The online privacy concerns have got to its highest boiling point where you can’t ignore them anymore. With abundance of websites, apps, software and gadgets, the significance of privacy protection is growing every new day. Every second that you spend online may bring you risks, concerns and comprehension. Therefore, this sensitive matter which directly links to your privacy must be taken seriously.
How Are You Putting Your Online Privacy at Risk?
Throughout the entire human history, the last few years have been the most decisive ones when people quitted a lot of old habits and adopted a lot of new habits including utilization of their time. Undoubtedly, now they spend more time being active on social networks, online gaming portals, shopping websites and video making & sharing sites.
On one way, they are getting more social by connecting with more people while on the other way they are putting their privacy at greater risk by getting exposed to thousands of strange internet users. Furthermore, in the past few years, the internet users have noticed at least two big developments i.e. (1) Oppression and (2) Resistance against oppression.
- OPPRESSION: Government Surveillance – As an internet user, if you are asked “who do you see as your biggest enemy?” your answer might be: hackers, spammers or bad commenter. But in real life, your biggest enemy is your own internet service provider which you call ISP. Don’t you believe it? Well that’s perfectly true. Now your ISPs are abide by the law to monitor, record and report your activities to the government in most parts of the world.
- RESISTANCE: Shield Against Surveillance – Though, government, secret agencies and ISPs are taking extreme measures to monitor online activities, users are also showing their resistance against it. Internet is open and everyone wants to keep it open. In fact, just because of few hundred bad people, you are not supposed to punish billions of others. So people have also started taking necessary actions to protect their own privacy in form of VPNs and Proxy Servers.
If you feel that you have lost control of your privacy and you can’t move onto internet freely because you are afraid that you are being traced back, you better take alternative routes. There are some highly configured methods which will ensure that you could get back the control of your privacy and stay anonymous as long as you want. There is no need to become a technical guru to take privacy protection method as you simply need to know how you are being tracked and trapped and how you can resist against it.
How Are Your Being Tracked and Trapped Online?
1: Mass Surveillance
Surveillance of Large Population: Mass Surveillance Methodology is a way to monitor the activities of a large part of population indiscriminately. This method involves a set of tricks to breach people’s privacy without even letting them know that they are being tracked. In internet terminology, any method of mass user data collection without specifying individual targets may be considered as a kind of Mass Surveillance.
Collection of Unsorted Data: The mass surveillance methods have been developed much advanced and being used to detect, collect and analyze users’ data. The collectors do not really care about the sensitivity of the data at the stage of collection. However, it is further sorted out by the separate surveillance teams which look each and every aspect of everyday life of internet users.
2: Metadata Retention
Individual’s Data Collection – The collection of users’ data related to their location, call receiver, call duration and call frequency to the same person is known as metadata retention. This particular type of data has so much to tell about you as an individual and of course your online privacy may be at a greater risk. In fact, encryption of data may often fail to block metadata retention.
Exposing Personal Information – There are various messaging services which are using end-2-end encryption such as Whatsapp, Messenger and Facebook. The problem with Facebook is that it can show your personal information such as who do you send and receive message, frequency of messages, talk duration and a lot of other information. Of course, such crucial information may reveal a lot about you.
3: Information Sharing Alliance
2013 was a shocking year for rest of the world when Edward Snowden, an Ex CIA revealed that as many as five countries came to an agreement of intelligence information sharing with each other. Isn’t it shocking for you? Well, it should be if you are a citizen of one of these five countries under the agreement. Because you are not just being monitored but your private information may also be shared with the intelligence agencies of other member countries.
Five-Eyes Coalition is basically an intelligence sharing alliance which work together to protect each other’s interest. This secret coalition has the following five “secret agencies” as the members:
- NSA from United States of America
- CSEC from Canada
- GCHQ from United Kingdom
- GCSB from New Zealand
- ASD from Australia
The Five Eyes Agreement’s salient points include that the each individual country will carry out the task of interception, data collection and investigation within their own countries and later the information based on mutual interest will be shared with each other. After the agreement, internet users’ privacy has got a question mark on it.
How to Stay Protected from Mass Surveillance, Metadata Retention, Five-Eyes, Hackers and Snoopers?
If you really don’t want your private information get revealed, you can take advantage of latest technologies which have been very effective and aggressive in dealing with privacy risk bearers including metadata collection process. For instance, if you access a geographically blocked website with an active VPN or Tor, your ISP will never know about it because your activities are hidden. In this way, you can make your web browsing completely private and anonymous. Let’s check out in details the steps you can take to ensure your privacy:
1: Data Encryption
The conversion of online data into unreadable format is known as encryption and it is a blessing for those who care a lot about their online privacy. The best thing about data encryption process is that it makes data unreadable while moving to the recipient destination and makes it completely readable when reaches to the exact recipient.
In this way, the snoopers and hackers fail in their attempts to read the information and thus they fail to steal it during transit. The main purpose of an active encryption shield is to protect private data stored in your device. The encryption is getting frequently updated and improved and it has now added features like non-refutation, authentication and most importantly integrity. Three of the Most Trusted Encryption Methods are:
- Private Key
- Public Key
- AES Encryption
2: Virtual Private Networks
VPNs work well and there is no doubt about it but the performance of an active VPN also depends upon the authenticity and efficiently of VPN service provider. Hence, it is extremely important to be very selective and adopted while choosing a VPN. It is also important to mention here that a number of apps you allow in your Smartphone often dodge weak VPN and get directly connected to the server. Let’s check what you can do with a powerful VPN:
- Using a Secure Connection – The internet connection you are using may be completely unprotected and your simple act can put all your data and privacy at risk. For example, you request your server to connect you with a website and once your connection is established, you can’t protect your privacy anymore because your connection is open. However, if you use a Virtual Private Network commonly known as VPN, you can stay on a safer side.
- Securing All Your Communication – What’s so concerning about online security perspective while using internet without a VPN? Well, your connection is completely open and anyone including your internet service provider may see what’s transmitted from your side. Let’s take the example of an email. You would never like others to read your emails but these may be read if not secured by encryption.
- Staying Hidden and Anonymous – In all such cases, the use of a VPN service becomes so important because this is what will bring you complete privacy and protection. VPN will enable your connection to stay hidden and secured throughout a web surfing session. In fact, all your activities will remain anonymous under the cover of a VPN and all your communication will go through a secured VPN server
- Protection Original Location of Connection – The most important thing that a VPN does to your connection is “encoding” which means your connection as well as data would get encrypted and nobody would be able to explore what’s inside. Besides, hackers would not be able to discover the original location of the connection and of course when they fail to locate original location, they fail to break security layers.
- Trust That Built Over a Period of Time – When the VPNS were first introduced, most of the users were confused about them and they did not really know why they should be using another connection when they already have one. In fact, it took too long to understand the difference between a public network and a virtual private network.
3: Proxy Servers
The use of proxy server is another way of surfing internet with complete privacy. This will help you connect with other websites while still under anonymity. This works as a middle man and send your request to the other servers without exposing your real location.
If a proxy server is compared with a VPN, you will know that a proxy has an age over VPN because of its additional features. For example, the connection is shared on LAN, Private browsing is absolutely possible and the users have retained the ability to access blocked content and sites.
What’s the Difference between VPN and Proxy?
Some users get confused with the VPN and Proxy Server and they believe that both are the same because they both perform the same way. For example, VPN and Proxy both provide a secure connection and data protection. Well, that’s right but there are some other features which create differences between the two such as web freedom, level of protection, connection speed, secured browsing, connection stability and a lot more.
4: Private Browsers
Did you ever notice that your privacy is in danger while using different web search browsers? Actually, not all the browsers are secure but there is nothing to worry about it. However, you must know what could get you into trouble? Like viruses, un-trusted URLs, government surveillance and hackers. One more important thing to mention here is that if you are using an old browser, you may not protect your information. Top three private browsers are as follow:
- Comodo Dragon
5: Public Wi-Fi
The Public Wi-Fi brings so much vulnerability to the privacy of individuals. Everybody enjoys free Wi-Fi but many don’t know how dangerous this could be for their privacy. Therefore, one must be very careful while using a free Wi-Fi.
Risk: Some of the concerns raised about free Wi-Fi are:
- It is usually a mystery who is maintaining the Hotspot. So if you are required to provide some information, you must understand the risk.
- Setting up a Public Wi-Fi is a simple process and anyone can do it. Once the system is setup, everyone who will get connected to it will leave information in the hands of manager.
Precaution: what you can do to stay protected while using a public Wi-Fi:
- It is better not to use a public Wi-Fi if there is no urgency.
- Run a VPN before getting connected to a Free Wi-Fi.
- Run DNS Spill Test to ensure how secure the connection is.
6: Private Browsing Mode
The latest versions of internet browsers such as Firefox, Opera and Chrome come with private or incognito mode.
A private browsing mode does not record any kind of information. Once the session is over, all the information is gone. There is no history, cookie or cache.
7: Browser Extensions
If you trust your browsers but you would also like to add an extra layer of security to it, you can use browser extensions as well.
Some of the best private browser extensions which will ensure security for your privacy are HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin.
8: Messaging Apps
There are various useful messaging platforms which uses their own system of security to protect private messages as much as they can. However, mishap can occur anywhere and anytime so it is always good to take precaution from your side.
You should always use the messaging apps which have implemented strong end-to-end encryption system. Two of the most trusted messaging apps are Viber and WhatsApp and you can use them without any fear of privacy leak.
9: Private Search Engines
Like others, you must be using Google for most of your online searches. But do you know Google has already learnt a lot about you because it tracks your every online activity (of course for good intention)?
As an alternate to Google, Yahoo and Bing, you can use DuckDuckGo as your private search engine. In this way, you can take complete control of your personal information while on the other hand, your search history will also stay private and secure.
10: Use Secure Email Client
Most of us use email services on everyday basis for personal as well as professional needs. Do you ever think what will happen if your personal email is hacked by someone else on the way long to someone you are sending?
We can’t afford to lose our private emails especially the ones with sensitive information. The best way to keep your emails secure is to use an email service which ensures end-to-end encryption. Gmail may be the best option so far.
Now you must have understood how dangerous it may be to surf internet without taking privacy protection measures. You have to protect your private data and hide your online activities from government surveillance, internet service providers, hackers, spies, spammers, blackmailers and other malicious people and computer generated programs.
And this all is impossible until or unless you can take necessary measures by any or all from VPNs, Proxy Servers, private browsers, incognito browsing mode, secure browser extensions, secure public Wi-Fi, private, end-to-end encrypted messaging apps, private search engines and secure email clients.