7 Ways to Improve Your Online Privacy

April 03, 2018 by Alex Collins, IT Services Consultant

There’s no way around it: Facebook has had a horrible couple of weeks.

The massive social media platform wrote insecure policies that allowed Cambridge Analytica's rogue app to legally scoop up the private data of over 50 million Facebook users without their consent, and Facebook’s lukewarm-bordering-on-cold response certainly didn't inspire much confidence.

If there's one lesson to take away from this debacle, it's this: nobody is responsible for your online privacy except yourself. Not your boss, not your mom, and certainly not the company that is “making changes to better safeguard your information.”

Take responsibility for your security now: use this list of procedures to make your private information opaque to everyone except those closest to you, and get started on the road to better online privacy in the future. 

1. Check your status on third-party sites. 

Some online services scrape known databases of stolen personal information, and let you know if your data is part of the trove. 

Two such services – have i been pwned? and BreachAlarm – search for your email address in public database leaks. These services don't store any passwords and even offer a premium tier that proactively alerts you when your data shows up in newer breach events. In the event of a red flag being raised by these services, it's time to change your passwords and go on high alert against attempts to steal your identity. 

2. Step up your password game. 

Still using your birthdate, your kid's name or 12345678 as your password? Change your password to something less guessable, and ideally something that isn't in this list of 25 most common passwords.

Most users make the mistake of using one password for multiple accounts – significantly lightening the load for any hacker trying to get into their personal information. Ideally, each account with valuable personal information (email, bank, social media, etc.) should get a unique, tough-to-crack password.

Another easy way to boost your protection is to use two-factor authentication wherever and whenever possible. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google implement two-factor authentication, which adds a second layer of credentials that you must present before being allowed access into your account. 

3. Secure your web browser. 

Everything you do online generates cookies and trackers that paint a digital profile of yourself, which can be exploited in a number of ways.

Some web browsers offer functionality that minimizes cookie or tracker access to your information. Google Chrome's Incognito mode prevents third parties from seeing your activities: your browsing history, cookies and other site data will be erased at the end of your session. And FireFox's Facebook container extension separates Facebook activity from other websites by isolating the former into a separate container, shutting Facebook's cookies from the rest of your online goings-on.

Scripts – small computer programs that enable extra functionality on webpages – can compromise your privacy by recording your activity for third parties. Block them with browser extensions like Ghostery, uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger

Finally, you can switch to browsers that have been built with your security and privacy in mind, negating trackers and anonymizing all your network traffic.

4. Hide your personal information from public view. 

Oversharing can be fatal in today's social-media age. Make sure your social media profiles reveal nothing about yourself that can be used by hackers – including birthdays (yours and those of your loved ones), your address, your alma mater, and so on. 

Facebook geotags your posts and photos if this option is enabled – turn this off by looking under Location Services (for iPhones) or by checking Facebook Permissions in the Applications Manager (for Android). 

5. Shred compromising documents. 

Even old-fashioned paper-based mail can be used by hackers to steal your identity, so you should expand your privacy-securing efforts to your physical mailbox as well.

Go over your paper documents, and set aside any that contain your birthdate, social security number, or any account numbers from financial institutions and insurance companies. What you can't lock up, consign to the shredder. 

6. Keep your software up to date. 

Like most housekeeping chores, updating software is no fun in the moment but saves you plenty of grief down the road. Besides, most operating systems, internet security suites and apps push automatic updates, sparing you most of the heavy lifting and plugging the most obvious holes that hackers might exploit.  

All Covered's patching service does one better, by automating network scans that reveal needed security patches, test for vulnerabilities, and maintain comprehensive patch compliance.

7. Lock up your emails. 

Until we find a way to do business without email, you'll have to keep your guard up whenever you open your inbox. Avoid opening attachments or links from unexpected email addresses; third-party security sites like Sucuri SiteCheck and urlvoid.com let you copy and paste questionable links, and then report on whether they're safe for consumption or brimming with malware.  

All Covered Managed IT Services adds several new layers of security without slowing down your business. Encryption services hide your communications from prying eyes. Continuous scanning and malware cleaning stops malware in its tracks. And DNS filtering blocks threats from malicious domains, URLs or IPs – containing botnet callbacks from infected devices over physical servers, virtual servers, PCs and laptops. All told, All Covered's inbound and outbound email protection services block 99 percent of spam and unquantifiable amounts of grief from phishing expeditions that hit home. 

Is air-tight, absolutely secure online privacy really possible? No, not really, but it can always be improved. With constant vigilance, regular security audits and assists from third-party security providers like All Covered, you'll be able to laugh off the next security scare that sends everyone else into a tizzy.