Since its inception, the Internet has been designed to allow us to exchange and share data. In this sense, accessing a website is a way to receive information, but also to provide it. Nowadays, thanks to the spread of the Internet, users can participate, interact and share large amounts of content and data. However, personal data are very valuable elements as they build our online profile, adding up day after day. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the useful ways to protect your data and, consequently, your online privacy. In fact, indiscriminately providing personal data on the Internet can expose the user to rather serious dangers that have implications in offline life, such as identity theft or stalking.
One of the most widespread cybercrimes connected to privacy is identity theft. It is very easy for someone to get hold of sensitive information and use it to our detriment. To do this, it is not even necessary to have high computer skills. In fact, the ways in which a person can come into possession of our personal data are numerous. First of all, social media profiles contain sensitive information often not protected by an adequate level of privacy and therefore accessible by anyone. This happens either because users tend to trust the good intentions of the provider, or they are unaware of the risks.
But unfortunately, just a little data – such as name, surname, address and date of birth – is enough for an attacker to extract the tax code and impersonate another individual online. The data can also be collected from a website, within which we have recorded the credit card data.
How to prevent digital identity theft?
Defending yourself from digital identity theft can be difficult, however there are good practices to follow to improve the protection of sensitive data. First of all, it is important to check the information visible on social networks, making it private and accessible only to trusted people. The passwords for logins should all be different, made up of complex combinations such as upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Furthermore, no dates or names should be present and it is important to change the codes at least monthly.
Not to be underestimated is the management of app permissions, carefully checking which actions are allowed to the programs we download, especially with regard to free software and services which can hide ulterior motives. It is also essential to pay attention to sharing bank data, trying as much as possible to provide them while being connected with a secure Wi-Fi. Pay attention to internet browsing in public places, or in all those places where there is an open and shared Wi-Fi connection. At that moment, the device is vulnerable to any attacks, with the possibility of suffering the theft of digital identity. In general, all devices should always have an efficient antivirus and, if possible, two or more factor authentication procedures should be activated.
Phishing is a particular type of scam carried out on the Internet through the deception of users. It mainly takes the form of misleading e-mail messages, which invite the user to click on links created ad hoc to request the inclusion of personal data and in particular banking data. The email apparently comes from secure institutions, such as financial institutions or websites that allow access after registration. The message usually reports authentication or registration problems and invites the user to provide personal data in order to solve the issue.
Often, a link is added in the message as means of reassurance. It makes reference to the sender’s website, which is set up to be trustworthy. Therefore, if the user decides to enter the data, these are fully available to criminals. Phishing can also be carried out through other platforms, such as through search engines or by encouraging the user to download malware that requires the insertion of personal information. To prevent phishing phenomena, it is always a good practice to avoid clicking on suspicious links received in the mailbox, to change your passwords regularly keeping them at a high level of security. It is then possible to activate anti-phishing add-ons.
Other useful practices
There are many practices that help users protect their privacy on the Internet, here are some of them:
Clearance of Internet history
Very often we inadvertently leave traces of our activities even after using terminals shared with other people, perhaps in the workplace. A good tip, in this case, is to access the browsing history and remove the list of sites visited. Without forgetting that, in situations of this type, it is imperative to never save any passwords. The latter, in fact, would risk becoming accessible to anyone who subsequently uses the computer.
It is possible to use a VPN, which is a virtual private network. Through a VPN, the user creates a secure connection between the device and the world of the internet. When browsing, the traffic data is identified through a single IP which does not allow the user to be located. In this way, sensitive data is protected as the service providers are not able to see which websites are visited: internet metadata cannot be collected nor can one keep one’s browsing history on the internet.
Choose your browser
Firefox in this sense is among the best possible choices. But there are other less well-known browsers that do a great job in safeguarding our data. SRWare Iron is one of them. It is built starting from the same code as Chrome but does not have the part of the code on the monitoring present. Another option is the Midori open-source browser or Tor Browser Bundle. These types of browsers do not offer total security, but they prevent data and presence on the network from being visible to all.
Pay attention to navigation via smartphone
The smartphone, in many situations of our daily life, has replaced the computer. Many of the operations that were previously carried out through the PC, today are carried out through various mobile phone applications. Apps normally require a series of permissions, for example access to the address book, GPS, or other data on the phone. Providing this information to an application created for illegal purposes would mean compromising the user’s privacy entirely. A good trick is certainly to install only applications from the official store, avoiding those provided from unknown sources.
Prevent Internet Tracking
Even if the Internet access is secure, a virtual entity may record what the user searches on the web. In many countries, providers are obliged to do so, so that search histories can be passed to law enforcement agencies in case of need. So, to protect online privacy, one must also think about how not to be “followed” on the web.
One way to prevent organizations from tracking your browser history is to use private browsing mode.
Users can also download browser extensions that will prevent tracking through cookies, thus also stopping the loading of annoying personalized ads on sites. However, only use extensions from organizations you trust. Hackers are known for creating malicious software disguised as security apps and extensions.
Carlotta Sofia Grassi