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Protecting Your Privacy Online

Protecting Your Privacy Online

​This is an article which actually I shouldn't have to be writing, but still on a daily basis, I see friends and family failing massively at this. Online privacy is getting simpler, there are still some more complex parts to overcome, but there are some simple things everybody should be doing at least to make things more difficult to be tracked online, not just by people, but by corporations and bots!

So following on from my previous Facebook Privacy Settings Post, I decided to break this down in to a simple few things you can do now to increase your privacy whilst you are surfing online, they shouldn't affect the way you really use your tech either! Share it with your family and friends as well, as I believe it is important we really do start being a bit more cautious about what is available to people online. There are definitely a lot more things you can do, and a lot more methods than I am showing you here, but it is impossible to list everything, so feel free to get in touch or comment for more advice. I will help wherever I can!



Use a VPN

Lets start by introducing you to a VPN, something which you may or may not have heard of before. VPN stands for 'Virtual Private Network'. Without delving in to too much detail here about what it does, as I don't believe it is necessary as part of this post, it essentially creates an encrypted connection over a less secure network. 

The true benefit of using a secure VPN solution as an individual is that it protects your privacy. It will essentially hide your true identity to Cyber Criminals on the internet and can encrypt that connection on your PC/Laptop or Mobile Device.

Why do you want this? Well in this day and age there are way too many companies monitoring everything you do online, from simple shopping sites, to search engines, and more importantly...criminals! You need to protect what you are doing from prying eyes! The VPN can encrypt everything you do online, and anonymise where you are doing it from, so if you are in London, it could show you based in Manchester or so on. This has various other benefits to it, such as streaming catchup services from different countries and so forth.

Setting up a VPN used to be difficult, however in more recent years various companies designed solutions for the everyday user to be able to access and use a VPN with ease, and there are a couple I will recommend here today. These are not the only ones available, but I have tried and tested them both and they are both very good and simple to set up and use!

Cyber Ghost - This is a great VPN for beginners and there is a free version if you don't want to pay for it, although the prices are extremely reasonable and their servers are very quick. There are servers based around the world, so you can either choose one you like or automatically select the fastest one for you. If you pay for a subscription for around £5 a month you can protect up to 5 devices, including your PC, Mac, Laptop, Android phone, iPhone, Tablet etc. Take a look at their website for more information, and you can always download their free version to try it! It is dead simple to set up! - cyberghostvpn.com

IP Vanish - Another great VPN offering, unfortunately without a free version. Fast servers just like Cyber Ghost. Pricing is very similar, around £5 per month for 5 devices. Both services offer unlimited bandwidth, fast servers, zero logs, 256-bit AES Encryption etc. Mobile apps on offer as well as PC apps. - ipvanish.com

Take a look at both and see which you prefer. If you have never used a VPN before, I would advise Cyber Ghost, as it is much simpler to set up and as I say, there is also a free version you can play with to begin with if you would like to.



Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-Factor authentication (2FA) strengthens access security by requiring two methods (also referred to as factors) to verify your identity. These factors can include something you know - like a username and password, plus something you have - like a smartphone app to approve authentication requests.

2FA protects against phishing, social engineering and password brute-force attacks and secures your logins from attackers exploiting weak or stolen credentials. It also essentially means that if somebody finds out your password for an account with 2FA enabled, without the second factor (your smartphone with or without a code generation app, or a standalone code generator), they will be unable to access the account still. More and more online shopping sites and social media sites especially are integrating 2FA in to their websites to allow you to protect yourselves, so use it!

There are a few ways in which providers will use 2FA to verify you, these could be simply emailing or texting you a unique code every time you log in, so only you would have that code. Or some providers have an automated phone system that calls with a unique code as well. There are other options such as authenticator apps and standalone code generators. If you have worked in a corporate environment you may have seen an RSA key before, this is a form of 2FA, it generates a new unique code every 60 seconds. Authenticator apps for your smartphone/iPhone work in a similar way. 

Google and Microsoft both offer an Authenticator app. With these apps, once downloaded, and once you have set up 2FA on the specific website, you would scan a barcode with the authenticator app, this adds it to the app, and then begins generating a new code every so many seconds. You can do this for as many websites or apps as you wish, and keep them all within the authenticator app, making it simple to keep things secure and in your pocket. So without your phone (and pin code to access it), nobody can access your accounts, even if they get your passwords! Sounds good right? Google's authenticator app is here for Android and iPhone. And Microsoft's authenticator app is here for Android, iPhone and Windows phone.

So now you know what 2FA is and how it can help you. Get the authenticator app downloaded, whichever you prefer, and then look on whichever account you have to see if Two-Factor Authentication can be set up. I have listed some of the major sites and apps that you probably use that definitely support it below, and I was going to go in to detail on how to turn it on on each one, until I discovered this lovely little site, who are working hard at creating a huge database of instructions for everyday people to be able to use 2FA, so take a look at the site and you will be able to find instructions on there for whatever website/service/app you are using... turnon2fa.com

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • iTunes
  • Yahoo
  • Snapchat
  • Gmail
  • Outlook
  • Amazon
  • PayPal

There are hundreds more websites/services/apps that have 2FA integration, in fact almost all websites I use have it, and not one website or service I use has it switched off! So get working and turn it on, it won't take long, but it will protect you in the long run!



Set up a Google Alert

You can love or hate Google, it has its good and bad sides, but either way it is here to stay, and the majority of internet users use Google as their main search engine, most people have a Google account, as you need one to use various different services across the internet, and most people would have found themselves listed on Google at some point. Maybe if you haven't, you should take a look now... Try typing in your name as it is, if that brings nothing of interest, try adding the place where you live next to your name, 'Joe Bloggs London' and just see what comes up. You may find nothing, or you may be interested to see what comes up!

Either way, from today onwards, you need to know when new information about you appears on Google, but you don't want to have to keep searching for it every day or every week, right? So we set up a Google Alert, and these are great, I have loads set up for various things, including my name, but it works well for business and charities as well. Anything that appears in the news with certain keywords etc that you set will flag and alert you, and the best bit is, they are really easy to set up and you don't even have to be signed in to google to set them up!

Go to google.co.uk/alerts, you will be presented with a page with a search box at the top where you can enter what you would like to add an alert for.

In the search box add your name, and if I were you I would add it in various different ways you would like alerts for, for example if Joe Bloggs lived in Kensington in London, I would add the following; 'Joe Bloggs', 'Joe Bloggs London' and 'Joe Bloggs Kensington'. These are just simple examples, and you can add as many or as little as you would like.

As you add them it asks for your notification email address and a few options, you can leave the options as they are or adjust them to your needs, they are self-explanatory, simple things such as how often you would like notifications, which sources you would like the alerts from, which countries from etc. Have a play and you can see how simple it is. They are really useful and save you worrying about being listed in the news or on google without knowing about it! You will start to come up with so many uses for Google Alert's that you will begin to wonder how you ever lived without them, i'm sure!



Sign out of Google and Social Networks when you finish!

This may sound simple, but so many people just close the browser window or just close the app without logging out, which most of the time keeps you logged in, unless using private browsing or 'incognito mode', which I will cover shortly. The issue with this, especially with Google is the fact that by staying logged in, you let it track everything against your account, so it records everything you do and saves it in your account. Have you ever looked in your Google Account to see your activity? Did you know that unless you switch it off, Google will usually automatically record everything from your web and app activity, to where you have been (it uses your phones GPS), but get this... it also records what you are saying! It records what you are saying and stores them in your account. Google says the reason for all of this data collection is to make your life easier, and so they can provide better tools and results for you. In my opinion, it's creepy! So turn it all off! 

You may be surprised when you log in to see how much data Google has actually recorded on you. You can see it by going to https://myactivity.google.com and logging in.

Once you have logged in, you can use the tools there to delete all of your past activity, which I would recommend and you can switch off all of your future activity. When you go to switch some features off, it will pop up with some messages to convince you to leave them on, but it really isn't worth it for your privacy, so just switch it all off. Do you really want Google cataloguing your entire life? Recording conversations you are having or recording when you go to the shop or your partners house?

When deleting your previous activity history, ensure 'All Time' is selected as shown in the image below.

Once you have deleted all of your previous activity history, make sure everything is switched off and your main dashboard when you navigate to https://myactivity.google.com looks something like this... 

​Remember, this isn't just Google, log out of all sites, every site you leave logged in has the potential to track what you are doing on the internet. without you realising. It is also common sense to log out to keep your account secure!



Use Private Browsing or Incognito Mode

This is a really simple one, but one many people still don't do. When you are browsing online, use 'Private Browsing' mode or as Google Chrome calls it, 'Incognito Mode'. When you do this, it doesn't just stop the browser from recording what websites you visit, which is generally what the majority of users use it for, it does more than that. 

When you close the browser, it dumps the history when you close the browser, but it also dumps all of the tracking cookies that you pick up whilst browsing various websites which could be dangerous. These cookies, if left in the normal browser could sit there for a long time tracking everything you do without you even realising, but you have allowed them to be installed by going to a website. You may not know which website, but a certain website would have had terms and conditions which stated that by visiting you allow cookies to be placed.

If you allow these cookies to be placed inside the private/incognito browsing mode, they just completely wipe once you close the browser.

Plus, by using the private/incognito mode, you have the benefit that if you forget to log out of any social media accounts, you won't have to worry about people being able to log in! So many benefits, definitely worth using in my opinion!


​There are various other methods that you can use to protect your privacy online, but these are some quick and simple ones which you can do now, and definitely things that you should be thinking about!


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