The Ultimate Guide to Online Privacy and Security

Approx Reading Time: 20 minutes

We live in the age of information, and the internet plays a major role in everything we do today. It is where we find all the information we need to shape political agendas, engage in social discourses, learn, and seek entertainment. However, the use of the internet is not without risks. Thousands of people lose their identity online every day to hackers. Whether it takes place through social media or websites, the more people use the web, the higher the risks are, especially those associated with a breach of online personal privacy and data privacy. For instance, hackers are on the prowl, looking for the security loopholes to explore.

Guidelines to Keep Your Internet Privacy and Security safe:

  • Update your computer/smartphone regularly
  • Only browse websites with the secure hypertext transfer protocol
  • Use secure means when sharing files online
  • Beware of internet security settings on browsers and social media
  • Always install anti-virus programs
  • Use a VPN
  • Keep your online communications private and secure
  • Ensure your browser is safe
The Ultimate Guide to Online Privacy and Security 1

In this post, you will learn everything you should know about online privacy and security. In any case, a breach of online privacy always happens because most people do not take precautionary measures to stay safe. For starters, you should note that online privacy and security are inseparable. While there can be data security without online privacy, it is impossible to be secure online without securing your data. Thus, before exploring the ultimate guide to online privacy and security in detail, let’s quickly define each of the two terms.

Online Privacy And Security: What Is The Connection?

The murky waters of the internet are difficult to maneuver, especially if you factor in unending privacy concerns that come with it.  Whether you are young or old, the websites you visit will most certainly track your behavior. One of the signs of being tracked is when you bumped on a web advert relevant to your frequent internet searches. But it is not only advertisers that are interested in understanding your behavior online. Governments always track behaviors of their citizens online, especially those who are seen as anti-establishment. That is not to mention that hackers are always looking for digital footprints of internet users. All these amount to some kind of privacy breach, especially if access to your personal information is authorized. At this point, the big question is do you have your online privacy intact or someone is watching every move you make on the web?

Well, it boils down to understanding internet/online privacy which denotes a right to personal space/privacy that everyone who visits a website or a social media platform should enjoy. Everyone who shares, stores, or retrievers information online should enjoy some sort of privacy. You should feel secure whether you are sharing personally-identifying information (PII) or non-personal information. Lack of online privacy means someone may snoop into your details, and consequently breach your privacy. Later on in this post, we will explore major issues that have a direct impact on your privacy such as surveillance, identity theft, and tracking.

On the other hand, internet/online security underscores taking the right precautionary measures to safeguard your privacy from cyber attacks. McAfee defines online security as security functions that work together to protect your activities against unwarranted exposure to unintended persons. Your online activities range from browsing websites, transactions, and social media engagements. Today, millions of people use social media, making platforms such as Facebook and Instagram the prime targets of cybercriminals. Functions that aim to secure your digital footprints can be a password, an anti-virus, anti-spyware, and malware.

Now, the point of confluence between internet security and online privacy is that they both define cybersecurity measures you should take to stay safe online. However, it is noteworthy that online security also focuses on computer security, in which case, the gadgets you use to access the web equally need protection against malware and spyware attacks. Take note that online privacy is a subset of internet data security.

Major Issues in Online Privacy

Internet privacy continues to generate heated debates around the world. With millions of people now depending on the web to earn a daily wage, internet privacy is becoming a major concern. However, without understanding major issues that affect the privacy of internet users, it becomes difficult to stay safe online. Thus, to help you understand more about privacy, take note of the following:

● Online surveillance

Surveillance on the web is often conducted government. In some way, governments spy on their citizens, and the main aim is to help law enforces nab cyber criminals. In recent years, cybercrime laws have been enacted in different countries around the world to help fight rising crime rates on the web. For example, the Investigatory Powers Act in the United Kingdom gives the government authority to conduct legal cyber monitoring of its citizens.  Enforced in 2016, the act of the U.K parliament sets out electronic surveillance standards that govern the investigation of cybercrimes.  The bill was introduced to parliament by Theresa May (then as Home Secretary) and got a Royal accent in 2016.

Another aspect of online surveillance is that governments always work in tandem with telecommunications companies and internet service providers (ISP) to get a clear picture of how its citizens use the web. The fact that most governments require these companies to keep a record of internet usage among citizens for at least a year makes it easy to investigate cybercrimes.

● Online tracking

Tracking is not a new word on the World Wide Web. It is probably the oldest of them all. The fact that the internet is where we get information these days makes tracking a topic for debate in the streets, government offices, and homes. Come to think about it. How possible would it be that you use the web without someone keeping track of your digital footprints? From internet Ads dangling like carrots to video recommendations that suit your interest, some things you notice online are not happenstance. Tracking happens through ‘tracking cookies,’ which are pieces of information that remain cached in your browser and gadgets. It is through cookies that advertisers and companies predict your online behavior hence recommend content that meets your interest. Once they have a detailed portfolio of your digital footprints, it becomes easy to serve content. In every measure, all these amounts to a serious breach of internet privacy.

● Identity theft

The last stats published by on identity fraud states that about 16.7 million Americans suffered identity theft online in 2017. You don’t want to imagine how global identity theft stats look like.  Identity fraud is mainly impersonation that takes place online, especially when someone gains access to personally-identifying information (PII). Online fraudsters who steal PII can use it to shop online or create pseudo profiles which they then use to dupe your friends and family. The big question is how does identity fraud take place?

Well, Identity theft starts with the identification of a vulnerable internet user. It could be you or me. The next step is finding a vulnerability/loophole, which can be weak passwords or leaving your social media to account logged in. People who engage in identity theft usually use spyware, malware, or phishing to gain access to internet user accounts. The end is often the theft of personal information. In some cases, such crimes are complicit. Someone who knows you leaks your password to a cybercriminal with the intention of blackmail. It happens a lot on social media. Thus, before you become a victim of identity theft, and lose all your money online, take precautionary measures such as setting strong passwords measures seriously. Later on in this post, we will look at securing your online privacy in detail.

Major Issues in Online security

When it comes to internet security, there are equally important issues internet users should take into serious consideration. Thus, the first question that often comes to mind is whether your internet access is secure or not. Online threats are a major concern here. They include:

● Computer worm

One of the main threats to your internet security is a computer worm. It is a program that duplicates from one PC to another. Usually, the spread of computer worms does not involve human interaction and is often widespread and fast.

● Phishing

For many years, phishing has remained a major threat to the security of internet users. Phishing scams are probably the most common of all ways cybercriminals attempt to gain access to private information. It most cases, phishing involves baiting internet users using links. The moment you click a phishing link, it lets in cybercriminals into your email accounts or any other online accounts such as social media profiles. Phishing locks you out of targeted accounts.

● Spam

You must have heard about spamming, which is another major concern in internet security. To understand how spamming takes place, think about unsolicited emails that end up in the junk box. While spam emails are most of the time harmless, there is a real chance that a scrupulous Ad company may insert a phishing link into the content. The danger with spam emails is that they just come even if you do not subscribe to such feeds.

● Malware

Malware can be a computer virus, spyware, Trojans, and worm.  Regardless of its form, malware often compromises the security of your device i.e. smartphone or computer. The bigger is not in having malware attack but the risk to which it exposes you on the web. Think about how many times you must have visited a website without having reliable antivirus installed in your device. You realize how much information you must have shared unknowingly on the web.

● Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files on your computer and asks for a ransom to get your files back. This method sadly has seen some success, and can have a big impact on both companies and home users. When you pay the ransom, usually in untraceable bitcoins, you get the key to unencrypt your files. Only when you have good and recent backups it is possible to reinstall the operating system and recover the files without paying. For some older ransomware infections you can find generic keys on the internet that can help you unencrypt your files without paying.

● Botnet

Botnet refers to networked private computers whose internet security has been compromised. A good example is computers in a cybercafé connected to one server.   Imagine the extent to which these computers expose users to cyber-attacks could get you rethinking your planned visit to a cybercafé. From denial-of-service (DoS) to spamming, Botnet takes place in different ways. Compromises often happen through malware attacks, which is easier when there is no anti-spyware or anti-virus protecting the networked computers from cyber attacks.

How You Might Be Compromising Your Internet privacy/security

Most internet users comprise their cybersecurity without even knowing it. It is always the case. Thus, the big question we should ask at this point is which activities or behaviors are putting you at risk of a cyber attack? Well, the following are bad practices that expose you to dangers associated with internet use:

● Leaving your accounts logged in

It is normal to forget but when it comes to the web, you should try to log out all your accounts. Think about it this way. You visit a cybercafé and log into your Facebook account, upload and share content then leave without logging out. It is only one of the many ways someone may forget to logout of their account. It could get even worse when you do not log out of an eCommerce platform like Amazon.

Ask this question: What if someone hacks your device or uses the same computer you have used in a cybercafé shortly after? With this, the danger of not logging out gets clearer. You cannot assume that everyone who visits a cybercafé has good intentions. According to stats, most cybercriminals conduct their activities in cybercafés, something that makes it difficult to trace the person who engages in such acts.

● Downloading/open suspicious files/attachments

A simple act of downloading what you think is an anti-virus could greatly compromise your online privacy without even knowing it. It could also happen through opening files in your Facebook inbox and suddenly, it becomes impossible to log in. The danger with this opening or downloading files whose sources you do not know is that they may contain viruses, spyware, bug, or malware. Most cyber-attacks happen this way.

● Using the same login credentials in different websites

Let’s start with a simple illustration regarding using the same credentials across multiple websites. You are using the same password and email on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, PayPal, and any other account. It is a sheer case of ignorance, especially on matters regarding online privacy. It means if a hacker gains access into your Facebook and tries the same log in details on all the above, you are doomed!

But using different passwords for different accounts is really difficult. You have to remember so many passwords that you start writing them on a piece of paper. Or even worse you write them in a document somewhere on your computer. A possible solution for this is to use a password manager. The password manager will remember all your different passwords, and you only have to remember 1 password that is needed to access the password manager.

● Failing to read terms and conditions of services

The internet is about service provision by different websites. But the big question is do you read terms and conditions of the services you use online? The truth is that most people do not bother. Provide you have found something you need online, the rest becomes useless. The risk with agreeing with/to every terms and condition, including cookies is that you do not know how the site will process or use personal identifying information.

Online Privacy And Security Laws That Keeps You Safe Online

The prevailing risks that come with using the web cannot be underestimated. It is why; we cannot talk about internet use without exploring laws that govern the conduct of citizens and their governments. So, the big question at this point would be which laws help sanitize the conduct of people online? Also, are they sufficient and effective?

The truth is that since the advent of the web, hundreds of laws have been implemented to regulate internet security and privacy. These laws cut across generational rules that govern regional internet use such as EU online privacy and security laws to specific legislation enacted by governments in different parts of the world. The following are highlights of internet laws and regulations users should understand before posting anything on the web:

  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, abbreviated as CFFA governs conducted of internet users, especially on matters relating to computer use. A good example is an unauthorized access to private data and information. The law further states offenses related to sending or sharing harmful content on the web, including fraudulently obtaining computer passwords.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act enacted in 1998, popularly known as COPPA is another internet privacy and security. Given the danger to which internet use exposes children, COPPA ensures that underage internet users get permission from their parents before accessing the web. The law is specific to minors below the age of 13. Further, it states that websites should post privacy policies that detail ways and means of collecting information from minors. Moreover, it states that there should websites that target children should have adequate security measures that protect minors against risks that come with internet use.
  • Financial Services Modernization Act, usually abbreviated as GLBA of 1999 is another privacy law that governs the conduct of internet users. The laws are especially useful to websites that collect financial information because it details how such companies should collect, disclose, or use information related to one’s finances.
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act is another law that every internet user should know and understand. It regulates the transmission of electronic communication whether orally, through a wire or other means. In particular, the law lists measures that financial institutions should take to prevent fraudulent access or interception of information.
  • Another law that internet users should understand is the Federal Trade Commission Act, usually abbreviated as FTC of 1914. It is one of the oldest internet laws that remain useful in the 20th century. The law enforces privacy actions that companies should undertake when handling user data online. It further states punitive measures to be taken against companies that fail to protect data of internet users.
  • Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003 is another law that protects the privacy and security of internet users. The law enforces the conduct of creditors and financial institutions, especially on matters relating to preventing identity theft.
  • Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornographic and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM) also enacted in 2003 like FACTA is an internet law that prohibits companies and other internet users from publishing or sending misleading information. It further states that senders or publishers of information on the web should disclose information about their commercial emails, while also ensuring to include the ‘opt-out’ option for subscribers.

With the above laws and many others that have been adopted by states and countries around the world, there is always hope that when someone uses the web, he or she is assured of some kind of protection. However, even with the harshest punishment attached to some of these laws; it is noteworthy that the buck stops with users. In this case, the big question everyone who accesses the web (save for the minors) should ask is precautions to take when online.

Guidelines to Keep Your Internet Privacy and Security under Lock and Key

The fact that millions of people continue to lose vital control of personally identifying information online means very few read the above privacy laws. It is also noteworthy that millions more are ignorant about various threats to which they are exposed when visiting a website, blog, or social media platform. Most importantly, failing to take the right precautionary measures puts internet users at even higher risks of hacking, phishing scams, and malware attacks. So, the next question everyone should ask at this point is, therefore, how internet users should ensure their privacy is strongly guarded?

Well, the following guidelines should help:

● Update your computer/smartphone regularly

Your smartphone or PC could be a major vulnerability in online privacy and security violation. With outdated software, there is a real chance the bad guys out there could take advantage of your system via a malware attack. It means to stay safe online; you should always update system software, including internet browsers and media players like Adobe flash. The good thing with updates is that they usually come with new fixes that do away with sluggish apps and bugs.

● Only browse websites with the secure hypertext transfer protocol

Instead of HTTP, a secure web access protocol should have at the end, thusly; HTTPS. You should also ensure that a website is secured by valid SSL certificates. Websites that do not meet these requirements have what is called ‘man-in-the-middle,’ hence exposes users to a great risk of hacking or phishing.

● Use secure means when sharing files online

Another notable privacy guideline when it comes to internet use is a secure transmission, sharing, or storage of files. For example, always use passwords for PDF files. It is a way of ensuring that only intended persons view it.

● Beware of internet security settings on browsers and social media

The truth is that millions of internet users hardly adjust internet security settings on browsers and social media. The good news is that companies like Facebook have a variety of security settings on their platform. If you navigate to the settings section on your Google browser, there are equally handy settings that will keep you even more secure when browsing the web. Some of the most notable settings are ‘do not track’ ‘blow Ads’ and ‘do not save cache.’ Take note that the way you change setting preferences will always depend on how you intend to use the web.

● Always install anti-virus programs

There are tens of web-based and computer-based anti-virus programs available online. The reason for using these programs is simple. They keep your browsing secure while also ensuring your gadget is secured against malware and spyware attacks. We advise against using free versions of anti-virus software because they do not guarantee full protection against viruses, Trojans, and other cyber attacks. Moreover, regularly updating firewalls on your PC further fortifies protection against internet privacy and security violation.

● Use VPN

VPN is an abbreviation for Virtual Private Network and is deemed one of the best ways of accessing the web securely and without risking your privacy. The catch with VPN is that it assigns internet users a new IP address hence make it difficult for hackers to track or monitor your digital footprints. Internet security experts opine that VPN protects your browsing activity using military-grade encryption technology. With a good VPN, snoopers and spies cannot catch a glimpse of what you do online. To get the best VPN, take a look at some reviews online. Most importantly, ensure the VPN comes from a company known to have a strong reputation in protecting internet users from privacy violations.

● Keep your online communications private and secure

Another privacy and security guideline is that internet users should always secure their communications on the web. Applications like WhatsApp have encryption technologies that keep communication private; it is noteworthy that having extra layers of security will protect you against violation of privacy.

● Ensure your browser is safe

A browser is an application people use to access the web. Thus, the big question is how can you ensure to use a secure browser? First off, take note that browsers can be a major access point for cybercriminals, especially if they are not updated. There are many things you can do to keep your browser safe and secure from cyber-attacks. Think about clearing cookies, using browser extensions that block Ads/pop-ups and using update flash player.

Final Thoughts on the Ultimate Guide to Online Privacy and Security

Thus far, we hope you can implement the guidelines explored in this post to ensure the safety and privacy of personally-identifying information on the web. Your data security is especially important when browsing the web given that big data is the future of business. Also taking note that every time you go online, there is an imminent threat of cyber attack, securing your privacy online remains the key to ensuring a seamless and harmless browsing experience.