Internet Privacy: Tips & Tricks for Staying Secure Online

How much value do you place on your personal privacy? You would never leave your wallet on a public park bench and expect it to be safe and untouched. It is possible that no one would take your valuable belongings, but you’d never intentionally take the risk – so why would you risk your personal data online?

The Power of Privacy

No matter who you are, you need to protect what’s yours. The fact is that your online data can’t be replaced the same way that your tangible possessions can be, and privacy has an intrinsic value that can be easily compromised on the web.

So how can you keep yourself and your sensitive information safe online? To learn more about safety while browsing the web, read on.

What is a Virtual Private Network?

A VPN, or virtual private network, routes your internet usage exclusively through private channels. Doing this effectively blocks your web activity from prying eyes and subsequently protects your sensitive data. When using public Wi-Fi hotspots, a VPN hides your identity and location, preserving your privacy and offering you peace of mind.

What Can A VPN Do For You?

In this fast-paced, high-tech world, a VPN is an invaluable asset. While your internet service provider (ISP) can’t read your online interactions, it’s nevertheless capable of identifying communication links. For example, it can trace the connections from your computer to sensitive web addresses like your bank or brokerage firm. Knowing that your vulnerable information is floating around on the internet might be enough to entice an unscrupulous ISP into finding and using it for their own benefit.

If you’re not using public internet services or doing your computing from home, you might be wondering if you need a VPN at all. Not necessarily, but at McAfee, we believe it always pays to take precautions.

Are Your Passwords Protecting You?

We often feel secure relying on passwords to protect our privacy. The unfortunate truth is that a password alone may not be enough to deter a hacker. If you notice unusual behavior on your computer, it could mean that a hacker already knows your password.

We need passwords to get almost anywhere on the internet, but the familiarity of this practice may result in complacency. After a while, a password may seem unimportant or even burdensome. Instead of trying to remember countless complicated passwords, you might feel overly comfortable in resorting to simpler passwords that are easily breakable with even the smallest effort.

How To Strengthen Your Passwords

A secure password requires at least 14 characters and should include both upper and lower case letters, capitals, numbers, and symbols.

If your password consists of readily available public knowledge like your birthdate, street address, or your dog’s name, chances are it’s not very strong. Likewise, predictable sequences of numbers or letters, like 123456789 or abcdefg, are risky.

Should You Protect Yourself From Viruses?

You wouldn’t cross the street without looking both ways. Installing antivirus software is the virtual equivalent of double-checking on a busy street. Protect your computer’s health and safety with antivirus software that prevents attacks from malicious programs that can infect your computer and the computers of others.

The Antivirus Safety Net

Every time you access the internet, you risk infection from a vast array of malware, including trojan horses, worms, and spyware, to name just a few. Luckily, antivirus software has a firewall that can detect these intruders, while a recovery tool helps eliminate these malicious programs from your computer.

Both a firewall and a VPN can prevent unauthorized web access to your computer systems. McAfee offers both antivirus software that removes malware, spyware, and adware through scheduled scans and protects your computer in real-time with its VPN, Safe Connect.

Should You Update Your Software?

You’re likely already familiar with many of the best privacy practices. These include using secure passwords, rejecting unknown emails, ignoring suspicious-looking links, and never distributing your personal information. When you pair these practices with free updates to your security software, you’re in an excellent position to preserve your privacy on the web.

Software updates can rectify security issues, replace outdated features, enhance compatibility with your apps, and even increase running speed. These patches can protect your computer from viruses, and prevent spread to other systems.

How To Update

Ready to update? Simply click ‘yes’ when you get a popup from your software developer asking if you’d like the latest features.

Most manufacturers offer free updates, while others require a technical support contract. Each software manufacturers’ website should provide specific details to help you download their security updates.

What are Cookies? Should I remove them?

Removing cookies is really up to preference. Cookies allow a website you’ve visited to retain your information—like your email address and password—for a more convenient user experience. However, tracking cookies do pose a risk to your security. By allowing cookies, you’re saying it’s okay for the information to be sent to an unknown location.

Many cookies are relatively harmless and do nothing more than use your IP address for marketing analysis. Others, however, may submit your name and address to a tracking host, allowing advertisers to target you with bullseye-like precision.

Every browser has an option that lets you delete your cookies from your computer. For example, Internet Explorer shows a gear icon in the upper right-hand corner of the browser screen. You simply click on the gear, select “Internet Options” in the menu box, and then click “Delete browsing on exit.”

Connecting Securely Online

Yes, it is possible. When using an online browser, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) allows you to view webpages but doesn’t provide security. The lack of encryption enables third parties to easily intercept data that you may prefer to keep private. When you use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), you enjoy secure transmissions. Not all websites support this function, but it can provide more web privacy when you visit sites that do.

Steps To Protect

So how can you use this information to keep your sensitive data from becoming vulnerable? Here are the main takeaways:
• Get a VPN. Secure your home and travel networks with VPN software. It makes blocking suspicious activity easy and can protect your computer from becoming damaged.
• Use a password manager. This is a great tool for creating and storing hard-to-break passwords. You can find free password managers online, coupled with antivirus software.
• Install antivirus and firewall software that doesn’t flag false detections.
• Accept free security updates from your software manufacturer.
• Remove cookies from your browser.
• Use HTTPS for encrypted security on sites that support it.

With a little security know-how and the right tools for the job, you’ll be well-equipped to protect even your most sensitive and valuable data. Don’t live in fear of hackers and malware. Let your software manufacturer be your safety net, and browse with peace of mind!

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