A significant portion of our lives now happens online, and this trend doesn’t seem to stop growing However, our efforts to stay private on the internet are lagging behind.
Few people would feel comfortable living in a house without curtains or using a bathroom that doesn’t lock. The same can be said about entering your PIN code at the ATM when somebody’s peeking over your shoulder.
Yet once we go online, we tend to forget about getting exposed and don’t get the feeling that somebody might be watching us. This false sense of safety leads to becoming a victim of a scam, identity theft, and other cybercrimes. Thankfully, we can easily minimize these risks with the right privacy tools.
Why you should care about online privacy
The Internet is a place full of both wonders and dangers. Ignoring the latter can result in painful (emotionally, financially, or both) experiences for you and your loved ones.
Take a moment and ask yourself, why should you care about privacy in general? The answer will probably apply to the online world as well. I find these three reasons to be key:
- Stay in control of your data. Otherwise, your privacy depends on someone else’s actions. That’s why you need to know who is capable of monitoring and collecting your information which later can be transferred to other parties, often for a hefty sum.
- Know your rights to control personal data. You have the right to know which online entities collect information about you and what they do with it. You also have the right to opt-out of the deals and request deletion of your data.
- Learn how to prevent privacy issues. As lame as it is to quote Sun Tzu nowadays, you should know your enemy. Learning about different online dangers makes you more aware, and preventing is always better than dealing with the consequences later.
Best tools to increase your privacy online
Luckily, plenty of tools can help you stay safe online. Some of them are recommended, and others are a must. This is my list of the top choices from every category.
When combined, these internet privacy tools can have an exponential impact on your safety:
- Safe web browser. For everyday use, choose Mozilla Firefox. Compared to Chrome and Safari, it offers more safety and customization options. For extra privacy and Dark Web browsing, have Tor Browser installed.
- Ad blocker. Pop-ups and other ads can be not only annoying but harmful. Clicking the wrong one can infect your device instantaneously. Avoid that with the AdGuard app or at least add its extension to your browser.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN). Encrypting your traffic and hiding your real IP address is essential for staying private online.
- Password manager. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you need a reliable password manager.
- Private search engine. There are other ways to google than Google.
These tools will be your curtains, your (bathroom) locks, and your clothes online. Together, they form a clenched fist for punching the online maladies to their proverbial guts.
1. Safe web browser
Your browser is your main way of interacting with the web, so it makes sense to make it more private. However, that’s not what all services strive for. Most regular browsers collect enough data to build your unique user profile that might end up in the wrong hands.
Therefore, we recommend Mozilla Firefox, a safe browser that deserves more attention than it gets. It’s user-friendly and offers many customization options thanks to the huge extension database. Most importantly, Firefox doesn’t keep your browsing history while protecting against trackers and cookies.
For even more privacy, use the Tor browser. Based on Firefox, it delivers ultimate protection against browser fingerprinting. Tor runs in private mode by default, meaning nothing from your session is saved.
What’s more, Tor uses a global network or relays to make your traffic extremely hard to detect. While that comes at the cost of speed, sometimes it’s better to be safe than fast, furious, and finally – sorry.
Even a safe browser can’t do everything by itself. While ads can be a nuisance, some pose a direct threat. They can execute a code that jeopardizes your device and privacy when clicked.
The best option here is to use AdGuard. It’s a powerful dedicated app for stopping ads and trackers. At the same time, it can detect help phishing attempts.
AdGuard is a premium service, but you can start with its free browser extension, available on Firefox as well.
3. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPN is one of the essential tools for online safety. It encrypts your traffic with a NASA-grade cipher and hides your IP address, making you virtually uncrackable. One of its most appealing factors, of course, is that you can use VPNs on multiple devices, ensuring the whole household is secured.
On top of the protection, this technology unblocks geographically restricted resources, such as Netflix and other streaming platforms. Moreover, it can help avoid unfair pricing and get better deals for flight tickets and other services online.
NordVPN is the industry’s leading service, known for top-notch security and privacy. Besides, it comes with an independently-audited no-logs policy, which means the provider doesn’t store any personally identifiable information about you.
4. Password manager
Reusing your passwords is a huge mistake, yet remembering them is not an option for most. The solution comes in the form of a reliable password manager, such as KeePass or NordPass. Now all you have to do is create one strong master password to log in to all of your accounts wherever you go.
Password managers use zero-knowledge architecture, meaning your master password is never stored and can’t be stolen even if the company experiences a data breach. Besides, you can keep not only passwords but other important information like credit card data.
5. Private search engine
Every time you enter something in the search field, Google updates your digital profile and sells that data to advertisers. That’s how you get those personalized ads that seem to offer just what you want.
Thankfully, there are great private search engines like DuckDuckGo or StartPage to avoid becoming the product. Both don’t collect and don’t sell anything that could help build your profile, including used keywords, time and location of the search, or clicked links.
And while DuckDuckGo may show slightly different search results, StartPage gives you the same list as Google does without taking anything in return.
What else can you do for your online privacy?
Even the best tools won’t give the desired result if we misuse them. That’s why you should take time to learn the ins and outs of your new password manager or VPN. Luckily, most apps are easy to use and have responsive customer support or a helpful community built around them.
Furthermore, you should educate yourself about the possible dangers to your privacy and security. This way, you will learn to recognize and avoid them.
Finally, here are some online privacy tips to have in mind before you’re back to surfing the web:
- Check app privacy settings. Most apps have them, allowing you to choose how much information you want to share. Always set this to a minimum, especially when it comes to your name or location.
- Turn off Bluetooth. Leaving Bluetooth on is a risk you can minimize by switching it off whenever you’re not using it.
- Check the links and attachments in your email. Phishing attacks often include an email that looks like it’s coming from a well-known institution or even your close ones. If any link or attachment looks suspicious, better contact the sender first by other means.
- Stop oversharing online. Skip optional information, use throwaway email accounts, and don’t share passwords and other sensitive information on social media.
- Update your software automatically. Nearly 2 out of 3 hacking attacks exploited vulnerabilities that were at least two years old (BitDefender). There’s way less risk in using a new version that might have a security issue than the old one, which does have it, and everybody knows it.
All the internet privacy tools mentioned above are key for staying safe online. Some, like private search engines or secure web browsers, can be embraced right away. Others, such as VPNs or password managers, might require a bit more time, but privacy tools are an investment I recommend making today if you haven’t already.
Ultimately, a lot depends on how much of your life happens online. Back in the day, antivirus software was the sole option for protecting yourself. As the online attacks became more sophisticated, that proved to be no longer enough.
Thankfully, there are excellent online security and privacy tools, but using them is no longer optional if you care for your internet safety.