of 4 to 6 random words such as "somatic unbosom till eyetooth" is far more secure than "7gf38&63". Plus it's much easier to remember.
When generating passwords within your password manager, aim to make them as random and as long as possible. My generated passwords are all around 64 characters long mixed with digits and symbols.
Some poorly designed websites will require your password to meet a certain criteria which may include a max length or restricted characters. In this case just generate a password that's as random as you can make it while meeting that criteria (and hope they get their act together in the future!).
5. Use a VPN
Using a VPN is an important step in preventing websites and your Internet Service Provider from tracking your activities. A VPN is a software that will encrypt your network traffic and redirect it through their servers, allowing you to spoof your location and hide your real region or country from the website you are visiting.
I personally use ProtonVPN, however I have also had amazing experiences with Private Internet Access and TorGuard in the past. Do your research into what different VPN services offer and choose one that suits your needs.
Most VPNs are paid services. The majority of free VPNs will log your activities or provide you with very slow speeds. In most cases, if something is free you are the product.
The internet is full of malicious activity by harvesting user data, intercepting traffic or websites being compromised and having all their users' passwords being exposed. With a few simple steps and a little bit of effort we can minimise that risk of those for ourselves and keep our personal information... personal.