10 Steps to Achieve Thorough Online Privacy

Human Written

Today’s digital scenario requires every internet-connected device to be protected from intrusive activities. This applies to everything from smartphones and computers to your smart coffee maker and robot vacuum! That’s because cybercriminals are always on a hunt for vulnerable areas to sneak into your private life.

Nonetheless, you can markedly alleviate – if not entirely prevent – possible intrusions and unwarranted tracking by equipping yourself with digital privacy tools and implementing best security practices. You don’t have to be a techie to do all this. Just recall whatever digital stuff you use – from your gadgets to online accounts – and find ways to secure them.

Wondering how to get started? Here, we list the 10 necessary steps to protect your online privacy.

1. Secure your personal network

First things first, secure the network you are using, whether it’s your personal home network or an official one. It’s because every device connected to your network becomes vulnerable if an adversary infiltrates your network and knows about the connected devices. If done, the adversary may exploit any vulnerability in any device, including your WiFi, to infect your entire network.

Here’s what you may do to protect your network from annoying intrusions.

Control your network visibility

The first step in protecting your network is to hide it from plain sight. It doesn’t require any technical tweaks; all you have to do is to hide your network visibility for all users. This will help you prevent sneaky connections to your network.

Secure your network with a strong password

While hiding your network will certainly help you prevent unsolicited connections, you still can’t leave it unprotected. The threat of sneaky connections still exists, requiring you to control network connectivity with a strong and unique password known only to you and your trusted ones.

Create guest networks for temporary users

At times, you may have to make your network available to some users. For instance, you may have some guests at home who ask you to share your WiFi password, or you may have some visitors in your office who require network connectivity for official uses. In such cases, sharing your WiFi password remains risky as you can’t be sure of the other users’ device security.

So, what you can do to secure your network while still sharing your password is to create guest network accounts.

Guest network accounts are low-privilege accounts that you can configure via your router settings. These accounts only provide internet connectivity to the connected devices, barring anyone from accessing sensitive information, such as the list of connected devices, router settings, and preventing incidental malware infections from any infected devices on the network.

2. Mask your digital presence with a VPN

Now that you have secured your network, the next step to protect your digital privacy is to mask your online existence. And what else can be a great tool for this purpose than a VPN!

A VPN is exactly what the term suggests – a “virtual” and “private” network. It’s a second network that masks your physical network’s presence in the digital world. It lets you connect to its servers using your internet connectivity.  It then assigns you a new IP address and directs the entire traffic through its own servers, thus hiding your network’s source from everyone.

Alongside masking your digital presence, a VPN also encrypts your internet traffic, making it undecipherable for all prying eyes, including your government.

In addition, using a VPN, you can even connect to servers from other countries, changing your online location. This helps you bypass geo-restrictions and content blocking applicable in your physical region. For instance, you can unblock the entire Netflix US library from anywhere in the world using a VPN’s US server.

3. Use an antivirus solution to prevent malware

The third, but essential step in securing your digital devices is to fend off malware and virus threats. For this, you must equip your devices with a robust anti-malware (aka antivirus) software.

An antimalware not only cleans up your device from existing malware infections but also prevents future attacks with real-time scans. Moreover, most reliable antimalware solutions of today secure your devices from other annoying elements, such as web trackers, annoying advertisements, and malicious file attachments.

Some antimalware even offer a parental control feature to help you protect and monitor your kids’ digital activities.

4. Adopt strong login and authentication methods

Passwords have long been the most crucial yet the most vulnerable security feature in the cybersecurity realm. Once an adversary cracks your account password, it becomes trivial for the attacker to take over your account without you knowing. In most cases, you can’t even recover your account from the adversary, losing your sensitive personal or financial data at the hands of a threat actor.

Therefore, you must strengthen this account login step as much as you can. Here’s what you can do.

Set up strong passwords across all accounts

We can’t stress this enough—keep all your passwords as unique and strong as possible. An ideal password should be at least 8-12 characters long and include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Also, make sure you never use your personal or generally known information as your password. (Yes, it’s a very bad idea to set up your pet’s name or your birthday as your password.)

Use password managers

If you want to create strong passwords on your own, you can go for random phrases that only you would understand. For example, you may come up with a short 1-sentence summary of your favorite story and use the first letter of every word in that sentence to create your password. Then, replace some characters in the password with numbers and symbols. You now have the perfect 16+ character long password with an alphanumeric symbols combination.

Isn’t it tedious and confusing? We know it is!

So, an easy way for it is to let someone else handle all the hassle for you – how about using password managers? A password manager not only helps you generate strong passwords, but also saves all the unique passwords for all your accounts without you having to remember them.

Apply multi-factor authentication (MFA)

The general approach to logins is simply getting into an account merely by entering the correct password. However, it’s a risky practice considering the rising number of password breaches and credential stuffing attacks. Therefore, you must protect your account logins with additional layers of authentication. That’s where OTPs (one-time passwords), PIN numbers, and verification codes play a role.

With MFA enabled, you ensure that your account remains inaccessible to an adversary even if the adversary somehow knows your password.

Choose passwordless authentication where available

Given the security risks associated with password breaches, passwordless authentication has emerged as a viable alternative to ensure secure logins. This method doesn’t rely on a typed password. Instead, it authenticates logins with something you individually possess, be it your fingerprint, face scan, or hardware security keys.

While many traditional systems lacked support for passwordless authentication, lately, tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and even platforms like GitHub have introduced passkey support. That means you now have the option to ditch passwords for safer authentication strategies to protect your personal and business accounts.

5. Use secure/encrypted email and messaging apps

Encryption is no longer a luxury but a necessity for protecting today’s digitized world. With a plethora of criminal activities breaching your information and unwarranted snooping from governments, you need to be cautious about your communications.

Of course, you can’t avoid sharing sensitive stuff online (such as your financial details or Social Security Numbers) for various reasons. But you can certainly protect this information by using secure email services and encrypted messaging apps.

As for the IM apps, you already are aware of (might also be using) apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. So, make sure you switch your communications from conventional SMS apps (which are vulnerable to snooping) to encrypted apps.

Likewise, numerous encrypted email services are in the market, like ProtonMail and Tutanota, which offer email encryption by default. And if using Gmail is inevitable for you, you can enable end-to-end encryption on it, too.

6. Review your social media profiles

Social media sites like Facebook have undeniably contributed to enhancing global connectivity. But at the same time, they risk your privacy, especially if you’re too involved in using these platforms. Sharing pictures, videos, and details about private things like birthday plans, hangouts with friends, and foreign trips seem innocent, but they expose a great deal of your personal data.

What if your secret question for your bank account is your best friend’s name? Or your pet’s name? Or your birth date? Those petty details that you shared reveal all about you to others, including the malicious actors.

So, be mindful of what you share online, review your profile settings, and limit the visibility of your personal stuff to yourself only or your trusted contacts. Avoid sharing anything with the “Public” setting.

Lastly, never add unknown profiles to your accounts, for you can never predict when a seemingly harmless profile in your friends’ list goes malicious.

Here is an interesting video from Action Fraud, UK, demonstrating how your Facebook profiles expose your data to random people.

7. Watch out for unsolicited calls, messages, and e-mails

Spam can happen through emails, SMS messages, and voice calls alike. While part of this spamming is harmless, the other bears the risk of phishing and malware attacks, which can harm your personal, professional, and digital existence.

So, the best measure to prevent such threats is to steer clear of spam altogether. Try your best not to engage with any unsolicited senders/callers. And even if you do, ensure you do not share your personal details and verification data such as PIN numbers, OTPs, and passwords.

8. Keep your devices updated with latest system/software releases

Another point that we can’t stress enough is to keep all your devices up-to-date. Though this sounds obvious, many internet users, even the technical ones, often miss out on frequent software updates, leaving their devices vulnerable to any known or new exploits.

While the vendors are responsible for patching security flaws as quickly as possible, you are equally responsible for updating your devices with the latest patches to minimize the radius of security threats. Keep your radars active and install any software, app, website, or system updates for your device(s) right after the vendors release them.

9. Keep an eye on your credit report

Credit reports aren’t only useful for getting loans or managing other financial stuff; they directly represent your credibility. Checking out credit reports helps you find any mistakes or ambiguities well before they cause you trouble. So, keep an eye on your credit report for any errors and possible identity frauds, and ensure timely rectifications.

10. Subscribe to breach alert services

Like your credit report, you need to subscribe to breach alert services to monitor any possible data breaches affecting you.

Today, many professional dark web monitoring and breach alert services notify you about any security incidents affecting your information. You may even find these services with VPN providers like Surfshark, which provides dual benefits—security with a VPN and timely breach alerts.

Do Whatever It Takes To Guard Your Privacy!

Of course, it isn’t an exhaustive list and you can always do more to protect your digital privacy as you deem fit. But these steps are just to give you a head start if you haven’t put on your digital armor yet.

Remember, the idea is to protect your privacy and keep snoopers at bay, which requires you to close down any access points to your information. The more vigilant you are in protecting your privacy, the lesser will be the security risks posed to you. Good luck!