Everyone expects some basic level of privacy, but increasingly, it is getting more and more difficult to get that. Phone companies, governments, app developers, and internet giants like Google and Facebook are all interested in our private data, and they will go to great lengths to get hold of as much of it as they can.
This begs the question if it is even possible to protect your privacy at all. The simple answer to this concern is that it is not easy. You will have to learn some PC tips and tricks, depending on the software you are using. You should also be constantly vigilant against any violations. The following 7 practical ways to improve computer privacy are only a small step in that direction.
1. Lock Down Your Hardware
Likely, you trust those around you with a reasonable amount of your private information, but in case your phone or laptop gets stolen, a lot of your private data can fall into the wrong hands. That is why you should always have a pass code to access them. Devices, especially phones, carry a lot of personal information. They have contacts, photos, notes, schedules, recordings and so on. And in the wrong hands, that information can be used to perpetrate fraud against you.
Cyber criminals can steal your identity and use it for nefarious reasons. They can, for instance, blackmail you, if they find anything embarrassing or incriminating on your phone. Having your hardware on lock down is just one step in ensuring that you never fall victim to this.
2. Use a Password Manager
A password manager is a special kind of software that helps generate, store, and manage passwords. The advantages of using a password manager include the following:
- Helps generate strong passwords
- Auto fills online forms for you
- Removes the burden of having to remember multiple passwords
- Eliminates the risk of having your passwords lost, or in the wrong hands
Most people rely on a single password to open multiple accounts. The passwords are also often weak and personalized in one way or another. If you don’t believe this, take a look at the list of the top 5 most common passwords:
These are not just easy to remember, but they expose their users to cybercrime. With a password manager, such risks are avoided.
Most people have never had their computer infected with a virus that deletes everything, and or that corrupts all of their files. So, they naturally assume that there is no need to install an anti-malware software on their computer. The truth is, while debilitating malware attacks are rare, viruses can do more than delete your files. They can serve as a conduit for identity theft, cybercrime, espionage and so on.
Hackers can use your computer as a launchpad for attacks on another target, for instance, in which case you might find yourself on the wrong side of a courtroom.
Without an anti-malware software, you also risk having your data stolen and accessible to all manners of people including annoying advertisers. Some anti-malware solutions also come in the form of PC cleaning software that not only keeps malware at bay, but also optimizes the performance of your computer.
4. Use a VPN App to Browse the Internet
If you don’t like being tracked by the websites that you visit, then a VPN app is the perfect solution for you. It will hide your IP address and stop anyone from snooping on you.
However, you must purchase a premium version because the free options are not that good at hiding IP addresses. A VPN app will also help you stream content, and download stuff anonymously. If you can combine a VPN app with another secure technology, such as the Tor network, it will make your activities on the internet virtually undetectable.
Another reason for needing a VPN app is when accessing public and unsecured networks such as free Wi-Fi. When using unsecured Wi-Fi, you never know who is eavesdropping on your communications. It could be government agencies or someone with ulterior motives.
5. Make Important Updates
As a rule of thumb, you should always update your computer to the latest version of software. The most important updates in this regard are the Windows updates because they help protect your system from zero-day attacks that could be used to compromise the security of your data.
Your web browser is another piece of software that should always be updated as it serves as your window to the rest of the world. Malicious hackers and websites are known to exploit security flaws in browsers and in the process infect your computer with worms, viruses, Trojans and other harmful programs.
Also, try not to use pirated versions of software because sometimes the ‘free stuff’ is packaged together with bugs that snoop on your activities. It is also difficult to update pirated software which means that they lack the most recent security patches.
6. Be Wary of Scams
Sometimes, scammers will ask you to provide personally identifying information so that they can commit fraud. They will pose as legitimate companies, such as banks, insurance companies, or government agencies. Some people have been tricked into giving their credit card pins and have in the process lost considerable amounts of money.
The most popular of such schemes is a phishing attack. Scammers will send a juicy email that promises great discounts, prizes, and opportunities. Clicking on such an email may either trigger a malware attack or lead to a conversation where you are required to share details such as social security number.
To keep yourself safe, always double check the source of the email and never give personal information over the internet, unless you are very certain that you are dealing with a trustworthy party.
7. Clean Your Devices
Most people don’t know this, but keeping files that you no longer need on your computer exposes you to gross privacy violations. Your browser, for instance, contains so much information about your interests that it’s enough for some psychologists to make a reasonable assessment about your personality.
Your browsing history is also of great interest to marketers who will do anything to try and sell you a product.
If you navigate to any modern browser, you will see the option to ‘clear your browsing history’ in the settings section. You should consider visiting this section once in a while.
When it comes to your private data, it is not all about computers, but also about your other devices too. On a phone, especially Android phones, as the iPhone is more secure, you should consider using a cache cleaner for Android that will secure your data from snooping apps and malware.
Safeguarding your privacy is not easy and with the increased reliance on computers for most things, everyone will be required to have some skill sets that will make it easier for them to achieve some basic level of privacy expectations. The point is, no one is out there looking out for you when it comes to your data, thus if you want to stay safe from privacy violations, we recommend that you start by practicing these 7 practical ways to improve computer privacy.
Mathew Ngatia is a computer scientist who currently works as a content specialist at Softwaretested.com. He writes on topics related to tech, VPN, digital marketing, gaming, SEO and more. Outside of work, Mathew is interested in artificial intelligence and programming in general and is an avid book reader.