So we’ve talked a lot about privacy and security online in this class and obviously it’s a huge topic in the news right now. What I’ve taken away from this discussion and discovery is that, whether or not the way tech companies are handling our data is wrong or bad or illegal and whether or not they’re doing that intentionally and for profit, they’re definitely not directly looking out for us either. We sell our souls every time we skip past reading the Terms & Conditions Agreements, and they know no one reads those, but still it is our responsibility to educate ourselves in self-preservation. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of blaming the companies or blaming ourselves, it is reassuring to know that you’re protecting yourself and your data as much as possible online. So in the spirit of educating myself, I’ve done a little research and have compiled a short list of some steps you can take to arm yourself and your Internet habits.
Review your privacy settings. This is straight forward, but by reviewing the settings and editing past the defaults on your various accounts allows you to manage who sees what and where your data is going to a basic degree.
Set good passwords. I am super guilty of this, but it’s not particularly secure to use one password for all of your accounts. Use unexpected passwords and switch it up regularly. To be as safe as possible, ideally you would create a different password for every account that would be comprised of a random collection of letters, numbers, and symbols. A great way to do this well and not have to remember a million gibberish words is to install a password manager. That way, the manager remembers your random passwords and you just have to remember one really good password for the password manager! Apparently LastPass is a good one, but I can’t speak from experience, so if you try it let me know.
Use two-factor authentication for the big things (or all things). This adds an extra layer of protection to your accounts by sending a code to your phone even after entering a password to make sure it’s really you. Just be sure to keep your phone number safe as well! Here is the link to a website, Turn It On, that explains how to turn on two-factor authentication on many major websites in case you need some help with this.
More Involved Things
Download security software to protect yourself from spyware. Spyware is a type of malware designed to collect and steal the victim’s sensitive information without the victims knowledge; this can include basic things like monitoring your browsing habits to really confidential things like financial information. Some best practices to avoid spyware are to not click on any suspicious pop-up windows, delete emails you suspect to be spam, and be careful when downloading free applications. If you want to get serious, you can download software to combat the problem like Malwarebytes, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware.
Encrypt everything. Most major messenger applications are encrypted end-to-end, which refers to your message securely traversing the internet but not when it’s in storage, but recent developments have shown that these systems are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Also if you back up your data to the cloud, companies like Apple can be forced to turn this over to the police, so encrypted local backups should be carried out regularly to ensure that your data is being stored securely. Signal is the most secure messaging app according to security experts, and though it is end-to-end encrypted like iMessage and WhatsApp, it includes measures like verification that the person you’re speaking to is who you think they are with safety numbers and scan codes. The app also collects almost no metadata and even scrambles all of its records so that they can’t be used by the intelligence services.
Considering this is the result of me educating myself, I have taken none of these precautions at this point. After doing this research, however, I will definitely be examining my habits and taking some of these steps to improve my self-protection. I think that apps like Signal, will really gain popularity going forward as we become increasingly more concerned with online security. If you’d like to learn more, there are a lot of more ways you can maximize online privacy in the many sources that I used and linked below. Stay safe out there!