With each single click, we unconsciously expand our digital footprint by an additional few bytes. If you wish to participate and engage online, you have two general choices: simply accept that your information is floating around in the online ether and push aside doubt and concern, or arm yourself with a digital toolset that can help safeguard your personal information. Should you choose to opt for the latter, this collection of products, services and applications should help you in attempting to win the fight to protect your privacy.
Before we begin, you must remember that there are many other products and services available, and many other steps to take in order to strengthen your privacy. This blog post is intended to present a small number of targeted strategies that we feel can help protect your online privacy. This is not an exhaustive list, and the flippant and developmental nature of the web ensures new advancements are made regularly, so please fully research the methods that you believe could bolster your security before progressing.
Tor is a free piece of software, available for Windows, Mac and Linux, that allows users to effectively browse the web anonymously and defend themselves against intrusive traffic analysis. Users can also download a dedicated Tor-enabled browser, which, when paired with the accompanying free software, is considered by many to be perhaps the best privacy tool available online at this point. The majority of individuals that use Tor do so in order to keep websites from tracking their routine online activity. The platform’s network allows users to browse and publish sites without having to reveal their exact location at any point of their journey. Another particularly useful feature of the service is the ability to connect to sites and services that have been blocked by your ISP.
When you visit some of the web’s most popular search engines, your search terms are generally stored by the engine and also passed on to the site that you have clicked through to. So, if you wish to search for something private, and you head to Google or Yahoo, you can essentially leave your privacy at the door. In addition to this, when you visit any site via search engine, your device automatically sends, what it deems to be, relevant information to it. This information can often be used to identify you with frightening accuracy. DuckDuckGo prevents this by default. Instead, when you click on a link displayed on their engine, they will redirect your request and prevent your search terms from joining you. The site you visit will still know you were there, but they won’t know the context behind your visit.
Adblock Plus is, at this point, the world’s most popular browser extension. The extension actively works to remove annoying adverts from your recurring online experience. An open source project, created by Wladimir Palant in 2006, the extension itself has no functionality, in the sense that it does not actively block any unwanted on-page elements until it is told to do so by its accompanying filter lists. These lists are essentially an extensive set of rules, which indicate which elements of websites Adblock Plus should actively block. Those behind the extension have expressed their desire to keep the web a safe and secure place, having previously stated that they “do not specifically collect any user data” with the majority of the data available never reaching their servers to begin with.
When browsing the web, you’ll have no doubt noticed that a significant amount of URLs typically have the “http://” prefix. However, the majority of sites online are now opting for the more secure version: “https://”. Google themselves have backed the advanced encryption, calling for “HTTPS everywhere” at this year’s I/O event. The company is taking things so seriously, that over the past few months, they have been running tests in order to factor in encrypted connections into their search ranking algorithms. If you don’t want to wait for the rest of the web to get on board with wider encryption, you can download the HTTPS Everywhere browser plugin for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. The plugin will automatically attempt to switch any HTTP web address over to HTTPS, ensuring your connection is protected at all times.
It isn’t unfair to assume that we should be in control of our personal information. However, in some cases, simply clicking through to a website allows third-parties to invisibly track our activity. More often than not, this data is sold on or analysed without your permission. Disconnect works to reduce the number of threats capable of doing so, including malware, identity scams and the unauthorised tracking of your search, browsing and in-app activity. The company also pledges to make your online experience “faster, more secure and fairer” in the long time, by blocking tracking requests and reducing bandwidth consumption. Disconnect has a number of free products available for desktop, iOS and Android.
If you’re looking to take your search for online privacy that one step further, a dedicated VPN (Virtual Private Network) is perhaps your most secure and reliable bet in the long term. Put simply, a VPN is a group of computers connected over a public network. When you connect to a VPN, your computer exchanges trusted keys with a desired identifiable server. Once both computers have established an authentic connection, your activity is encrypted and secured from prying eyes. CyberGhost is a fast, simple and efficient way of protecting your online privacy. It offers unrivalled security and anonymity without slowing down your connection. CyberGhost’s VPNs are a paid-for service, with plans available via their website.
We have written at length about the importance of password security in the past. If you value your online security, you should be doing absolutely everything within your power to ensure your passwords are strong and secure, and that nobody else has, or can gain, access to them. 1Password can provide the security and peace of mind that you need in today’s online landscape, without adding additional steps to your current online experience. The application works tirelessly to boost productivity, whilst raising critical awareness and strengthening your existing credentials. All of your passwords can be saved and stored safely within 1Password, with access restricted by a unique master password that only the intended user has access to. With handy browser extensions and mobile support out of the box, it is perhaps the simplest way to protect yourself from unwanted online security breaches.
Cryptocat is free open source software, developed by dedicated encryption professionals to ensure that our online privacy is upheld and accessible to everyone, at all times. The application is designed for encrypted chat, directly within your browser and mobile device. Perhaps the most important feature of the application, for those conscious of social eavesdropping, is that all of the content you send is encrypted before it leaves your device – even Cryptocat’s servers cannot read or access the messages you send and receive. However, Cryptocat isn’t a perfect solution to private communications. Even though Cryptocat provides useful encryption, you should never place complete trust in any single piece of software. The application won’t provide you with anonymity, nor will it mask your IP address. Your identity can still be traced, so placing all of your stock and trust into this application would be critically misguided.