Stop Hackers From Invading Your Online Privacy

If you spend any amount of time online, it is good idea to learn privacy from hackers.  Since the founding of the United States, the protection of personal privacy from government intrusion has been seen as a major tenet of democracy. In fact, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is written to protect the right of the people to be free against unreasonable searches and seizures.  However, in the digital age, this idea of privacy seems to be eroding. Malicious actors and government agencies have easy access to see our private communications and habits through our use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, or any other device connected to the internet.

Hackers are also a threat in the same way. Cybercriminals do this by using various tools and techniques that allow them to safely spy on victims and steal their data, violating data protection laws, all while keeping these crimes hidden from the authorities. The good news is that these same tools and techniques are available to all Internet users. The old adage "if you can't beat them, join them" doesn't quite apply here, but the concept does: if we start to think like hackers, we can use their tools, tips, and tricks against them to keep ourselves safe and secure in legal ways.

Keep Privacy In Communications

The best way to keep your messages private is through end-to-end encryption. This ensures that only the sender and the receiver know the contents of the message. If the message captured in transit, all that would be visible would be an unreadable code. This is often used in government communication or by people sending sensitive information via text or email, but it's able to be used by anyone.

learn privacy from hackers
For mobile phones, apps like WhatsApp are great for end-to-end encryption messaging. This app, and others like it, are also free-of-cost, which is a bonus. Furthermore, they use your own phone number, which cuts back on the hassle of creating an account.

For email, certain services offer end-to-end encryption. Tutanota is one such example. Services like these are free and store only encrypted messages on their servers. You don't run the risk of having the company access your information that way, either.

The issue with both of these options is that both the sender and receiver must be using a secure, encrypted service for it to work properly. If only the sender is using an end-to-end encryption service, the messages will not be encrypted.

Avoid Tracking While Browsing To Help Privacy

Installing a browser extension such as Ghostery or uBlock Origin helps to simply protect your browsing experience. These are free and work with most browsers. They block advertisements but also block websites from tracking your visits via cookies.

Another option is to use a private Internet browser, like Tor. It, and others like it, commit to keeping your search history unsaved and limiting the use of cookies in a browsing session. With many other common browsers, like Google, user information is collected with each session. It's not necessarily done with malicious intent. Many collect data for purposes like providing personalized content, like advertisements. But the fact remains that these browsers track users and collect their browsing history. Though you may not be completely off the grid, using private browsers are a great option to avoid being tracked while surfing the Internet.

Encrypt All Activities

For additional security outside of a simple browser extension, consider a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPNs securely encrypt all of your internet traffic through a network of computers. With a VPN, instead of directly connecting to a website, your computer creates an encrypted connection with a "middle-man" computer which then connects to the website on your behalf. It then encrypts the information from the website and sends it back to your computer. Although VPN connections are slightly slower than normal connections, they are much more secure.

There are free VPN products and services out there, but the paid options are typically far superior. A great option is VyprVPN. It is very easy to use and you can connect seamlessly from your phone, computer, or tablet.

Additional Tips

Below are some additional steps you can take to improve your security when using the internet:

  • Private web search. If a private web browser isn't for you, use a search engine like DuckDuckGo to avoid search engines like Google that track your every move.
  • Two-Factor AuthenticationWhen available, always use two-factor authentication (2FA) or two-step verification when singing into any of your online accounts. When you enable the two-step sign-on process, you will be asked to provide a third piece of information in addition to your username and password. This typically takes the form of a numeric code that is texted to your mobile phone. 2FA makes your accounts infinitely more secure. Should anyone attempt to log in to your accounts, your phone receives an "alert" in the form of a numeric code that you didn't request.
  • Use a password manager. Always try to use strong, unique passwords for your accounts. Keep personal information or easy-to-guess words and number combinations out of important account passwords. The best way to do this is through a password manager. Password managers help you create strong passwords; beyond that, they save them to the manager so that you don't need to remember the combination of letters and numbers you've chosen for each account.  Your passwords will be harder for hackers to guess, and thus, your information is safer.
  • Make smart choices about how you share information. The best way to protect your privacy online is to take the responsibility to safeguard your information. For example, don't give out your sensitive, personal information unless absolutely necessary. This applies to all important information, including logins, bank account numbers, your Social Security number, and the like. Use throwaway email addresses when possible. Keep your social media accounts private.