The Internet has never been a safe place and it becomes even less safe as the global web is commercializing at the speed of light while the growing number of online financial services and transactions online lure hackers into inventing increasingly sophisticated methods to make you click a malicious link.
You also face the Big Brother problem, a good number of governments and their secret services are interested in knowing what sites you are visiting as well as what you are reading and writing online. Some of these bad actors, both hacker groups and government agencies are quite good at performing mass surveillance and tracking your footprints online.
So, can you really browse the Internet in a secure way when so many tools and methods for tracking your online behavior are available to hackers and governments alike? Here are 8 tips that will help you achieve a higher level of online privacy and security regardless of whether you are using a laptop or mobile device while browsing the web.
Whether you are using Chrome, Firefox, Edge or even Internet Explorer matters to an extent defined by how strong a programming code the respective browser has. To put it simply, each of these and other browser has bugs and vulnerabilities a malicious actor can exploit. Users, on there own, can do almost nothing to rectify this problem before developers release and official patch to fix these bugs.
Customizing browser settings and checking for updates to the software daily seems like a no big deal. Nonetheless, safe browsing starts with these little steps than provide the basic level of a far-reaching cybersecurity strategy.
For instance, it was easier for Microsoft to create an entirely new browser, Edge, rather than to update and patch their Internet Explorer that was buggy from the very beginning and Microsoft’s developers never managed to make it secure enough.
Every piece of software needs to be updated, especially in an environment where software vendors are rushing to release new versions for the sake of staying competitive, a practice that results in the delivery of half-baked applications.
Any Internet service provider (ISP) can track your online actions through their DNS server, the service that translates web addresses such as www.google.com into an IP address like 22.214.171.124 which is actually the address of Google’s public DNS some users adopt as an alternative to their ISP’s DNS server.
Whether Google’s public DNS is a good choice is debatable, especially in the light of their core business to deliver ads to users online (their search engine is just a platform they monetize). There are alternatives such as the DNS of Cloudflare – at 126.96.36.199 – which does not deliver ads and stores your IP address for only 24 hours. Google are heading this way too but they are still behind.
Another good option for a secure DNS server is OpenDNS, which is free for home and personal use.
Google and Apple routinely find malicious apps and add-ons that track you and leak personal data in their app stores. It is another problem how these apps pass the assessment procedures and land in the app stores in the first place but in any case, you should be on alert that any browser add-on is a potential security risk.
The same applies to the numerous add-ons available for other popular browsers like Firefox as well as for add-ons claiming they improve your security online. Just recently, Google removed over 600 apps from their Google App Store, saying they are serving excessive ads to the users. Without delving into the details about each of these apps, you can expect most of the add-ons to leak at least some of your personal data such as your location.
Unless using these browser extensions is an absolute necessity, make sure you uninstall all of them.
A virtual private network (VPN) service is as good as its own secure DNS and data encryption algorithms.
Keep in mind that there are VPNs, especially free and cheap ones, that can leak your private data. Other VPN services have been caught selling the browsing history of their users in the past. You can bet that some VPNs have still not abandoned that shady practice.
Obviously, VPN services are not born equal and you are the one who is solely responsible for exploring the VPN apps available and selecting a trustworthy one. Anyways, you must bear in mind there is a chance for accidental data leaks as well as intentional tracking of your online actions from a VPN provider.
This is even more applicable to the multiple anonymizing services available online, which are routinely monitored by various hacking groups and government agencies. Even the Tor service – which is considered the best anonymizer available to the general public – is no 100% foolproof and there are ways to track you within a relatively rare scenario of a targeted attack.
Browser makers like Google and Mozilla are long-time advocates for widespread implementation of HTTPS on all websites and gradually restrict sites that are using a non-secure connection to serve their visitors. This is not quite true for Microsoft and their Internet Explorer and Edge browsers but they also indicate in the browser address tab those sites that do not use HTTPS.
HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure and in contrast to the older Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) protocol, it transfers data from and to your browser in a secure way. This, however, does not mean that a targeted attack is unable to break the protocol’s defenses and snoop your data transfers, so do not rely solely on HHTPS for secure browsing and transferring data.
To be honest, if you are a victim of a targeted attack, there is little to do before you notice someone is playing with your systems with or without HTTPS.
Autocomplete is a convenient browser feature allowing you to not enter your personal data and/or passwords every time you visit a site or register for a new online service. Enabling this option can have destructive effects for your online security if a malicious party gets access to your browser and the data it stores locally, however.
Disabling autocomplete is actually mandatory for business users while the average Internet user should consider whether he needs this option active depending on the specific services and websites for which he needs to enter login credentials and pass authorization.
We have previously published an article on the various risks you are exposed to while shopping online and how to secure your credit card info along the way. In short, never make online purchases unless you’re absolutely certain that the website you’re visiting will not be compromising your private data. It’s always best to only use reputable websites with plenty of positive customer reviews. If an online deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
A working combination of browser security measures that involve all or some of the actions listed above will not eliminate all online threats you face when browsing but will limit them to an acceptable minimum.
The greatest problem with securely browsing the Internet is that the average user believes that if you do not visit risky sites and if you do not download software from unknown publishers and unofficial app stores you are safe. This is really not the case and adding a simple yet reliable ad blocker markedly increases your online safety.