These days, many people look at their smartphones as soon as they wake up — and right before they sleep as well. They spend an hour (or two) in bed, scrolling through social media and checking emails, notifications, and various apps.
School, work, and play have embraced digitalization. Likewise, social media and streaming have entered people’s daily routines.
However, threats to user privacy and security are lurking in every corner of cyberspace. How can people protect themselves when they’re always online?
Here are five easy, effective ways:
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1. Be Wary of Risky Emails and Links
From Facebook to Netflix, email addresses are almost always required to register accounts on websites and apps. Businesses contact users by email regarding sensitive matters like account verification, password retrieval, and payment details. Simply put, emails are a treasure trove of information, making them a prime target for cybercriminals.
Phishing is one of the most common attacks in emails. Scammers deceive users by sending emails using a seemingly authentic address. The messages replicate the content and style of who they’re trying to copy: bank representatives, company HR, or even a loved one. Worse, these emails often have links to websites that also appear genuine to the undiscerning eye.
Once phishers earn the recipient’s trust, they can ask them for personal data like their credit card PIN, social security number, or date & address of birth.
It’s an old form of digital scamming, but people should not underestimate it. In 2022, research revealed that phishing has become more frequent and complex, adapting to more platforms along with email.
As such, people should always double-check emails before replying or opening any link, especially if it’s requesting sensitive information.
2. Limit Input of Personal Details
Even if people don’t fall for phishing attempts or info-stealing websites, information can still get into the wrong hands. Cybercriminals can obtain the personal data of millions of users in one go once they hack into popular apps.
At the least, avoid filling out every blank area when registering an account or submitting payment forms online. More often than not, websites and apps will put an asterisk mark (*) indicating which details are mandatory — and these don’t always include email addresses, phone numbers, or even real names.
Also, be careful with posting anything publicly, especially on social media.
Ill-intentioned individuals will stalk everything from Instagram reels to short posts on X.com, looking for mentions of someone’s street, apartment building, company, school, or birthdate. Any bit of biographical info puts users closer to danger.
3. Use a VPN Service
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) know what users do with their bandwidth, from streaming platforms to websites they frequent. This is already an insult to digital privacy, but ISPs can even prevent subscribers from accessing certain websites or throttle their internet connection.
Authoritarian governments, hackers, and companies want to snoop on online activities. Even websites can look into individual IP addresses to determine their geographical location.
A dependable virtual private network (VPN) solves these digital privacy concerns. There are free VPN services, but allocating a few bucks each month for a premium plan will be a worthwhile investment in the long haul.
When users connect to a VPN server, their internet traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel. It ensures that incoming and outgoing data are only available to their rightful recipients.
ISPs won’t know what users do with their bandwidth. And websites won’t see a user’s real IP address — only that of the VPN.
4. Clear and Modify Cookies
Browsers have cookies—tiny files stored on a user’s device—that (ideally) improve how websites interact with repeat visitors.
However, not all cookies are essential for websites to function.
For example, advertising and targeting cookies track how users behave on websites and apps. Online advertisers then compile such data to personalize their ads. This can feel incredibly invasive, particularly when user behavior is shared across companies, services, and devices.
When browsing a website for the first time, don’t just click “accept cookies.” Instead, untick the boxes for non-essential cookies.
A more sweeping option is to check the browser settings. Chrome allows users to delete a specific site’s cookies, automatically clear cookies whenever closed, and block all or only third-party cookies.
5. Avoid Storing Files in Unsafe Apps
It’s easy to save photos, videos, and documents online with many free and paid cloud storage services. They are a blessing for their cost, convenience, and capacity. However, only a fraction of them are secure enough for keeping and transferring the most important files.
In a world where people regularly exchange sensitive documents online, secure file sharing should be a top priority.
When choosing a cloud storage app, users should find answers to the following:
- How does it secure files?
- What are the backup options?
- Is there end-to-end encryption?
- Can shareable links have passwords?
- Does it have a history of data breaches?
Users should also be responsible for their cloud files. It’s up to them to verify the privacy settings of each folder and file. They should be careful with which links to share and with whom.
From social media and emails to browsers and cookies, there are many things that users can learn more about to enhance their safety online. In doing so, they can put their mind at ease whenever they use the internet.