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Is Online Privacy a Myth? [How to Protect Your Data]
Updated · Aug 04, 2023
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The definition of privacy is a simple one in the dictionary, but not in reality.
That’s what makes questions like “Is online privacy a myth?” tough to answer.
Theoretically, privacy on the internet is somewhat achievable.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Is Online Privacy a Myth?
Online privacy is a complicated issue.
Websites want to know all they can about consumers to better understand what exactly consumers are looking for.
In most cases, this means showing you the ads they believe you want to see, which leaves advertising firms to take the brunt of the complaints from privacy critics.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Internet was never designed to prioritize security and computer privacy even as most users treat it like their online activities can never be seen: We complain, criticize, buy, and order things online and most of the time, sign our actions with our email address or name.
Then, there are criminals who steal information and use it for personal gain.
How Your Info Gets Leaked
When it comes to the digital world, nothing can be completely private. Here’s how your data can end up in the wrong hands:
Internal Software Vulnerabilities
No software is entirely secure.
Companies that exist online work hard to minimize potential breaches, but some things manage to slip through the cracks.
Malicious agents can take advantage of these flaws, which often exist in the code, to get unauthorized access, compromise the system, and steal valuable and sensitive data.
In most cases, companies don’t even know that they have a breach until it’s too late –the average time to identify a data breach is a little under 200 days.
Here’s an example: Last year, a user in a low-level hacking forum published phone numbers and personal data of more than 533 million Facebook users, including 32 million records on US users.
Facebook said that the data was scraped due to a vulnerability that they patched in 2019.
IP Address Visibility
It’s impossible to connect to the Internet with an IP address.
This unique public IP address, which is provided to you by your ISP, allows your computer to communicate online and serves as a digital address for your Internet device.
As such, your IP reveals your geolocation, which helps providers serve you with content they believe is relevant to you.
But, the main risk of a public IP address is that it works reciprocally: It allows you to connect to the Internet and anyone on the Internet to connect to your device– including cybercriminals.
The Mobile Carriers Are Collecting App Data
Major phone carriers, including Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T track various information on their users, including app usage, web activity, and in some cases, their credit.
Browsing History Can’t Be All Cleared
Deleting your browser history doesn’t get rid of all the information your browser has on you.
One such example is Google.
Clearing your browser history deletes the history that’s locally stored on your computer but it doesn’t do anything to the data that is stored on Google’s server, whose browser holds more than half of the browser market share).
Even if you delete all of your activity from the history tab, Google continues to maintain records about how to use its web browser.
There are some browsers like DuckDuckGo that prioritize privacy, but every web browser that holds a history of users’ activities records cache files.
When you remove a file in Windows, the operating system deletes the cache file’s reference from the directories but moves the actual data into an area called free space on your computer’s hard drive.
The information will be overwritten by new data eventually, but that can take months and even years.
Common Hacking Techniques
Hackers look for weaknesses in connections and exploit different vulnerabilities to access your data or infect your devices with malware.
Here are the most common type of hacking attacks:
- Phishing attacks are attacks that target the person behind the device rather than the device itself and come in different forms, like URL phishing, clone phishing, and email phishing. Cybercriminals use deceptive messages to trick people into clicking on a bad link or dodgy website that can infect the device with malware or provide access to sensitive information in another way.
- DNS spoofing can happen in different ways. Hackers can feed corrupted information to a DNS server, corrupt the data traveling to your device, or take the DNS server over completely. Once done, they redirect users to a website designed to take advantage of them.
- Cross-site scripting involves targeting website connections like ad services or special plugins. If a hacker successfully gets into one of these connections, they can inject scripts into the website’s UI, which will then capture information that users enter into the site.
- Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is an attack where the hacker inserts themselves as an invisible intermediary between the target and the server they’re communicating with. This allows them to copy communication and monitor your traffic.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Information?
Is it impossible to maintain your privacy online? It might be difficult but not impossible.
Here’s what you can do to protect your data online.
Antivirus and Firewall Suites
One way to prevent fraudulent attacks is to install a good anti-virus tool on your device.
Antivirus software scans your files, emails, and internet searches for potential threats.
They can detect and remove malware and most of these tools come with advanced features, like link protection, anti-phishing and anti-theft tools, as well as browser protection – which often includes scanning for and flagging fake websites.
All modern browsers come with an incognito mode for private browsing.
Incognito mode allows you to browse the web without a record of history being saved on your computer or phone. Every site you visit in incognito mode treats you as a new visitor, meaning there will be no login information, no saved cookies, and no auto-fill web forms.
Many people and organizations use clouds to store their data. They’re a lot safer than keeping data on your own systems because they employ safety mechanisms that prevent attacks.
If you opt for a private or a personal setup, you can even configure the security protocols yourself.
A password manager generates and remembers different and complex passwords for your online accounts, which will make it harder for hackers and cybercriminals to break into them.
These tools can help you set a safe password but also have advanced features, like monitoring accounts for security breaches, providing suggestions on how to change weak passwords, flagging duplicate passwords, and syncing your passwords across multiple devices.
To further protect against unauthorized access, you should consider setting up multi-factor authentication.
VPN tools encrypt traffic, hide your IP address, bypass geo-restrictions, and offer DNS leak protection.
It can be particularly useful if you frequently connect to public Wi-Fi networks, which are typically easy targets for hackers. A VPN adds a layer of security when HTTPS isn’t available, provides some privacy from your provider, and minimizes tracking based on your IP address.
If you’re looking for a good VPN tool, here are our top 10 picks for the best VPNs on the market.
Online privacy exists but to a certain extent. There are plenty of lingering security threats online and there is no way to completely stop websites and apps from collecting any information on you. Still, there are plenty of things you can do and tools you can utilize to protect yourself from unauthorized access.
What is digital privacy?
Digital privacy protects personally identifiable information from being collected or leaked online.
Why is digital privacy important?
Digital privacy puts you in control of your personal information and prevents bad actors from using it maliciously.
Who invented privacy?
Although it took a while to make its way into law, privacy has always existed as a concept; the Greek philosopher Aristotle made distinctions between public and private life.
Is privacy a human right?
Privacy is a fundamental human right. In the United States, privacy rights are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a human rights treaty, which protects everyone from unlawful or arbitrary interference with their “privacy, family, home, or correspondence.”
Do consumers care about online privacy?
A recent survey conducted by Axway found that 85% of respondents were concerned that their online data may not be secure.
Is online privacy a myth?
Depends on how you define online privacy. Connecting to the Internet requires providing some data and there’s always a possibility that a cybercriminal or a hacker can take advantage of that information– though, there are plenty of tools you can get that will make it harder for them to do that.
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