Privacy and its importance with 10 tips to help you secure your activity online

by | July 8, 2021 | How to

Internet privacy has always mattered, whether it was the year 2007 or 2021. You may wonder what is the difference between these years? The answer: online threats, cyberattacks, and data breaches have escalated 10 times. Therefore, you can see it with your eyes it is not a good number and not a great time to browse online without security measures.

Privacy is becoming a growing concern lately. Companies track your behavior on websites to show you highly relevant advertisements, making it mandatory for you to have an encrypted online connection. Not only companies, but governments too monitor every move you make to predict your behavior and control you better. Let’s not forget cybercriminals that are “hungry” and excited to steal your data for their dirty purposes!

What is data privacy?

Data privacy is related to how a piece of information or data should be handled according to its relative importance. For example, in the process of introducing yourself, you may not mind sharing your name with a stranger, but there is other information you will not share, at least not until you become more familiar with the person. However, by opening a new bank account, you may be asked to share a lot of personal information, far beyond your name.

In the digital era, we usually apply the concept of data privacy to critical personal information, knows as PII (personally identifiable information) and PHI (personal health information). This may include health and medical records, Social Security numbers, financial data, including bank account and credit card numbers, and even the basic one, still sensitive though, such as full names, addresses, and birthdates.

However, for a company, data privacy goes way beyond the PII of its customers and employees. It also contains the information that helps the company operate, whether it’s proprietary research and development data or financial information showing how the business spends and invests its money!

Why is data privacy important?

When data that should be kept secret falls into the wrong hands, bad things may happen. For example, a data breach by a government agency may transfer top-secret information into the hands of an enemy country. A company’s breach may leave proprietary data in the hands of competitors. School breaches may put students’ PII in the hands of criminals who may engage in identity theft. Data breaches in a hospital or doctor’s office can put PHI in the hands of people who might abuse it.

What are some common data privacy issues?

Internet-related privacy issues exist on a spectrum, from the information you won’t mind sharing (such as a public social media account) to privacy compromises like targeted ads, and also public embarrassment or breaches that may affect your personal life (professional issues or financial breaches). In the following, you will learn and maybe recognize some of the most common data privacy issues!

1. Tracking user by search engines

Search engines will not only record what you have been looking for but also the websites you subsequently visit. In addition, if search engine providers also make the browser (Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.), they will have your browsing history regardless of whether you have searched the site or not. What can search engines collect:

  • search history
  • cookies
  • IP addresses
  • click-through history

In general, this information can be used for “analysis” (e.g.: compositing a customer based on shopping, browsing, and social media preferences.

2. Social media data harvesting

Thanks to a series of scandals, social media privacy hit the spotlight in recent years, including the Cambridge Analytica story, where data was used to manipulate voters, doxing (sharing secret information publicly). Victims of these data breaches are not to blame, but still, there is a saying when it comes to social networking: don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t like repeated to your parents/employer!

3. Online tracking by cookies

Usually, cookies are inoffensive. They are basically a code that tells website information on your browsing history, which can help the user later remembering:

  • logins
  • identification
  • ad settings
  • preference settings
  • language settings

When third-party ad serving is involved, cookies can become a concern. When you’re on a website, your browser gathered information from various sources that dictate the ads you see. You have become a profile, even if it’s seen only by some bots.

4. Mobile apps and privacy

  • The average smartphone owner is using 9 apps per day and 30 per month. Apps do make our lives easier, however, they know more about us
  • A majority of apps request location detail, usernames and email addresses. The next level of information required is usually “risky permission”. For a better understanding, there are some information that would be risky if it fell into the wrong hands (for example, access to a phone’s microphone/recorder, contacts and camera).
  • And that is why before giving these permissions and information, you should consider whether you trust the app provider to hold this information or not. If any doubts, you can deny access, immediately or in the app’s settings.

5. Identity theft

This one has been a crime since long before the internet exists, but the new technology has opened up fresh opportunities for thieves. Online identity theft occurs when someone accesses your PII to commit fraud. This information might be bank account details, a driver’s license, tax numbers, or anything else required to impersonate you online. Worst-case scenario, your data might be soled on the dark web.

How thieves can steal your information?

  • phishing: threat actors appear as honorable contacts such as bank institutions to trick you into offering sensitive information or opening malicious attachments.
  • malware: a malicious software that can access your operating system on your computer.
  • pharming: hijacking data using a virus without knowledge, often through a fake website.
  • discarded phones and computers: before you sell or give away any device, make sure is thoroughly “clean”.

Pro tips to secure your activity online

1. Use DNT settings

Usually, you see DNT (“do not track”) settings on your online browsers. When you enable it in your browsing (either Chrome, Opera, or whatever browser), you are telling third-party partners and websites that you do not want to be tracked.

2. Use cookie-blocking browser extensions

These cookie-blocking browser extensions will help keep tracking and especially third-party information gathering, in distress.

3. Give up on app tracking

As we said before, apps have access to a lot of information about you. How you can prevent this is by going to your app settings (either in the app or in the phone settings) and opting out of the app tracking information, including location.

4. Review privacy policy carefully

The common mistake you can do too when browsing online is to simply click “agree” to user agreements and privacy policies without reading them. Next time, try to take a look at any document before clicking “accept” or “agree”. If you don’t have time to read it, search what the app or site asks of its users and whether you’re comfortable whit what information they have about users.

5. Use a VPN when accessing the internet

A VPN (a virtual private network) drives your online activity through an encrypted virtual tunnel. That way you keep your IP address and location secret from sites you visit, it protects you from threat actors, and sometimes it can give you access to some sites and services unavailable in your country.

6. Use incognito mode when browsing

You may have seen it before when browsing online, but probably never used it. Incognito mode is basically private browsing and it means that your online history isn’t remembered or stored.

7. Use a different search engine

If you have any doubts regarding what a search engine knows about your online behavior, you might consider jumping ship. DuckDuckGo, for example, markets itself as a more private and secure alternative to Google.

8. Be aware of what you click online

Phishing basically depends on you clicking on risky sites/attachments. So, browse safely online and do not click on anything that seems suspicious to you. Keep in mind that some phishing threats appear as ads.

9. Share online files safely

You can securely share files with anyone on the web by password protecting them. With a password protecting your PDF or other files, you can be sure that only the intended recipient views it.

10. Use antivirus software and secure your devices

In the end, you should definitely have updated, industry-leading antivirus software on your device, mobile, or computer. Run it constantly and carry out regular scans.

Final thoughts

Privacy on the Internet is your basic right, therefore you need to fight for it! By including these Internet privacy tips in your daily life, you will be able to protect your privacy online and browse without stress, knowing that your personal data won’t end up in the wrong hands!


Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

by Andreea Popa

Content writer for Attack Simulator, delivering your daily dose of awareness for cyber security! Love to write passionately about any subject and my mainly inspiration are people's stories. You can also find me on social media, for some more friendly things!

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