To get started: Be safer when browsing the Web
- Disrupt online tracking. Advertisers automatically place files — called cookies — onto your browser to keep track of the pages you visit online. You can block tracking cookies with the add on from Disconnect.me on Firefox or Chrome
- When you connect to the Web, some sites you visit offer both unsecured (HTTP) and secured (HTTPS) versions of the page. Download HTTPS Everywhere on Google Chrome or Firefox to automatically connect to the secured versions of many websites.
- Advertising is the business model of many parts of the Web, and yet ads can be used to deliver malware to users. Online advertising networks have a hard time detecting bad actors abusing ads to deliver malicious files. Download uBlock Origin for Chrome or Firefox works as well, and uses less memory. You can also keep ads for sites you trust.
- Protect your Web traffic from eavesdroppers on wi-fi networks with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Open, public wi-fi networks are convenient. You can find them everywhere — at coffee shops, restaurants, and airports. The problem is that open wi-fi networks also allow other users on the network to see your unsecured Web traffic. For example, if you’re browsing products on Amazon, that traffic is usually unencrypted. When connecting to open wi-fi networks, use a VPN. A VPN encrypts and tunnels your Web traffic to a remote location. It can also be helpful for everyday use, especially if you want to access websites that are blocked in your country. It usually costs a few dollars each month. Mac users, consider Cloak. Windows users, consider Disconnect.me (Premium)
- Of course, use antivirus software like Avast or similar tools.
Next: Encrypt it all
You can scramble your data so that no one, except for you and the people you wish to include, will be able to read it.
- Encrypt your hard drive. If your device is ever lost or stolen, it’s easy for thieves to take data off your hard disk. Good news: If you have a new password-protected iPhone your disk is already encrypted. If you have an Android Device, it’s pretty easy to encrypt your phone. For your laptop or desktop, you can encrypt your hard drive using your operating system’s native software: FileVault for Mac, or BitLocker on Windows.
- If you’re concerned about the privacy of your phone calls or text messages, download Signal for iOS or Android to make secure phone calls and send secure text messages to your friends. If you have friends who you text non-stop, have them try Signal as well. Research suggests that half of our texts go to our inner-circle — roughly 5 people. If you and one friend to use Signal, it’s a huge improvement for your privacy and theirs.
More work, but important: Authenticating logins
Passwords are often the only thing standing between attackers and your information. It takes more work to manage your passwords than the previous steps, but it’s worthwhile.
- Use a password manager. Everyone knows you reuse the same password for everything, because it’s easy to remember. We’re not always great at remembering multiple passwords. A password manager like 1password or KeePassX (free!) can help randomize strong passwords, and store them securely. Use this software to find and copy your long, randomized passwords. As always, be careful about where you paste.
- Passwords aren’t enough. To make it harder for someone to break into your accounts, many online services allow you to verify your identity when logging in, by sending you a text message with an authentication code, or by using a mobile app. Use two-factor authentication everywhere, but especially for your primary email account. If someone gets your email, they can use it to log into everything else. Gmail users can enable two-factor authentication here. If you use Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, or any number of other services, I’d recommend using two-factor for those services as well.
These tips only scratch the surface, but are some of the simplest and most effective approaches that we have for keeping your data, yours.