Guest Post – How To Protect Yours And Your Family’s Online Privacy And Security

A guest post from frequent contributor Siege Media.

Aside from the fact that your grandma is complaining about her shrinking internet, the internet is growing at a pace that’s pretty hard to even imagine–approximately 576,000 new websites per day, with each site being a potential point that could cost your digital privacy.

You don’t have to go completely off the grid to protect your privacy though. There are three major things you can do right now: use a password manager to secure your accounts, throw off the website trackers, and use an antivirus software on your computer.

Use a password manager

There are many reasons to use a password manager. Even if you’re trying to get someone less than tech-savvy to adopt this system, it’s much simpler than the consequences you may have to deal with when you either lose a password, or have someone steal it. Password managers like LastPass or 1Password aleve the most common problems associated with password generation, security, and remembering.

Use a unique password for every site where you create an account. Using the same password on anything more is a security risk. Big brands have data breaches often, meaning we are all highly likely to have info part of that breach. In 2019, major sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Equifax experienced massive data breaches exposing users credentials, at best. The idea is that any bad actor could take your email and password credentials on one site, and use them to try to login to critical sites across the internet, like your banking ones.

If you’re using a long and secure enough password, it definitely is not something you can memorize, or manage written down while maintaining sanity. This leads people to use simpler passwords that they can remember. Even if you’re only visiting the most popular websites on the internet, like Facebook, Youtube, Yelp, Reddit, and Wikipedia, keeping the password on each one reduces the exposure you face from data breaches.

Memorizable passwords are weak. According to a study by SplashData, five of the top seven passwords people use are varying lengths of “1234567.” It is appalling that this day in age, after multiple large scale data breaches that these low security passwords are even allowed. A password manager auto generates a secure and random combination of letters, numbers and symbols that are unlikely to be brute forced and best of all these passwords are stored within your password manager so you don’t have to remember them.

Writing passwords down is not safe nor secure. If you leave these on your desk, it’s dead simple for anyone near your computer to discover these even by accident. And they are easy to lose if you spill some food on it, or someone cleaning the room happens to throw out your sticky note. Having a dedicated password notebook may be more organized, and if you even lock it up at all, remains much more easy to get to than a cloud-based password manager.

Throw off website trackers with browser extensions

Whenever you visit a site with ads, it’s likely they are tracking you with cookies to form a profile of your online activities and interests, so advertisers can more effectively display ads to you. While your browser probably has the option to disallow trackers, websites are not required to comply with this request.

You can throw websites off by using a browser plugin that blocks trackers. Just about every major plugin or extension to block trackers is compatible with Chrome and Firefox. And about half of those support Safari, Opera, or Edge. These plugins are designed to both block ads and the data that they collect.

Some of the most popular anti tracking extensions include Adblock Plus, uBlock Origin, Ghostery, Disconnect, and Privacy Badger. They may differ slightly in their interface and default settings, but these should be reviewed to make sure the plugin functions as you intend it to. Luckily, all of these extensions are free to use and covers what most people will need. Some of these plugins have paid or premium features mainly to support the developers, but you get perks like theme or visual improvements or priority service.

Use antivirus software

Viruses may not be making headline news all the time, but they are definitely out there. If you share a computer with the family or others, the risk of someone inadvertently downloading problematic files or clicking links that expose the computer to threats increases

If you use Windows 10, the built-in Windows Security is a simple and effective choice to enable. This feature actively protects your computer by scanning files in real time for threats as you continue about your day, using your computer as normal. If you want more thorough protection, you can schedule regular system scans to ensure no malware, viruses, or other threats have quietly slipped onto your system. 

Mac OSX users are less often targeted by virus and malware due to the smaller number of targets available, but the threats still exist. The included OSX protection is ok for most users. If you want to be thorough, make sure you only download and install files, packages, and browser extensions from trusted publishers. If you’re unsure, upload every file you download to VirusTotal to scan for potential threats. And for even more thorough protection, download and schedule regular antivirus scans with Malwarebytes Premium.

Although it’s relatively pain-free to enable this protection, virus protection software occasionally causes issues when trying to use or install software from sources that you trust, requiring you to go into the Windows Security (or other software) settings to whitelist the files. Yes it can be a hassle, but it provides you with peace of mind but in some cases much less hassle than trying to fix an affected system after it has been infected.


About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at
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