Online privacy is a growing concern, especially considering that we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. We spend all day on web services and apps and now we’re talking with home assistant devices in our free time.
Cybersecurity risks are on the rise as well.
The cybercrime epidemic will triple the size of the 3.5 million open, unfulfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021. And according to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybersecurity spending will exceed $1 trillion from 2017 to 2021.
That’s why you need to be proactive when it comes to protecting your online security. Here are several ways to manage your privacy on the web.
1. Browse in Private/Incognito Mode
Most browsers come with a privacy mode that doesn’t store data from your browsing session. That means that they won’t collect your cookies, web history or web cache.
Use private or incognito browsing modes when you would prefer to maintain privacy online.
However, these browsers only make your browsing session private on the device’s end, so they don’t actually make your connection more secure.
If you don’t want to be tracked, consider using a web activity blocker.
2. Avoid Web Activity Trackers
You’re tracked on every site you visit across the web. Your location, device, session time and social media account behavior are recorded somewhere by someone.
Advertisers collect and use this information to target you with customized ads and recommended content.
The trackers that are used to collect this information slow down site speeds and make sites less safe. Try a web activity blocker to protect your browsing information. Most web activity blockers are free and offer versions for most web browsers.
3. Block Ads With Ad Blockers
Ad blockers work in a similar way to activity trackers, but they take it a step further by blocking ads from ever reaching your browser in the first place.
Some ads can infect your computer with malware, disguise themselves as part of a website rather than an ad or get you to install unsecured software. That’s why it’s better to block ads in the first place. Simply install an ad blocker extension to your browser to get started.
4. Consider Using Private Messaging Tools
Not all online communication is secure. That’s why protected messaging apps can help you safely communicate.
Email isn’t private; neither is social media messaging. Messages have to go through different servers to get to their recipient, and large corporations might be using your user data in unsecure ways. Plus, these social platforms are easy to hack.
That’s why it’s best to use private messaging tools that come fully stocked with end-to-end encryption, so your messages will be secure.
Multiple mobile and desktop apps are available for popular private messaging apps.
5. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
The best method of preventative encryption might be locking down your entire internet connection by using a VPN.
Most internet connections are inadvertently left unprotected. That’s especially true on public Wi-Fi in hotels, airports or even at the local coffee shop. And it means that everyone can potentially see what you’re doing online.
A VPN allows you to connect to an encrypted server to access the internet. When you “funnel” web traffic through a protected VPN, it creates a secure connection between your devices and the VPN server before accessing popular websites on the internet.
That’s an important distinction because it means nobody – no aggressive government censorship, internet service providers, hackers or even the websites you’re accessing – can see who you are and what you’re doing.
To all, your data is ‘masked’ and protected by the VPN provider.
This all sounds complicated and techy ‒ largely because it is. Thankfully, though, most VPN providers have made it extremely easy for anyone, anywhere, to sign up and get started in minutes. (If you want some suggestions, I’ve ranked the best ones on my site, TheBestVPN, after signing up for, paying for and using over 30 of the most popular options on the internet.)
Free VPNs are also available, but some free providers sell user data to third parties like advertisers. So be careful to read the fine print to find out how they might still be exposing your data.
6. Avoid Non-HTTPS Websites
HTTPS stands for hypertext transfer protocol secure. HTTPS websites offer secured connections between your browser and the site.
That should sound familiar because the underlying technology works exactly like a VPN. However, in this case, the encrypted connection is made between your browser and the website you’re accessing.
If a website is an HTTPS-secured site, the web address will start with “https://” and include a green padlock that says “secure” next to the site name.
If you head to a site that starts with “http://” rather than “https://,” don’t enter any personal or sensitive information like your credit card number or address. These sites are not secure.
Better yet, try to avoid any unsecured sites altogether. Google Chrome will now even start issuing warning notifications to users when a website isn’t secured.
7. Clear Browsing Cookies
Cookies are small text files on your computers and mobile devices that are collected from your personal activity on the websites you visit.
Cookies are generally used to keep you logged in to a site or to remember your credentials for you so that you don’t have to enter them every time you visit a certain website.
Cookies are also used to store shopping cart items, track content you’ve read on a site, recommend future content and more.
If you disable cookies completely, you won’t be able to use sites that require a login like Facebook or Twitter.
However, you can clear your cookies regularly. By erasing old behavior, you can keep your browser clean and block websites from tracking your online habits.
8. Don’t Use an Unsecured Email Platform
Most of us are forced to use email each day. According to The Radicati Group, at least 269 billion emails are sent every day worldwide.
Unfortunately, your email might not be secure.
Free email services aren’t always as secure as premium alternatives.
However, if you can’t break free of your free email account, you can add extensions that provide end-to-end encryptions on all of your emails.
9. Review Mobile App Permissions
The apps that you have on your phone, tablet or computer require certain permissions to function. Sometimes, these apps request information that is necessary for them to perform their job. Other times, apps request permissions they simply don’t need.
For example, a gaming app might ask for access to your location even if it’s unnecessary. That’s why you should review the permissions that you’ve given to installed apps and revoke permissions that aren’t needed for functionality.
On an iPhone, you can do this by going to your settings and clicking on Privacy. Then go through each permission to see which apps you have given access to things like your phone’s microphone and location.
10. Upgrade Your Mobile Device
Mobile devices are prone to security threats just like computers. System updates keep devices secure, and every new version fixes security weaknesses.
If you’re using one of these older devices, you aren’t protected from the same security threats that users of new devices are. It’s time to upgrade.
11. “Shred” Digital Files
You might think that you’re getting rid of a file forever by deleting an item off of your PC or Mac, but that isn’t the case.
Usually, “deleted files” are simply moved to a recycling or trash bin where someone could recover them later. That means you’re actually never getting rid of files completely.
And anyone who gains control of your device can find every file you thought you got rid of. An easy way to combat this issue is by using a file shredding tool that removes files from your hard drive and overwrites them with unreadable data.
12. Watch What You Post Online
You should never reveal your location online, especially if you’re away from home.
As obvious as this advice sounds, it’s often overlooked. How many times have you posted a picture from vacation on Facebook? The problem is that many people have been robbed after posting updates about being away.
Even celebrities do it. Just look at this Instagram post of Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper on vacation with their location tagged right in the image.
Wait to post vacation photos until after you’re back at home.
13. Be Mindful of Your Privacy With Home Assistants
Home assistants, though helpful, can be very invasive. When turned on, they can be listening to everything you say and do. Consider the privacy and security implications of these devices before purchasing one, and if you do have one, understand the privacy features it offers – such as muting the device when not in use.
14. Use Virtual Machines
Virtual machines allow you to simulate a second virtual computer with an application.
They’re perfect for performing private tasks on your computer that don’t involve an internet connection. You can use them to ensure that your web connection is offline so that your activity can’t be logged.
If you want to open a file and be sure that no one can view your actions, use a virtual machine. Afterward, you can delete it from your system.
15. Never Connect to Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks are extremely unsecure. Almost everyone else on the network can see everything you’re doing online. You never know who is running a public Wi-Fi hotspot or how user information on the hotspot is being logged.
Even if you use a VPN on a public connection, the network administrator could still see everything you do online, and domain name system (DNS) leaks can occur.
Conclusion: What’s Next?
Online privacy is an increasingly important topic.
There are tons of ways – including those above – to manage your online privacy as cybercrime grows.
Take action soon to protect your sensitive data and review these privacy optimizations as often as possible to maintain your online security.
About the Author
John Mason is a journalist who holds an MSc in cybersecurity; he used to work as a security analyst for IBM and is now the head analyst at TheBestVPN.com. John also writes for publications like Tripwire, TechSoup, Digital Guardian, Betanews and EDUCAUSE.