These days, our personal lives are more connected than ever. If you’re like most people, you might be happy to share an enormous amount of personal details with your friends. But how often have you asked yourself, “Am I comfortable if strangers know these things about me?” Because internet security isn’t just about preventing identity theft, it’s also about making sure your personal life stays personal. If you don’t want to be an open book, here’s how to make sure your details stay under wraps.
Check Your Social Media Settings
The first thing you should do is acquaint yourself with the security settings for each social media account you maintain. A decade ago, as social media was just gaining serious momentum, privacy settings were unclear and difficult to manage. Social media companies have since improved their options; it’s generally pretty easy to set your privacy the way you like it. However, account privacy options change frequently, so make sure to check every so often for new features.
The personal information you share on social media isn’t the only stuff you might want to keep private. All the information your computer sends and receives along the internet is carried in “packets.” If you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi network (like at a coffee shop), your traffic can be captured and monitored by other people on the network (or even the network operator)! This is called “packet sniffing.” Even if your browsing habits are innocuous, it’s probably preferable that strangers never get the opportunity to check out what you’ve been looking at.
HTTPS and TLS
Fortunately, most websites now use HTTPS to encrypt your browsing session. Interested parties watching your traffic might be able to determine the name of the website you’re accessing, but almost everything else in your traffic will appear as gibberish to them.
So what is HTTPS? HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It’s an agreed-upon set of rules that computers follow to send web page content (hypertext and hypermedia) back and forth. The ‘S’ stands for Secure Socket Layer (SSL), which was the encryption standard that preceded Transport Layer Security (TLS). TLS is the most current and secure encryption standard.
Though most big sites, like Facebook and Google have employed HTTPS to encrypt all the traffic to their servers, there are still a great deal of websites that do not. Before you enter any information online that you wouldn’t want to broadcast to strangers, make sure to double-check that the URL starts with HTTPS.
Virtual Private Networks
The best way to keep all your internet activity away from prying eyes is to employ a virtual private network (VPN). With a VPN, anyone trolling for unsecured users will only be able to see that you’re connected to a VPN, and none of your browsing information will be available, even unencrypted HTTP sites. VPNs use various protocols to encrypt and “tunnel” traffic from your machine to the VPN server. From there, you can browse as you please. Good VPNs usually have a monthly charge, but for an individual’s needs, you can expect it to be pretty reasonable. Various VPNs offer different features, so you should do your own research to determine which one best fits your needs.
While major companies are getting better and better at looking out for their users’ privacy, there are still plenty of nefarious actors who might take an interest in your personal life. However, with a little know-how, you can rest easy that there won’t be any strangers keeping tabs on which web pages you visit.