The rapid development of digital and mobile technology has led to the digitalization of modern society.
Smartphones have only become lighter, leaner, yet increasingly powerful each year. They’re an all-in-one device for leisure, education, commerce, work, and communication that comfortably fits in one’s pocket.
But as the digital sphere slowly but surely infiltrates more facets of day-to-day life, individuals are putting their privacy at risk.
How can users navigate the internet without exposing themselves to entities hungry for personal data?
Growing Concerns Amidst More Cyberattacks
In 2022, data breaches worldwide affected more than 420 million internet users, dwarfing the total in the previous year. Yet the number of cyberattacks was slightly higher in 2021, so what gives?
X (formerly Twitter), one of the biggest social platforms, accounted for over half of the 2022 count. Therefore, cybercriminals only need to target a handful of popular websites and apps to exponentially increase the number of compromised individuals (and organizations).
Worse, more and more reports of compromised data are turning up with insufficient details.
The stolen information from X might have resulted from multiple database acquisitions and cyberattacks over several years, but this cannot be ascertained.
Unknown elements—the who, what, when, where, and how—concerning data breaches make it harder for cybersecurity researchers to inform consumers and institutions about how they can best protect their data.
Of course, both the government and tech companies vow to secure everyone’s digital privacy.
However, relatively slow progress in the US Congress toward a federal law has led states to present their own privacy laws. It’s a laudable achievement by supporters of data privacy and their local government. Still, tech giants argue that too many state laws with different regulations will only complicate matters for them and the public.
How to Safely Navigate Digital Spaces
Even with the political challenges and increasingly bigger cyberattacks, people should refrain from feeling powerless.
Users can keep using the internet as usual without compromising their privacy if they follow a few tips:
Remove Cookies and Install Ad-Blocking Software
Online advertisements have become the norm in many industries as people embrace digital media. Yet banner ads and pop-up ads on websites and mobile apps are potential risks to data privacy.
Malicious parties can exploit adware, leading users to dangerous sites and links full of spyware, ransomware, and viruses. Adblockers can detect and hide many forms of adware, but they may not always work on all websites and platforms.
Even if the ads come from reputable marketers and businesses, they still track people’s browsing through internet cookies.
Thankfully, users can update their browser settings to automatically remove cookies upon closing. People should also only accept essential cookies whenever websites ask them to accept cookies.
Connect to a VPN
User data is highly valuable — companies and cybercriminals can sell them for big money to the right buyer. It can be used for target advertising, identity theft, and government surveillance.
What is government surveillance? It’s when public institutions monitor what citizens say on social media or browse online. Some countries conduct mass surveillance in the name of national security, while others use it to censor political dissidents.
Regardless of the interested party and their motive, people should strive to keep their browsing activities away from snooping eyes.
A VPN or virtual private network is a simple and highly reliable solution: it creates a secure network (also known as a tunnel) to encrypt data. This prevents ISPs and unauthorized entities from tracking a user’s online activities.
Never Use the Same Password
Short and simple passwords like “123456” and “password” are a disservice to data privacy. Users should always generate lengthy, complex passwords to combat hacking attempts like brute-force attacks.
Likewise, using only one password for all accounts is ill-advised. The rest will quickly follow If one account’s login details are compromised.
People don’t need to remember all the unique passwords for each account. Free and premium password managers exist to securely store passwords (and other sensitive information) in one place.
Everyone deserves the right to privacy online and offline. Participating in online activities should not come at the cost of one’s privacy and anonymity.
As the internet creates more opportunities to grow and connect, people should remain vigilant about what data they might leave out in the open. Attaining complete digital privacy is a tall order, but taking things one step at a time won’t hurt.