Privacy has gone the way of the dodo — especially online.
Companies like Google and Facebook don’t bother encrypting user data while it is stored. Google VP Vint Cerf says that would make it more difficult for Google to show users suitable ads.
In 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI had developed hacking tools to remotely turn on the microphones in portable devices and record conversations — all without the user’s knowledge or consent.
And between leaks and disclosures, it’s no secret that the NSA regularly collects data on millions of Americans.
But that doesn’t mean our private lives are completely lost.
Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that privacy has gone the way of the white rhino — it’s very rare and precious, and where it exists it needs to be aggressively protected.
So today I want to talk about good digital security habits. There have been enough warnings peppered in the mainstream media that I’m sure you’re already taking at least one (if not more) of the following precautions.
Unfortunately, one is not enough. Not when your personal information is vulnerable on all sides.
First things first… You’ve got to take care of your hardware.
First Line of Defense: Your Devices
One of the easiest and most important steps you can take to secure your devices is to ensure they are running the latest software. Updates include bug fixes to help your programs run more smoothly as well as security patches to counter any new threats.
Most devices these days have a feature you can enable to automatically check for updates. Even so, I recommend a manual check at least once a month.
Remember to do this for ALL your connected devices — smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, gaming consoles, smart TVs, home automation hubs… A forgotten gadget could become your Achilles’ heel.
If there are any apps or programs you don’t use anymore or that have stopped updating (here’s looking at you, Internet Explorer), uninstall and delete them. Hackers will often target older apps that don’t have the latest security fixes.
So if you don’t use it, lose it. As a bonus, your devices will run faster and use less battery.
For apps you do keep, go into the settings for each one to check permissions. If you really want to shore up your digital privacy, your apps shouldn’t be allowed to access your contacts, photos, location, microphone, camera, etc.
- Confirm your devices are running the latest software
- Uninstall extraneous and outdated programs
- Check your app settings and disable device access.
Now that we’ve covered your physical devices, let’s talk about wireless security.
Reinforce Your Router
Technically, routers fall in the category of “devices.” But since your wireless router is such a critical access point — it connects to all your internet-enabled appliances — I want to cover router security a little more in depth here.
First, kick any freeloaders off your network. (This will also boost your internet speed.)
Log in to your router’s admin page online and look for a list of “attached devices” or “connected devices.” With your admin privileges, you should be able to remove any unauthorized users.
After purging your router’s user list, change the username and password on the router — especially if you’re still using the factory settings.
This is key. According to PC Magazine, “The generic usernames are a matter of public record for just about every router in existence; not changing them makes it incredibly easy for someone who gets physical access to your router to mess with the settings.”
Lastly, change the network name. The service set identifier (SSID) is the network name your router broadcasts so people can find it. Be sure to create a unique SSID — don’t leave it as the default.
Whenever you change the SSID, all users will be kicked off the network and forced to sign in again. So whenever you change the SSID, change the network password for extra security.
Once again, three steps to router rehab are…
- Remove any unauthorized users from your wireless network
- Change the user name and password on the router itself
- Change the network name (SSID) and network password.
Still with me? Great. Now, let’s cover safe surfing.
The Net Is Dark and Full of Terrors
The World Wide Web is a bit like the Wild West… It’s uncharted, ever-expanding and under constant threat from the elements. But there are a few things you can do to protect your privacy on the digital frontier.
Starting with safe searches…
Point of clarity: A browser is a program installed locally on your device that gives you access to the internet. A search engine is a program that lets you comb the internet for certain keywords or phrases. You can use a web browser to get to a search engine. Chrome, for example, is a web browser, whereas Google is a search engine.
Frankly, I don’t recommend using either.
Of course, there are drawbacks to each. Tor tends to have slower speeds than the other two, Brave promotes ads from network partners and Waterfox isn’t available for iOS. But all of them are safer than Google.
Not only does Google track everything but it also (as I mentioned above) stores your data unencrypted. And it’s public knowledge that Google fully cooperates with the NSA mass-surveillance program.
For a better, safer search engine, make DuckDuckGo your default. DuckDuckGo doesn’t give personalized search results like Google or Yahoo. It shows all users the exact same results for any given search term.
Also, create a different password for every site you visit. Believe me, I understand how many unique passwords that means. But the last thing you want is a hacker to gain access to all your accounts with one lucky guess.
And as an added layer of security, enable two-factor authentication wherever possible. (This will require you to use another form of identification — a code sent to you by text message or email — as well as the password you created.)
So to search safely, you need to…
- Download a more secure web browser (anything but Chrome)
- Set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine
- Update your password for each online account
- Enable two-factor authentication.
There you have it. A quick-and-dirty digital privacy primer.
Do yourself a favor and take some time today to run through this checklist. Because a big part of protecting your wealth is safeguarding your information online.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
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