The words “privacy” and “internet” are sort of an oxymoron because it’s incredibly hard to be truly safe and anonymous on the internet. ISPs, browsers, and websites are constantly monitoring everything people do online and collecting their data. Cybercriminals should also be a major concern to everyone as they’re always looking for new victims to target.
That said, unless someone’s a person of interest to government organizations or crime syndicates, they can achieve a robust level of online privacy. Check out these 5 ways to safely and privately browse the internet.
Why is More Privacy a Good Thing?
Browsing the internet and using apps generally means giving up a lot of personal data. That’s because governments, ISPs, browsers, websites, and apps are constantly monitoring what people are doing. With websites, for instance, this is done via cookies and trackers.
People have always been generally aware that their data is being gathered by companies, usually for either service improvement or ad purposes. But recently, it’s become apparent that companies and app developers are privy to people’s personal lives to an alarming degree.
Many people might reiterate that “nothing to hide” mantra for why they freely give away all this information. Explaining why that statement is heedlessly naive may well fill a whole book, so here are two short but powerful reasons instead:
– Online security has become directly linked to physical security. Nevermind the people potentially spying over a webcam or smart home camera. Stalking and swatting are two other real-life consequences. Jameson Lopp can certainly attest to that after being swatted and threatened numerous times by an anonymous attacker.
– The copious amounts of data breaches occurring every year is a testament to the fact that companies cannot be trusted with everyone’s personal data. The information they collect is extremely valuable to criminals, and they will go to great lengths to get it.
How to Stay Safe and Private While Browsing the Internet
1. Use a VPN
VPNs are constantly being mentioned these days, but what is a VPN, and how does it actually work?
Virtual private networks provide a way to have a private connection over a public network. The technology utilizes what’s called an encryption tunnel to make data hard to get and unreadable. It also sends the connection through a VPN server which replaces a device’s IP address and changes its owner’s location.
This all means that a person gains both privacy and security while browsing with a VPN turned on. Just keep in mind that this does not protect against malware and a compromised computer or device will still send unfiltered information to attackers.
2. Go Incognito
Browsing in private or incognito mode provides a modicum of privacy by preventing the browser from saving that session’s browsing history. Chrome has also recently added a feature that automatically blocks third-party cookies in incognito mode – but not all trackers. Making this great when combined with other privacy and security steps.
3. Don’t Log Into Anything
Naturally, this advice cannot be applied to everyday browsing as logging into an email or other accounts is sometimes necessary. This is especially true during work hours. There are times when logging in isn’t necessary, however.
Following privacy measures, like using a VPN, is canceled out when someone logs into their accounts, instantly identifying them. VPNs will keep the connection secure from outside threats like SSL-stripping, and incognito still means browsing history won’t be saved.
4. Avoid Too Many Extensions
Extensions can be convenient and incredibly helpful, but they can also be a siphon for browsing data and personal information. It’s not that the extensions themselves are necessarily dangerous – though some are malware in disguise. Instead, it’s that they can be weak links in a browser’s security infrastructure.
Extension developers don’t always keep up with security updates for their products, and some get abandoned entirely. Cybercriminals take advantage of those weaknesses to infiltrate people’s browsing sessions through their extensions.
This doesn’t mean they should be avoided altogether, as that’s not always possible. Do take care by properly vetting and managing extensions to ensure they remain safe to use.
5. Try a Privacy Browser
Privacy browsers are becoming more and more popular thanks to their focus on the user’s need for protection rather than their corporate greed. Browsers like Tor, DuckDuckGo, and Brave, block all trackers and don’t collect browsing history. Each privacy browser has its own list of beneficial features but the Tor browser warrants a special mention.
Tor utilizes a network of servers to anonymize a person’s browsing session. It sends their network requests through a series of “nodes” which replace a device’s IP address. Keep in mind, however, unlike a VPN, Tor does not anonymize any other online events, like apps, nor does it encrypt the connection.
It’s not fair that these are the lengths needed to ensure online privacy and security. Things are looking up, regulation-wise, but the reality is that privacy declines as technology improves. Already there have been major issues regarding the IoT and home smart devices being abused to spy on people.