1. Get privacy plugins for your browser
NoScript is an essential addon. If you haven’t already, get it now and take a few minutes to set it up properly. You’ll want to block everything by default, and then you can choose whether to (temporarily or permanently) allow certain scripting features for certain websites.
AdBlock Plus is an advertising blocking filter that is based on both dynamic and static rules. The addon will sit in the backend and prevent your computer from embedding pics and code from anything that matches the blocking rules in its huge database. Not only will you prevent these companies from building consumer profiles on you and track your every move, your internet will also appear cleaner and sites will load faster!
2. Keep your software and browser plugins updated
There has been a surge of severe security holes discovered lately within common media formats such as Flash and Acrobat Reader. Before they got patched, a large number of people viewing infected PDF files or flash movies (such as on a web page) were infected with keyloggers and viruses. It’s just a question of time before these and similar media formats again are vulnerable, so it is very important to keep them updated.
Acrobat Reader and Flash in particular both have auto-updating features now which you should turn on if they aren’t already. If you are using FireFox, you can visit Mozilla’s plugin check to see whether your browser plugins are up to date.
Needless to say, keep your browser and OS updated as well. In Windows you can control how updates are handled by selecting Windows Update in the control panel, and most of the major browsers also have auto-updating features.
3. Enable Do Not Track
Mozilla Firefox offers a Do Not Track feature that lets you express a preference not to be tracked by websites. When the feature is enabled, Firefox will tell advertising networks and other websites and applications that you want to opt-out of tracking for purposes like behavioral advertising.
You can enable Do Not Track by going to Options and then selecting the Privacy section. Finally check the Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked checkbox. While on, the request header your browser makes will always transmit the HTTP_DNT=1 option which a growing number of advertising networks respect.
4. If you have to look at that strange link someone sent you, at least load it through a web proxy
The average web proxy will not only anonymize your connection, but also strip out potentially dangerous code. It’s not full proof, but it’s a good extra line of defense and it will only take you a second or two to jump through this hoop. Simply bookmark your favorite web proxy (proxy.org lists thousands of them) and you can load it up and paste in the link URL in no time.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the usual precautions in the way of having installed a good suite of privacy plugins, antivirus and a firewall.
5. Disable cache, file sharing and history features in general
The single most important step you can take to keep your private data from falling in the wrong hands is to make sure it doesn’t exist in the first place. Make a habit of tweaking your software to leave a minimal footprint.
- Cookies: Useful, but set your browser to clear them all out when you close it down. Your favorite websites won’t remember you between each browsing session, but that’s a small inconvenience in exchange for the privacy benefits.
- Browser caches: less useful. Almost all of us are on high speed internet now and it’s no problem to re-download images and such whenever you need them. Set your browser to not store all that junk on your computer for great privacy benefits.
- File history: useless if you keep your files somewhat organized, turn this feature off.
- File sharing: By default, Windows comes with file sharing enabled, leaving a potential security hole. Unless you are actively using file sharing, just turn it off.
Third party software that specialize in deleting and/or managing these privacy breaching data for you does exist.
6. Scrub files for hidden metadata before sharing them
Most media files have a series of hidden meta data, often of a privacy-compromising nature. JPG pictures created by your cell phone or digital camera contain EXIF data revealing such things as the model of the camera used and in many instances even geo position and the registration name and address of its owner. Other files may contain your full name, OS and software license data. Thought you shared those pictures and Word documents completely anonymously? You may not have.
However, it is possible to use software to erase these footprint data without affecting the actual content of the file. There is a lot of file format specific software out there which allows you to view, edit and/or delete hidden meta data, but you could get an over-all solution. Check out http://www.forensicswiki.org/wiki/Document_Metadata_Extraction which has a list of file-specific meta data editors.
7. Be privacy minded on social sites
- When registering on a social web site, don’t volunteer information you do not absolutely require the site to have. If a form insists, provide false information. Also use a disposable one-time e-mail address such as from 10minutemail.com
- Get on top of the privacy settings for your account, almost every social website has them. Only allow what you need to get the functionality that you want.
- Don’t allow any social site to automatically hook up with your other sites or contact lists, no matter how nicely it asks.
- Try to avoid using the same username on every site.
8. Keep it professional on company internet
There is no proof the people who monitor your computer and network at work can be trusted not to save and abuse your password or private e-mails, because there are certainly people whose job it is to monitor your digital behavior in the average company nowadays. IT staff are under the gun to show productivity for their time, just like you. Don’t give them a target to hit. Your boss knows who the big hitters on surfing the web in your department are. Don’t let any hint of personal matters, family problems, sexual remarks or financial dealings flow through your company computer or network. Company employees are not entitled to privacy when they are on the clock.
9. Keep tabs on running processes and resource usage
You should keep tabs on what your system is up to at any given time; in fact, it may be your best privacy tip. This can be done by starting the Task Manager on Windows platforms, the keyboard shortcut being CTRL + ALT + DEL.
Learn how many processes you generally have running and what their names are. Get to know the memory and CPU usage of your computer during typical use and you will be more likely to know when unfamiliar processes are running. A persistent process suddenly appearing out of nowhere is a major warning sign.
10. Unplug when you’re done
Guaranteed computer security is only possible with an air gap. That means physically unplugging the hardware.
So stop leaving your router and/or computer on when you leave home or go to bed, unless you have a very good reason. Any network and any computer can be cracked if someone tries hard enough, and if you are always accessible then the chances of an intrusion are that much higher.
Got tips of you own? Comment!
This list can never be complete. The web and our way of using it is in constant evolution. If you wish to provide corrections or elaborate on one of our privacy tips, or maybe even add one of your own, please feel free to put the comment system to use.