Should you be concerned about online privacy?

As the threat of hacking, phishing, ransomware, etc become more common, you probably are trying to stay alert and keep a keen eye on the cybersecurity news and trends. People generally understand the threat posed by a wide range of cybercriminal activities. These range from simple phishing emails to complex crypto attacks. We are all aware of these and take various precautions daily to safeguard the workplaces from cyberattacks.

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Yet, when the question comes to online privacy, digital privacy, or internet privacy, it seems that people aren’t as vigilant. We voluntarily give our personal data to social media companies or even to the developer of a free ab workout app without a moment’s hesitation. We are so diligent at protecting our data at the workplace but are careless when it comes to protecting our personal data online.

Why is digital privacy important?

It is difficult to convince people about the importance of internet or online privacy when Google, Facebook, and Amazon appear to be making your life so much easier. A little over 2 years ago, before I joined Jones IT, I too was a firm believer in the “I have nothing to hide” philosophy. Now, as a member of a cybersecurity conscious IT company, I have begun to appreciate the importance of personal data in relation to cybersecurity.

In addition, there are plenty of social, political, and economic costs associated with the marginal benefit of an “apparent” easier life. We cannot ignore them anymore. Here are a few of the many data related incidents that helped change my attitude towards digital privacy:

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5 tools for online privacy

You can make up your own mind whether your online privacy is worth defending or not. If you do choose to be in control of your internet privacy, here is a list of simple tools that will help you. You can use them to better secure your data while you surf the net and conduct your business online.

  1. DuckDuckGo Privacy Essential

  2. HTTPS Everywhere

  3. uBlock Origin

  4. LastPass

  5. No-Script Suite Lite

You don’t have to compromise on your convenience when securing your internet privacy is so easy. Follow along and by the time you finish reading this post, you will be in control of your online privacy.

1. DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials

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If you are concerned about online privacy, you have probably heard of DuckDuckGo. It started as a web search engine but has now expanded to a lot more. It offers a browser that doesn’t track your searches (that’s right) as well as an anti-tracking tool.

It doesn’t collect or share users’ personal data. This means that the same search results are visible to different users as there is no user profiling. This is in sharp contrast to what Google does. Consequently, Google Chrome is not recommended at all if you are concerned with your privacy.

2018 was a great year for DuckDuckGo and for digital privacy as well. There are more users running private searches on DuckDuckGo. If you are concerned about privacy, you too should use DuckDuckGo. But, if you feel tied to Chrome you can at the very least add DuckDuckGo Privacy Essential extension. This extension does the following:

  • blocks hidden trackers on the sites you visit,

  • takes you to encrypted versions of sites when possible, and

  • exposes poor privacy practices when known.

2. HTTPS Everywhere

Secure websites with a valid Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate begin with “https”. The HTTPS protocol authenticates the websites you access and protects the privacy and integrity of the data exchanged over the network.

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Most sites you visit will have the HTTPS connection, but sometimes you may be redirected to the insecure HTTP version. When HTTPS Everywhere is added to your Chrome browser, it will automatically switch the site from the HTTP copy to its HTTPS version.

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However, this doesn’t mean that all sites will be converted to HTTPS. You will see an error on some smaller sites that do not have SSL certificates, . If you know that the site is secure, you can always disable the extension just for that site. It will still work on other sites and keep your personal information protected.

3. uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin is a free browser extension for content-filtering, including ad-blocking. Make sure that you install uBlock Origin and not uBlock. It is lightweight and uses less memory and CPU time. This means, you can browse the web while blocking ads much faster than with other ad blockers.

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It is easy to use; you just need to click the big power button in the popup to disable/enable uBlock Origin for the current web site. It also gives you more control over what’s blocked and what’s allowed - you can create your own filters, rules, and add sites to your whitelist. However, if you are not an advanced user, just stick with the default settings and you won’t have to deal with any obtrusive ads.

4. LastPass

We at Jones IT are huge fans of password managers. The one we use in-house and recommend to our clients is LastPass. It takes care of tedious tasks such as:

  • coming up with strong passwords for your online accounts,

  • remembering the passwords and associated usernames, as well as

  • filling web-forms.

Thus, it allows you to apply your mental resources where they are most needed and helps you become more productive. LastPass encrypts all your passwords and stores them securely in a vault that you can access using a master password. After you install the browser extension and log in, all you have to do is click the LastPass icon next to the username field and select the associated account. This automatically fills in your login credentials.

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We recommend pairing LastPass with Google Authenticator. This creates a multi-layered security system consisting of an OTP (one-time password) in combination with a memorized password. Google Authenticator is an application that implements two-step verification services using the Time-based One-Time Password. The 2FA/T-FA (two-factor authentication) is a great tool that provides you multi-layered security.

5. No-Script Suite Lite

Most of the websites you visit run JavaScript in the background. JavaScript is a programming language that forms the backbone of websites and applications. It plays an important part in making websites interactive and giving you an excellent user experience. However, problems can arise when malicious JavaScript codes are hidden in the code of the website you visit.

Websites can contain malvertising, which is a malicious online advertising that contains scripts designed to download malware onto your computer. Such ads can be inserted into legitimate and reputable websites and therefore have the potential to reach a large number of users. The scary thing about this is that the computer can be infected without the user even clicking on the ad, as the JavaScript will run automatically in the background.

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However, if you disable JavaScript completely, many websites won’t load at all and those that do will have reduced functionality. So it is a real catch-22 situation. But worry not, No-Script Suite Lite is the solution to this dilemma. While No-Script Suite blocks all scripts by default, you can add sites to its whitelist on which the scripts will be allowed. You can also easily enable or disable the extension.

In the beginning, it may appear annoying as most of the sites you visit will not render properly. You will have to manually add sites to your whitelist but you can do it with just a couple of clicks. Once all your favorite sites are whitelisted, you will not even notice it running in the background and it will protect you from hidden malicious scripts.

A Word of caution

Not all Chrome extensions are safe. Extensions are usually created by third-parties to fix potential vulnerabilities (as in this case), or to improve productivity. Google screens the extensions available in its Chrome Web-store, but sometimes it messes up. So before you install an extension created by an unknown third-party, check its ratings, read the reviews, and do a quick search online. If you are not sure, it is best not to install the extension.

As for the 5 extensions recommended here, I have done my research and they have been living on my browser for a while.

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REady to secure your online data?

The World Wide Web revolutionized the world by giving individuals the ability to reach millions of people. Unfortunately, not all of those who reach out to you are nice people. There are some who have malicious intent and are constantly trying to exploit the digital vulnerabilities of individuals and businesses. But don’t you worry, we got your back. We regularly share cybersecurity tips and best practices so that you can keep your computers secure and your life stress-free.

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