Best Strategies for Protecting Your Data on the Internet
A general rule of thumb for the internet: anything you put on it will be there forever. That includes most of your data over to apps and websites to create an account, purchase, or get free stock photos.
Honestly, the best way to protect your data is to never place it online in the first place, but since it's the 21st century and we now do almost everything online, that's not a viable option. Instead, there are a few strategies and practices you can't employ to protect yourself as much as possible.
10 Ways to Protect Your Data Online
In no particular order, here are some of the best ways to protect your data on the internet:
Click Slowly and Trust Carefully
As mentioned earlier, once your data is out in the open, there's no real getting it back. That's why it's super important to think before you click and take it slow while browsing online.
Before you input any personal data or information, stop and ensure the site you are interacting with is reputable. Is the company well-known and reviewed well? Have they been a part of a recent data breach? Do you really need whatever they offer, or can you skip it? Or maybe find what you're looking for on a safer website?
Create Strong Passwords
The number one quickest and simplest thing you can do to protect yourself online exponentially is to create strong passwords. Most of the data you give to companies is protected by little else than the password you decide to use.
Make sure the passwords you use are at least eight characters long. They should also use lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and special symbols. They should be difficult to guess and not be subject to patterns like "123456" or "passwordABC." Also, your passwords shouldn't contain unique personal information like birth dates and names of relatives.
It's best to use a different password for each site or account. Passwords can and have been leaked before. If you use one password for everything, a hacker or cybercriminal can wreak havoc on your digital life if they guess or crack it.
Encrypt Your Data
What is encryption? Encryption is the fragmenting and scrambling of data to render it unreadable to anyone with a decryption key. If you send an encrypted message and it gets intercepted, the person who hijacked the message won't be able to read the message's contents. Think of encryption as a safe for data that can only open with the correct combination.
When looking for cloud storage or messenger service (or even email), see if the service provides end-to-end encryption as a standard feature. While not unbreakable, encryption drastically reduces the chance of your files, communications, and data falling into the wrong hands.
Enable VPNs and Private Browsing
Using secure VPNs and enabling private mode (or incognito mode) on your browser can make it near impossible for websites to track specific data.
Private mode will disable the saving of browsing history, cookies, or temporary internet files to your computer or device. This can be useful for stopping certain companies from tracking your browser activity and building marketing profiles on you. VPNs, on the other hand, make you appear anonymous online by masking your device's IP address.
Avoid Sketchy Links
Links are like portals designed to take you wherever they are programmed to send you. Though you may be on a reputable website, one wrong link could take you to someplace you'd rather not be. Some links may even initiate the download of malware. Just because you receive a link to your email doesn't mean it's safe. Links are often used in phishing scams to trick people into giving up their data or information.
Before clicking a link, make sure you trust its sender. Also, by hovering your cursor over the link in question, you can see the web address the link will direct you to. If the address comes from a site you know, it may be ok, but if you don't recognize it, you should pass. Don't be afraid to google the link's primary address to see if the site gives off any red flags or if it's been reported for spamming or fraud.
Updates Apps and Operating Systems
Are your apps or OS asking you to update them? Do it!
Most updates contain bug fixes or security updates. Companies take note of holes in their platform or code and fix them as time passes. They release their fixes or repairs in the form of updates. By not updating your devices, applications, driver, or whatever, you may be leaving your software open to attacks that otherwise would be easily prevented.
Max Out Privacy Settings
Nowadays, almost all devices, web apps, accounts, etc., come with a "Privacy" tab in their settings. By default, many of the privacy settings are disabled. Go through your settings and make sure everything is set how you like. Disable tracking and data collection wherever you can. It's essential to do this for all your devices and accounts.
Adjusting everything may take some time to take care of everything, but you only have to do this once, and it will do wonders for your security.
Sign Up for Security Services
You don't have to fight for your privacy alone. Many affordable and trustworthy services make their living by protecting your privacy and security.
Installing a powerful ad blocker like uBlock Origin is an excellent start. Signing up for a secure and encrypted cloud storage service like Internxt is a good idea if you're worried about your files. Look for a VPN and antivirus that check all of your preferences. And switch to a privacy-focused browser like Brave or Firefox.
Stick to Open-Source Software
When choosing what web apps or online services to go all-in on, check and see if the service is open-source or not. Open-source services post all of the code the service runs on publicly, often on sites like GitHub. This means that anyone can examine the code to see precisely what the application is doing and if the company is living up to the marketing they preach.
If a service is 100% open-source, you can be highly sure there is no funny business. And suppose they do try to do something nefarious with your data. In that case, it will be spotted quickly by developers and computer-literate people who happily spend their free time verifying and keeping an eye on popular apps.
Above are only a few simple strategies for protecting your data, but the internet is a vast place, and it's constantly changing—as soon as one privacy problem is solved, another one pops up to take its place. Having a solid understanding of how the internet and computers work and what companies currently do regarding privacy and security can go a long way in keeping you (and your data) safe online.
There are a bunch of digital privacy organizations that offer free resources to protect and educate internet users. Find a few advocacy groups that resonate with you and get involved. Learn what they have to say about internet privacy. The more you learn about the internet, the more you will become aware of the need for stronger privacy.
How To Protect Your Data on the Internet
Be proactive! Staying vigilant and being active in defending your data is all you can do. Individual users are more than outgunned by Big Tech and the thousands of shady companies trying to get their dirty hands on your data. Take any and all steps to ensure your safety, and be very careful when posting anything online.
We may not be able to protect ourselves and our internet data entirely, but we can make life as hard as possible for all the cybercriminals trying to make a buck or two off of our information.
Fran Villalba Segarra is the CEO of Internxt - world's most secure cloud storage. Since 2020 he has been working hard to create powerful tools for a safer and more private internet that respects their users. Feel free to connect with Fran on Linkedin.