Protecting yourself online can seem like a huge task. And it’s a fact that internet privacy is a huge issue that lots of people are dealing with in our modern tech-driven world.

Yet some still don’t even do the basics needed to ensure their security online. The threats can come in the form of hacking your online accounts or snooping and spying on your online behavior.

Many people believe that online privacy should be a fundamental human right. And because privacy is so important, today we will be outlining some tips anyone can use to ensure they stay safe and protect themselves while browsing the internet.

Here are seven steps that everyday people can take to protect themselves when using the internet:

1 – Strong & Unique Passwords Always

If you use websites that have very sensitive information such as banking, personal details, or anything you wouldn’t want others getting their hands on, you should use a strong password.

Using a very strong (emphasis on very) and different password than you use on other websites not only prevents hackers from guessing your login but also protects you from data breaches. It’s sometimes the case that people use the same passwords everywhere.

I can’t stress this enough… any time you see a large company like Target or Equifax being “hacked”, know that the hacked data is usually only dangerous if the compromised individuals are using those same login-password combinations for other sites.

This can be a huge security risk, because if a single website or online service you use has a data breach, then the hackers or malicious actors have access to every device, website, and service that you use.

Most would say that having different and very unique passwords would be very hard to remember. That may be the case, but companies out there have you covered in the form of encrypted password managers.

2 – Use 2-Factor Authentication

The process of two-factor authentication gives you an extra layer of security over the normal username and password. That’s because two-factor authentication uses your cell phone as an authentication source. Meaning, even if someone has your username and password, they would need access to your cell phone also.

You have probably experienced two-factor authentication before when a website texts you a security code that you must then input to gain access to your online account. While the process can be beaten by hackers who create fake two-factor login screens, most don’t try that hard and rather go after the low hanging fruit a.k.a people who don’t use 2-factor authentication.

3 – Update Your Browser & Browser Plugins

Usually when your web browser updates, it’s not just “for the fun of it.” When a browser updates the update usually includes security fixes and bug fixes.

So a great way to stay secure is to ensure you are up to date with the newest release of your browser and all plugins — the ways hackers and malicious actors gain access to accounts and computers changes all the time.

The threats are always evolving. And as these new vulnerabilities are discovered, they are usually patched in pretty quick fashion by most modern tech companies.

4 – Use A Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Unfortunately, it’s common for hackers and malicious actors to spy on internet traffic to gain access to your online accounts. A great way to prevent this is by using a VPN, or virtual private network.

A VPN is basically a sub-internet connection that sends all data in an encrypted way. This means that even if someone was seeing or spying on your web traffic in real time, they wouldn’t be able to understand the data if it was being sent over a VPN. Think of it as your own private encrypted network for sending and receiving data, ensuring none of it was seen on its way in or out.

5 – Use E-Mail Safely

Using email is a big part of most peoples online experience. That’s why one of the best ways to stay safe online is to use and understand the basic ways you can use email in a secure manner. This includes things like not clicking on outbound links to websites you don’t recognize, or those from senders you do not recognize.

While most modern email companies provide a base level spam filter to trash those types of messages automatically, some still make their way through. Another important component in all this in addition to checking links and senders is verifying that executable files or zip files are legitimate, even if they are coming from an email address that looks like one you know.

Why would your aunt be sending you a 100mb zip file? Good question. In this case, you may want to ping the person back with an email asking them what the file is.

6 – Trusted vs. Untrusted Wifi Networks

It might sound like common sense, but some forget this basic concept. Whenever you are not on your home network, be wary of what you’re doing online. It’s not uncommon for hackers and the like to sit at coffee shops or cafes and spy on everyone using the free public wi-fi.

That’s why your browsing habits need to match the type of network you are on. And if you do have to use a public network, do so while connected to a VPN as we mentioned earlier. This is just one of the most important security steps that you should be following when using your phone to access public Wi-Fi at an airport or coffee shop, for example.

7 – Check for HTTPS On Sites You Visit

When browsing websites, it matters a lot whether the site is HTTP or HTTPS. Most websites now use HTTPS, and that’s a good thing. Because any data submitted on non-https sites can be intercepted and read while it’s being transmitted.

You may have noticed HTTPS by the lock symbol you usually see in the URL bar of your browser. If you are asking for sensitive information like personal data or payment information on a site that does not use HTTPS or have the lock icon displayed, abort.

Final Thoughts

Keeping yourself protected and secure on the internet requires vigilance. However, if you follow the tips we outlined today you’ll be ahead of most of the public.

The potential downsides of having your online accounts hacked can be devastating and can include a drained bank account or the possible compromise of all of your online accounts. When you consider that fact, the steps we outlined don’t seem like that much work when compared to the huge potential downside.

Independent journalist. Naval defense analyst. Privacy, security and the right to be forgotten.

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