Your Privacy Is Important!

Often when I am talking to people about websites and search engine optimisation, the topic of online privacy invariably comes up. Generally, we arrive at this point after discussing the ways search engines collect data about you and your interests in order to provide you with more ‘appropriate’ information.

You may have noticed that almost immediately after searching online for a new TV, ads for TVs start taking over your web browser, Facebook, and even some of the websites you visit. It is no coincidence that you are seeing those ads! Information about you, your preferences, and your lifestyle is extremely valuable.

The seedier side of the information age we now live in is how easily that data can be accessed and used inappropriately if steps are not taken to keep it as secure as possible. So how much of your personal information is available online, and what should you do if you want to take steps to secure your privacy?

1)   PASSWORD PROTECT EVERTHING

It is often overlooked, but making sure every device you own has a password or PIN for access, whether it is a mobile phone, a tablet, or a computer. You may find it a little inconvenient to begin with but this pales in comparison to the inconvenience of having your information in someone else’s hands should your device be lost or stolen.

2)   UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE

Keeping all your apps and softwares up to date will help remove the vulnerabilities hackers love to exploit. It isn’t a guaranteed fix but it stops your device being a soft target for shady characters who are looking for an easy way in.

3)   CREATE UNBREAKABLE PASSWORDS

Is your password predictable?  Does it follow a pattern, use things like book or movie titles, snippets of your personal details (birthdate, postcode) or something you will easily remember? If so, change it now!

A strong password has two components to prevent hacking:

     1)  It avoids patterns – no predictable “Z” patterns or circular movements

     2)  It is too long and complex for a brute-force attack, which is when a computer runs combinations of possible characters in an attempt to figure out a password

Great passwords consist of nonsense characters (use upper AND lowercase, numbers, AND special characters such as *#$%) or a long sentence made up of 5 completely random words strung together in a way you will remember. Now there’s a way of using that old dictionary which has been gathering dust on the bookshelf for years!

4)   USE A PASSWORD MANAGER

With so many passwords, it can be easy to get a little slack with them, and just use something which is easily remembered. Using a password manager is a brilliant way of securing your log ins by using one long password to access all the individual ones you may have. A great free option is LastPass and this also syncs across your devices.

5)   USE A VPN

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network and it is one way to keep your browsing habits safe from the prying eyes of your search engine as they offer higher security through a single remote server unrelated to you. It is commonly used to hide your real location and allow access to websites which are geographically restricted (for example, to watch movies or videos from restricted websites). A VPN can be very useful in blocking your browsing history but be aware that not all VPNs have your best interests at heart either! A couple of great free VPN services are Tunnel Bear or OpenVPN.

 6)   USE A FAKE ACCOUNT

Every business is asking for your information these days and often use enticing tactics like giveaways or discounts to trade you for your personal data. There’s no reason why you can’t create a fake persona, complete with email address, and use this ‘person’ to register with any of these marketers. Keep your personal information separate from the data you hand out to any of the companies you deal with, will help you retain some of your privacy. When that persona is overloaded with the plethora of offers and spam it will undoubtedly receive, close it down and move on to another new one. Or have a couple running at the same time!

7)   WHAT ARE YOU SHARING?

Be mindful of the amount of information you share on social media, and whether your privacy settings are strong enough. By boosting your privacy settings, you reduce how much can be learned about you. Check out Facebook’s Privacy Checkup Tool and hide information you don’t really need to share.

8)   LOCK UP YOUR HOME WIFI NETWORK

Is your WiFi network name an obvious description as to who owns it? It might pay to change this to something a little more ‘incognito’, and change your password to the router while you are at it. Many people don’t change these and it doesn’t take much for someone to connect to your WiFi network, type in the usual suspects (admin, password, 1234, and so on) and gain access to your internet connection and all the devices sharing your network.

9)   BE SUSPICIOUS OF ANY LINKS IN EMAILS OR WEBSITES

If you’ve received a fairly legitimate looking email, it can be quite hard to determine if the link is safe to click on. One way to ascertain the authenticity of the link is to hover over it without clicking, and then read the link address in the bottom corner of your browser or email program. Does the link still look legitimate? You can also copy it (right-click the link and select ‘copy’) and then paste this into a link checker such as Sucuri SiteCheck to confirm if it is ok or not. If you receive an email from your bank or social networking site, don’t click the link regardless. Always open a new browser window and directly type the address in.

10)   GONE GOOGLE

You can check into what sort of data Google holds about you by going to your Google settings > My Account and the Personal Info & Privacy section. From here you can delete records and also prevent Google from recording any data about you in future. Another option is to ditch Google all together, and use a browser such as DuckDuckGo which doesn’t track your activity.

11) BONUS TIP:  USE TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION

Two-factor authentication adds another layer of security to your log ins. Generally, you will use your log in username and password and will also be required to input a code received to a previously registered device such as your mobile phone. This is a great way to verify that it really is you who is trying to log in, and blocking any potential hackers from trying to access your accounts.

I hope some of these tips have helped you think more about your online security and how you can lock down your personal data. I personally think we must willingly sacrifice some of our personal privacy in order to be a part of the digital world and to have the benefits which come with it, but there is no reason we shouldn’t be cautious and try to limit the amount of data we expose at the same time.

If you have any questions or more suggestions on ways to keep secure online, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you!