Online Privacy & Safety: How to Stay Safe While on the Internet— A Brief Guide

Online Privacy: The Basics

Online Tracking

Browsers also provide a “Do Not Track” (DNT) setting as well. This prevents advertisers, analytics, and social media sites from tracking your online activity. However, DNT is honored voluntarily by websites, so most websites ignore the setting and track data anyway.

Then there are cookies. They are small pieces of data deposited by sites that a user visits. Cookies generally include information like login, registration, preferences, minor saved information, etc. First-party cookies are used by legit websites to track results for advertising and analytics. Third-party cookies are used to communicate data to an advertising hub which in turn shares that data with relevant online marketers. Browser extensions like “Disconnect” prevent third-party tracking.

Flash cookie which is also referred to as supercookie is a bit more persistent than the regular cookie. These cookies are not affected by standard procedures for erasing cookies, clearing history, erasing the cache, or erasing private data from the browser. They are persistent and hard to erase. But, if you are using the Firefox browser an add-on by the name of “Better Privacy” can help you erase these cookies.

Then comes in fingerprinting, it is a new form of tracking that is replacing cookies rapidly. They are also harder to block than cookies. They also leave no evidence on the computer, so there is no way to detect when you are being tracked. This new tracking technology is difficult to prevent, leaves zero traces, and is semi-permanent. One way to block fingerprinting is to disable javascript, but that will result in some elements of the webpage like audio and video not being able to load.

Connecting to the Internet

The IP address doesn’t provide personally identifiable information but, because your ISP knows your IP address, it is a possible weak point when it comes to protecting your online privacy. Internet Service Providers have varying policies for how long they store IP addresses. Unfortunately, most ISPs do not reveal their data retention policies. That’s why it is difficult to acquire a privacy friendly ISP. Some ISPs also share their customers’ Internet activity with various third parties and collect browsing history to deliver targeted advertisements.

The geographical region of a computer can be detected using IP addresses. The level of accuracy of detected location depends upon how your ISP assigns IP addresses. Sites can detect your geo-location this way. Blocking IP Addresses can be done by using services such as Tor, proxies, or Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN replaces your IP address. A VPN user can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. However, picking a good VPN service is difficult. Most experts say that VPN services usually have major security flaws that can put your private data at risk. Determining how secure a VPN is, and precisely what it is doing with your data is difficult. Most privacy experts advise avoiding free VPNs, which may sell your data in exchange for the free VPN service.

Similarly, if you are using a mobile network, cellular data to connect to the Internet then your service provider will be collecting and tracking your activity and data usage.

Privacy Policies

Passwords

Similarly, many websites that store your personal information like e-mail, photos, documents, data storage sites, and money management sites require a password for protection. However, password-protected websites and web services are becoming more vulnerable because often people use the same passwords on various sites. Therefore, strong passwords can help users protect themselves against hackers, identity theft and other privacy invasions.

Below are a few tips that users should follow when creating passwords to ensure better security if their accounts.

  • When creating passwords make sure to create one that is of suitable length. The longer the password the harder it will be to crack. Long passwords render brute-force attack useless while short ones can easily be cracked by it.
  • Using special characters, particularly rare ones can boost your password strength. Also, make sure your passwords are alphanumeric and composed of upper case and lower case letters. All these combined will create a significantly strong password.
  • Never reuse, or recycle a password. Always use different passwords for each account and site. This will ensure that if your password is ever leaked not all your accounts and sites will be hacked.
  • Don’t use personal information or easily attainable information in your passwords. For example, avoid using birthdays, names, common sequences, etc.
  • Use a password manager program of an encrypted file to save all your passwords in case you ever forget them. You can also save passwords in a hard copy in a secure, locked location.
  • Enable two-factor authentication wherever available to ensure added security.

Wireless Networks & WiFi

The standard automated installation process disables many security features to simplify the installation. Not only can data be stolen, modified, or destroyed, but programs and even extra computers can be added to the unsecured network without your knowledge. This risk is highest in densely populated neighborhoods and office buildings.

To protect yourself from vulnerabilities in a WiFi network it is important to use a good VPN service, use secure surfing (SSL), don’t allow your devices to connect to any WiFi network, disable file sharing, have a proper firewall enabled, and keep your computer up-to-date, make sure all security updates are in place.

Cross-Device Tracking & Mobile Apps

Smartphones and mobile devices use apps to access the Internet. These applications store your data similarly as websites and internet browsers do. Data is frequently mishandled and sold to third parties via mobile applications. App-makers collect such data and then sell it to third-party advertisers and marketers.

The data stored, shared, and sold by mobile apps may include: contacts, call logs, Internet data, calendar data, device’s location, device’s unique IDs, information about the app usage itself.

Instead of cookies, mobile apps use a phone’s mobile advertising identifier. The identifier is used by ad networks to track the activity of users. The identifiers have different names depending on the smartphone brand.

Originally Published on WomeninTechPK

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