Guide to Protecting Your Online Privacy

Staying safe online is essential to prevent cybercriminals from utilizing your private information.

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Last Updated: Dec 14, 2023
Person using cell phone
All internet-connected devices can be vulnerable to a privacy or security breach.
  • Avoid connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks, especially in public places, to prevent the risk of personal data exposure and potential hacking attempts by using fake networks set up by attackers.
  • Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is essential for added protection against hackers, ISPs, and malicious websites.
  • Employ a password manager to generate and store complex, unique passwords for various online accounts.
  • Protecting your online privacy allows you to have control over your identity and keep your personal information safe, including your login credentials, banking information, email addresses, phone numbers, and other types of sensitive data you don’t want to share.

    Over 80 percent of Americans surveyed say they’re worried about online security, but only 50 percent are looking for new ways to protect their online information. You can take additional steps to safeguard your online privacy. In this guide, we’ll cover some the best ways to protect your privacy online.

    Don’t Connect to Unsecured Networks

    When you’re in a public area and want to connect to Wi-Fi, make sure you don’t connect to an unsecured network. One of the biggest risks of unsecured networks is that your personal data is sent in clear text, which means others on the network can gain access to it.

    It’s common for hackers to set up a “honeypot” Wi-Fi network to trap unsuspecting computers or smartphone users. While you’re enjoying free public Wi-Fi, a hacker can gain access to unauthorized personal information on your social media accounts and steal all sorts of private data.

    You should connect only to networks you know. If you’re in a public place, check with an employee to ensure you’re connecting to their authorized network. You should also check that your computer or smartphone doesn’t automatically connect to available networks unless you have saved it as a trusted network.

    It’s not just public Wi-Fi that’s unsafe — you can also have security flaws in your home network. If you want to avoid getting hacked while you’re on your home network, make sure to secure your router.

    Use a Virtual Private Network

    A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts data traffic and acts as a protective tunnel between your device and the server. When you’re using a quality VPN, you get an additional layer of security against hackers, internet service providers (ISPs), malicious websites, and the government.

    A VPN reduces the speed of your internet, depending on the type and connected server location. The slight drop in speed is worth it, though, since using a VPN protects your online privacy and technology. You don’t have to use a VPN all the time, just when you’re connecting to a public network or visiting a website you’re uncertain about. Not all VPNs are created equal, so carefully choose from reputable VPN providers to protect your online privacy.

    Install Antivirus Software

    Quality antivirus software will protect your online privacy by detecting and removing malware, ransomware, and spyware that may have gotten into your device. You should update the software to the latest version so the newest patches can combat new threats. Hackers often use new tools in the hope that any delay by antivirus programs will provide them with an opportunity to strike.

    Another reason you should install antivirus software is that online advertisements can be annoying and interrupt your browsing experience. You can use an adware blocker to protect yourself from persistent and unwanted online ads. Some ads track your digital footprint by gathering information about your location or websites you’ve visited. Enable the firewall on your device, since it acts as a barrier between malware and your device.

    Update Privacy Settings on Your Social Media Accounts

    Most social media platforms offer settings that allow you to limit the way your personal information and data are collected or used. You may have inadvertently changed the settings or new default settings may have been introduced without your noticing. That’s why it’s best to periodically check your social media settings via websites and mobile apps.

    You also don’t want to share your location data unless you need to use a feature or app that requires it. You should deny access to your contacts, email addresses, phone number, or any personal information that isn’t necessary to share. Having two-factor authentication for your social media accounts will add an extra layer of security for your online privacy.

    Use a Password Manager

    Person holding cell phone and using laptop
    Keep your passwords unique and varied while storing them in a password manager.

    Cybersecurity experts recommend using passwords that have special characters and numbers. Complex and long passwords are more secure, but they can be difficult to remember — especially when you use them for multiple websites and apps.

    A typical internet user has over 90 login credentials. One of the easiest ways to manage passwords is to use a password manager, which encrypts your login information. You need to remember only the master password to access the encrypted login credentials. Some of the most popular password managers include Apple Keychain and Google Password Manager.

    Use Encrypted Apps for Messaging

    Using vulnerabilities in a messaging app to access your private information is more common than you may think. You need to ensure that the messaging app you use has end-to-end encryption (E2EE), which means your chats with other people will have a unique security code.

    Another key benefit of using such apps is that they don’t copy your messages or multimedia on their servers. You can keep your messaging data on your phone locally, in external storage, or on a cloud service. Some popular chat apps that use end-to-end encryption include Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram.

    Limit Information Sharing

    With new technological advancements, it has become increasingly easy and quick to share information online. Passwords or videos can be shared instantly; air-drop features let you share login credentials now.

    These features are hackers’ targets, so you should minimize sharing information online. A photo of your boarding pass or new license plate, for example, allows malicious actors to find ways to hack your data. Even if you have your online accounts set to private, anything you post online can fall into the wrong hands.

    You should also switch off the GPS on your devices when not in use. Geotracking is a growing threat to online privacy. It can reveal information such as your home and office address, where you shop, where you work out, and other location-based personal information that make you a target of stalkers, burglars, and hackers.