Taking a saying from one of the most successful – if not the most successful – TV series of all time (Game of Thrones), the above could not be truer. One moment, you could be checking out some cute cat videos on YouTube and the next, you land on a website that scrambles your device’s data, demanding a token (ransom) before they release it to you.
That makes it very important to ensure the safety and privacy of your personal data when browsing the web. Here are some tips to help you make that happen.
1) Install A Secure Browser
You need a browser to access the Internet. This makes your choice of browser the first step in ensuring your online safety.
‘How?’ You may ask.
You may not know this, but some of the common web browsers out there are equipped with various security settings designed to keep you safe while surfing the Internet. An example of this is the SmartScreen URLand Application Reputation Filteringfeature which Microsoft has incorporated into its Edge browser since as far back as 2017.
What this feature basically does is run checks on the reputation of websites you choose to access before they load into your browser. Should there be any funny business in the code of such a website, Microsoft Edge notifies you immediately.
From that point, you get the option to choose whether you’d like to proceed to the website or go back at that point.
As of the time of this writing, the best browsers you can go for (in terms of usability and security, which are the most important things here) are:
- Google Chrome
- Mozilla Firefox and
- Microsoft Edge
2) Use HTTPS wherever possible
When websites first started gaining traction, they worked on a protocol known as HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol). As time went on, there came the need for better security on the Internet, which brought about the last ‘S’ which stands for ‘Secure.’
Ever since it has always been the best thing to browse websites with https in their domain name rather than the old http.
One thing you should always look out for is that extra ‘s.’ In fact, it is possible for you to access the unsecured form of a website which has a secure version, so keep an eye out for that too.
Better still, download the ‘HTTPS Everywhere’ extension for your browser. That will force every we bite you visit to transmit over the secure channel, giving you more protection than before.
3) Stay Away from Public Wi-Fi
Sometimes, the problem is not with the browser you are using. Likewise, the website you are accessing might not be at fault. That potential breach waiting to happen could just be a function of the kind of connection you are surfing the Internet with.
Public Wi-Fi is almost everywhere you step into these days: Cafes, shops, parks, hospitals, airports… you name it. Since they usually come free, it is no surprise that many people prefer to use these networks when they have the chance.
What you do not know is that you are exposing yourself too much for comfort. If you ever stopped to think about the true cost of free, public Wi-Fi networks, you would not want to pay it anymore.
For one, the offerors of such networks (i.e. the shops, park operators, airports, etc.) can see all you do on the network and even record your Internet data. In the same vein, an experienced hacker can intercept your messages (man in the middle attacks), inject malware onto every computer connected to such a Wi-Fi network, and even steal sensitive information (bank login, passwords, etc.).
4) Manage your Cookies Better
Cookies are supposed to be one of the best things that ever happened to web browsers.
They are the tiny bits of code that keep you logged in to a website from the first time you visited. They do so much more than that: helping to keep your location preferences, language choices and other settings fixed on websites.
Well, until advertisers and hackers got wind of what they could do with those cookies too.
Now, advertisers can place a cookie on your browser when you visit their website. This cookie will track your activity throughout the Internet, collecting information on websites you visit.
Hackers can use the same cookies to steal your passwords and record your key logs, among other things.
While it is not advisable to get rid of all cookies (unless you don’t mind having to log in to every website every single time), you should keep track of the cookies your browser is storing.
Keep the ones you need and discard the others. This might take extra time, but that is a small price to pay for your security.
5 Use a VPN
Another sure-fire way to keep all prying eyes out is to always be connected througha secure VPN.
If you have ever used a VPN before, you will know they are designed to change your IP address (computer’s location) without you having to change physical location. Thus, you can access the web from the US while being physically based in Australia, or anywhere else in the world.
Following up the point on cookies, this feature of VPNs allows you keep your location anonymous if anyone were to be collecting your personal data.
Speaking of data collection, a VPN also tunnels your Internet traffic through a massive array of servers whenever you connect to the Internet. This throws anyone following your trail off track, keeping you as anonymous as you would like to be.
6 Try Alternate forms of Payments
The Internet has grown to the point where we can simply buy things and pay for them online. To make such payments, vendor websites will require your card details.
Basically, your card details hold every information there is to know about you: your name, and access to your finances. That sounds like a hacker’s heaven. It is thus little wonder why there are always reports of hackers going after eCommerce websites since they know they can get a lot of card details from there.
Fortunately, you dent have to be a victim. You can still keep buying things online, but you should make your payments with:
- A masked credit card (you can get these on the Internet)
- Cryptocurrencies and/or
- Gift cards.
7 Install Tracker Blockers
Browser fingerprinting is a new gamechanger in the battle against Internet security and privacy, and many people haven’t even heard about it yet.
To better understand this concept, think of how the human fingerprint is unique to each and every individual carrying one. A browser fingerprint is the same thing, only that trackers (ad agencies, other websites, hackers, government or anyone else) use that to identify your browser in a pool of others.
No matter where you are, or what websites you surf, the browser fingerprint will keep pinging your device and sending back information to the source (the people who placed a tracker on your computer).
This is a huge problem which could leak all of your private affairs to anyone with the control on the other end. One of the ways to beat a fingerprinting model is using a VPN, and another is by installing tracker blockers.
These blockers will see analytics and tracking scripts on websites you are visiting before they load at all. They will then prevent the trackers from working rightly, saving you from a lifetime of being watched without your consent
8 Try Private Search Engines
It is no news that Google is in the game of data. That is why it is often said that ‘if you don’t see what the product is, you are probably it (the product).’
Thus, Google will allow you to use their search engine for free in exchange for your data. This data can then be sold to advertisers who will target you specifically with their ads.
If you thought there was no way around this, think again!
Private search engine networks have now sprung up all around us, and they carry the same purpose: giving you the same functionality as popular search engines, but with your privacy as a top concern.
Should this interest you, check out:
- Search Encrypt and
9 Update your Browsers
The “If it ain’t broke, it ain’t worth fixing” mentality should be done away with when it comes to your browsers (or any other apps at all).
When you receive an update to your browser, it is not only to improve the asthenic and functionality of the browser beyond what is already obtainable. More times than not, you are also going to get bug fixes, patches, and plugs for vulnerabilities in the system.
Without fixing them as fast as they come, these vulnerabilities could be exploited to launch attacks on your personal data.
10 Tweak Your Browser Settings
Your browser Settings dashboard is not just a place you go to change the appearance of the app. It holds more promise than you might know in the Internet security game.
Some of the things we recommend tweaking in the browser settings dashboard are:
- Disabling autofill – Manually entering website domain names and passwords everytime can be a pain in the butt, but it could be worth it for your security. This prevents your browser from storing readymade data for anyone who might get access to your computer behind you, making it less easy for you to get hacked.
- Manage cookies – We spoke at length about this in #4 above, but it doesn’t hurt to hammer that point home again
- Block pop-ups – Pop-ups are notorious for leading web surfers to phishing websites and unscrupulous platforms. Fortunately, many browsers come with the option to block them off so they don’t pose any threat at all
- Do Not Track – Depending on your browser, you might be able to send a ‘Do Not Track’ request to every website you are visiting. Even if it is present in your settings, know that it is up to the website to honor your request. It is, thus, safe to assume they will not honor that request and go with #7 above.
You shouldn’t have to give up the goodies of the Internet just because someone might be waiting to harvest your information on the other end. By simply implementing the tips above, you are well on your way to a safer Internet experience.