Your 10-Step Guide To Protecting Your Digital Life

In the real world, our doors have locks and our payment cards have PINs to protect us from intruders and from theft. The same level of protection applies to our digital lives and so here are 10 easy ways to take to protect your online privacy and security.

1. Practice good security hygiene.

Using strong passwords and passphrases for your accounts goes a long way. Think outside the box. Go as far as using passwords that you may not even remember and that’s where password managers such as OneLogin and LastPass can help, in storing all of your passwords in one place, away from potential exposure. Another level of protection is to apply two-factor authentication (2FA) to your accounts as well as your password manager. This means that the only way to access your accounts and password storage is by receiving a one-time code to gain access.

2. Beware of phishing.

Phishing is a type of cybercrime that tricks victims into handing over sensitive information or installing malware onto their devices. The most well known forms of phishing are done via email and through text messages that appear as though they are from trusted senders such as Royal Mail, PayPal, eBay and more. Before clicking on any links, check that the email address and or/number is verifiable and if you are still unsure, contact the original sender directly to confirm whether the email or text message was sent from them.

3.To protect your chats, use an encrypted app for messaging.

To secure the content of your messages, it's best to use apps that have end-to-end encryption, such as Signal or WhatsApp. Encrypted messaging means you and the recipient can read the messages you send — but no one in the middle. As an additional point to note, WhatsApp is currently owned by Facebook so when sharing your contacts with WhatsApp, Facebook is also receiving that information although it cannot read the content of your messages.

Lastly, if you're an iPhone user, iMessages are encrypted when messaging other iOS devices, but not when you're messaging an Android phone. Signal however, does offer a solution in that encrypted messages can be sent to both Android phones and iPhones.

4. Delete certain apps from your phone and use a browser instead.

Apps can learn a lot about you due to all the different types of data they can access via your phone. There are many seemingly harmless apps, such as a flashlight app but behind the scenes, these apps may be selling the data it’s gathering from you.

5. Turn off ad personalisation.

Whenever possible, go into your settings and turn off ad personalisation. This setting often gives companies and third parties permission to do invasive tracking.

6. Audit your social media.

The amount of data we give away to social media sites is mind blowing. Not only does it pose a privacy and security risk, but a reputational one as well. The key thing to remember when sharing on social media is that everything we post can come back to bite us later. With this said, to ensure safe usage of your date, update your social media privacy settings to limit what information the sites are collecting and who can see your posts. Use a site like Data Detox Kit to help. Secondly, audit your post history to make sure you don’t have any posts that could be unprofessional or don’t present you in an accurate or positive light. This step is entirely subjective and depends on the image you would like to portray online.

7. Use a VPN when using public Wi-Fi.

VPNs such as AnchorFree or Nord hide your IP address and encrypt your information over the web. This is especially important when you’re using public Wi-Fi, which is a common way that hackers swipe personal information.

8. Monitor the dark web to ensure your information isn’t accessible.

Data breaches are at an all-time high as more and more people are creating digital footprints without regard to their privacy and security beyond what websites provide. The Marriott alone recently lost 500 million records, including information such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and more. Hackers look out for information like this to see if you’ve used the same information for other sites. There are many tools out there, including Have I Been Pwned? and dark web scanners that are attached to credit check companies such as Clearscore, that allow users to determine if their information has been compromised. Similarly, Apple has also included this functionality into iPhones as part of the password management function.

9. Change your phone settings to block unnecessary location tracking.

It may seem obvious but it is true that your phone does track your location. You can change this by simply going into your phone’s settings, however, it’s worth going a step further for the privacy and security of your data. Many of the apps you’ve downloaded may also be tracking your location, even if they don’t need to. Again, you can go into your settings and turn off any tracking unless it’s absolutely necessary. Google Maps is a great example for when this setting is necessary. Candy Crush? Not so much.

10. Carry out a Google privacy checkup.

It’s arguable that nobody has more information on you than Google. To protect yourself, run a privacy checkup. From here you can turn off what Google tracks including browsing/search history, location history, YouTube search/watch history and even voice recordings. To take it one step further, you can consider using more secure tools instead of Google, such as Tor for browsing and DuckDuckGo for searching.

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