Since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in December 2019, life has not been the same.
All over the world, people have had to adjust to a new way of life due to the social distancing rules and nationwide lockdowns. This has led to a hike in the use of digital technologies. People have turned to social media and video conferencing to keep in touch with friends and family and facilitate working from home.
As people isolate themselves from the virus, it has become necessary for organizations to implement work-from-home policies. But remote working presents a number of security challenges for organizations and their employees. And with companies such as Facebook escalating their data collection efforts, people are also concerned about their privacy.
Read on to understand how you can boost online privacy and security during these unprecedented times.
Online Privacy Risks
As our reliance on the internet increases, the more we expose our data to hackers and other online threat actors. Since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, we’ve witnessed a dramatic rise in both the frequency and force of cyberattacks.
Ransomware, data security failures, and social engineering attacks have been some of the most significant cybersecurity trends in 2020. But as far as online privacy and security go, hackers are not the only threat.
Apart from cybercriminals, other entities are hard at work tracking, monitoring, and recording everything you do online. In many countries, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are required to spy on their customers and feed this data to various government agencies.
Advertisers collect personal data, including contacts, location data, and browsing history so that they can serve you targeted ads and influence your purchases.
The worldwide web is also becoming less free due to authoritarian governments’ censorship efforts in different parts of the world. Depending on where you are geographical, you may not be able to access certain websites and social media platforms because authorities block them.
In some cases, government agencies use social media to clamp down on dissent. It is unacceptable, and no government should be allowed to do that.
Best Tools to Guard Privacy Online
If there is one lesson we can pick from 2021, it is that anyone can fall victim to cyberattacks or any other privacy or security threats.
We’ve seen some of the world’s biggest companies, including social media platform(s) such as Twitter, Marriott Hotels, and even the US government, get compromised. Nobody is safe, and these threats are only going to intensify moving forward. Going into 2021, you need to do everything you can to protect your privacy.
So, what can you do to defend your online privacy when surfing the internet? There are several steps you can do to increase privacy and security online.
For the most part, protecting your online privacy entails using a plethora of tools designed to increase security on the web. Here are some of the best tools you can use to protect your privacy online.
1. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN app is among the easiest and most effective ways to guard your online privacy and secure your device(s). It encrypts your connection and makes your internet traffic unreadable to ISPs and other third parties – this is especially useful when you are connected to a public network.
A VPN has the ability to mask your IP address and prevent websites and advertisers from tracking your location. By allowing you to change your location to a different region, a VPN app can also help you get around content restrictions and censorship.
Antivirus software is designed to protect your device against a wide range of malicious software, including viruses, ransomware, worms, trojans, and spyware. The software will periodically scan your device and remove any detected threats.
Antivirus is not a privacy tool per se but using a reliable antivirus solution significantly improves your online privacy.
The emphasis here is on ‘reliable’ because some antivirus solutions will come with some unwanted invasive additions that abuse your privacy. Free antivirus, in particular, can be problematic. This is typical for all ‘free’ software, including VPNs.
If you are serious about protecting your privacy, consider investing in a reliable antivirus.
3. Privacy-Focused Browser
A browser retrieves information from other parts of the internet and displays it on your mobile or desktop screen.
The web browser is essential to your online privacy and security. By default, your browser contains an awful lot of private information including your name, address, password, usernames, etc.
It is essential to note that not all browsers are created equal. Some web browsers afford users a higher level of privacy than others. Firefox and Brave are some of the most secure and privacy-focused browsers out there. The latter comes with the best privacy settings out of the box while the former may need some tinkering.
4. Password Manager
Your password is your primary line of defense against a wide range of online threats. Therefore, you need to make sure that hackers cannot easily guess your password. You can do that by using strong passwords for your devices and online accounts such as social media and banking websites.
The problem is that strong passwords are hard to come up with and even harder to remember. A password manager is an online security tool that can help you generate strong passwords and store them securely. You only need to master the password to your password manager, and you will have access to all other passwords.
5. Two-Factor Authentication
Hackers are improving their skills by the day. Today, some hackers have the technology to crack even strong passwords.
That’s why you need an additional layer of security on top of your password. That’s where two-factor authentication (2-FA) comes in. With 2-FA, someone can’t just login to your account just because they have the password.
In the past, two-factor authentication involved getting an email or SMS on your phone with a one-time password required to log in to your account. Nowadays, there are many authenticator apps that you can use to quickly and easily verify that you are who you say you are.
Authenticator apps offer more security than text messages — which can be intercepted.
Installing an adblocker is essential for privacy and security. Ad revenue is vital to the success of any online publication. However, some websites prioritize ad revenue over user experience. These ads are intrusive and record a user’s online activity to show them more personalized advertisements.
Some ads are also embedded with malicious code that can inject malware into your device when the page loads. Blocking these ads with adblocker tools such as uBlock Origin and AdGuard protects your privacy and provides protection against malware.
You can also set-up a network-wide adblocker to provide blanket protection for all your devices.
7. Encrypted Email Service
If what you are looking for in an email client is privacy, popular email services such as Yahoo, Gmail, AOL are not your best bet. Google has been accused of giving third parties access to people’s emails. Gmail also reads all the receipts in your inbox to tracking your purchases. Yahoo and AOL also scan email accounts to attract advertisers.
If you are not comfortable with random people accessing your email inbox, you are better off using encrypted email services. Encrypted email services such as ProtonMail use end-to-end encryption to protect users from prying eyes. They don’t collect any data or pass the information on to third parties.
8. Tor Browser
Earlier in the article, we talked about privacy-focused web browsers such as Brave and Mozilla Firefox.
But the Tor browser takes online privacy to a whole new level. Short for The Onion Router, Tor is a hardened version of Firefox utilizing the Tor network by default — you can change these settings and browse surface internet with Tor.
While it is not 100 percent secure, the Tor browser provides a much higher anonymity level than a regular web browser. The Tor browser hides your location and anonymizes your internet traffic by routing your connection through multiple locations. Tor also wraps your connection in several layers of encryption to protect against spying.
9. Secure and Encrypted Messaging App
In most cases, your chats contain sensitive information, even if you don’t realize it. Some messaging apps collect this information and pass it on to third parties, such as advertisers.
Last month, WhatsApp faced widespread backlash when users learned that it collects and shares user data with Facebook, its parent company.
Messaging apps are supposed to keep your communications private and secure. WhatsApp — and the parent company, Facebook — clearly don’t respect your privacy, which is why you should be looking for an alternative. Some of the most secure messaging apps to consider include Signal, Threema, Wickr, and Telegram.
Coronavirus abruptly forced us into a life of isolation. As a result, we’ve come to rely on the internet for virtually everything: work, study, shopping, and have a social life. But spending too much time online — whether you are shopping, working from home, or attending a Zoom meeting — puts your private data at risk. These tools can help you increase online privacy and security as well as get around censorship.
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Jack is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on cybersecurity and privacy tools.