Aura is an all-in-one digital security solution that helps protect you and your family’s identity, finances, devices, and personal info.
Online privacy is a term we’ve all heard flying around–whether in casual conversation with a friend or in a news article. But, what does it mean to remain private in the digital sphere and is it even possible? The short answer is: yes, it is. It may not be the easiest of feats, but it is definitely doable, and is pivotal in avoiding situations like getting your identity stolen or your personal information being sold on the dark web.
But, that doesn’t happen to everyday people like us, right? It can and it does, just like it did to John1.
John woke up one morning to find a strange email from his credit card provider claiming that during a routine search of the dark web, they had found a large chunk of his personal information available for all to see. At first, he thought it was a scam (who wouldn’t), but after some digging, he realized it was legit and proceeded to, well, freak out for lack of a better term. His full name, email address, and driver’s license had all been found on the dark web! He contacted his credit card provider, who thankfully informed him they caught it in time and nothing too drastic regarding his finances or identity had happened–but it could have been a lot worse.
These kinds of situations are definitely scary, but as we said above, there ARE precautions you can take to protect yourself online2.
1. Share less online (and not only on social media) Yes, not posting as much on apps like Instagram and Facebook is a great first step, as well as not tagging your geolocation when you do. But, it’s more than that.
Be mindful of the forms you fill out on websites (avoid inserting optional information like your phone number and middle name), create a throwaway email address for subscriptions (this is how your info could be sold on the dark web), avoid shared playlists, folders, or albums (they could get hacked), and protect your wi-fi password (your router handles sensitive information like your passwords and financial info).
2. Use hard-to-guess passwords and two-factor authentication Strong and unique passwords for all your devices is an absolute must. It’s truly the best way to protect yourself from identity thieves and hackers. Add in another layer of security with two-factor authentication (it’s the little code that’s sent to your phone when you need to login to your account) and you’re one step closer to protecting your online privacy.
3. Make sure your privacy settings are iron-clad Take the time to carefully review your privacy settings–decide what you want to share and what you want to protect with companies. Look over your location tracking settings and consider turning off automatic geolocation, decide what information you want to be public or hidden, and think about what posts you “like” on social media (they can show up in search results if someone looks you up, even if you have a private account).
4. Get rid of apps and browser extensions you don’t use When it comes to protecting your privacy, the first rule of thumb is: be suspicious of every app. A lot of apps make money by collecting user data, so keep that in mind when you’re downloading one (only use trustworthy sources like official app stores) But, what can you do to limit what they collect?
Again, check the settings, but also delete any programs (apps and browser extensions) that you don’t use, so they can’t keep collecting information from you (a lot of them do this in the background, even when you’re not using them). And even if you do visit a website every so often, it’s generally safer to do it from your browser and not download the app.
5. Delete your data from search engines Search engines collect personal data from us all the time. And the owners of these search engines, like Google and Bing, also provide us with our browsers, Chrome and Edge. By deleting your data from their databases, you can protect your privacy even further. Here’s how you can do that for the three big ones:
For Google: Go to the My Activity dashboard and delete everything. For Microsoft: You’ll need to clear data separately from Microsoft Edge and Bing. For Yahoo: You can delete data from search history management.
The bad news is there is no way to completely eliminate all tracking on Google, so a great alternative could be to use an online privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo.
6. Use a secure VPN (Virtual Private Network) while you’re browsing online If you use a VPN (like the one Aura has in their digital suite of security services) you are essentially hiding your location from anyone who’s looking or tracking you. It encodes your browsing information and makes it unreadable to hackers. Meaning they, as well as companies or data collection companies, won’t be able to easily follow your online movements and potentially get access to information you don’t want them to have.
Another thing to keep in mind is browsing in public. Hackers use a scam called shoulder surfing to watch you enter your private information when you're using your devices, and it’s easier to
get access to your personal information if you’re connected to a public wifi network (so use a VPN if you are!).
7. Keep your apps updated Software updates exist for a reason, so don’t ignore them! When a bug or vulnerability is detected in an app, software updates are released to “patch” them, so if you don’t download the new software you’re giving cybercriminals a way in to access your data. Turn on automatic updates on your phone and computer, and regularly check to see if there are new versions available.
8. Disable ad and data tracking The truth is the majority of your personal data that is collected is for marketing purposes. So, try to disable as many of these trackers as possible! Don’t share your data with pop-us, decline cookies on websites (if you can), disable cross-app tracking in your phone settings, and disable ad customization in the apps you use. If you can disable ad and data tracking on the big websites like Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Amazon, you’ve eliminated a large chunk of the companies tracking you.
9. Encrypt your data Set up encryption on your computer to keep your personal info like data, texts, and emails safe. Anyone without an encryption key or password won’t be able to access any of your information. You should also consider storing less in the Cloud and more on a physical hard drive. This makes it a lot harder for cyber criminals to get access to your data!
There are also messaging apps like WhatsApp that use end-to-end encryption, meaning they don’t have “backdoors” that hackers could get into.
10. Limit 3rd party app connections This just means avoid using the same account to login to different apps. If your Facebook account is what you use to login to your Instagram and Twitter account, then anyone who has that one password can hack into all of those accounts. Look over what’s connected to what and try to keep them as separate as possible.