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How to protect your data online?

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News Desk |

According to the World Bank, total internet users in the world account for nearly 47% of the global population. The recent data leak scandal around Facebook has sparked fears across the globe about the security of personal data online. Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based data mining and brokerage firm used the data of 50 million Facebook users in the digital campaign of Donald Trump when he was running for the presidency.

Read more: Data leak scandal: Facebook was sailing too close to the wind

There may be hundreds of other Cambridge Analyticas out there who can manipulate our data. In addition to that, hackers with malicious intentions can cause great personal and financial losses if they can get their hands on your personal information.

Total Facebook users in Pakistan are about 44 million i.e. less than the number of users who had their data stolen by a single data mining firm from the United Kingdom. Most internet users are not conscious of the fact that they are vulnerable when they areonline. There is an urgent need to spread awareness about how we can protect our data on the internet.

Read more: Largest leak in Facebook history

Some tips are outlined below that can help us protect our information on the internet. None of these are foolproof on their own but, taken together, these habits and tools can significantly reduce the probability of our data being stolen.

  1. Password phrases

According to National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, longer passwords with a variety of characters are more secure than simpler and shorter ones. However, remembering a long password can be an issue. Having a password written down somewhere just adds to the security risk. The piece of paper or diary where the password is written can be stolen.

To resolve this, Snowden recommends password phrases that are easy enough to remember and long enough to make it difficult for hackers to break into your data. One such ‘password phrase’ is “MargaretThatcheris110%Sexy”. The phrase has both uppercase and lowercase letters, numerals and a symbol as well.

Read more: How Donald Trump stole Facebook data to win his election

  1. Public Wi-Fi

Using public Wi-Fi can be a risk, since there’s always the possibility that someone with malicious intentions is also on the same internet connection. Freely available tools such a “Firesheep” can be used to monitor your activity online and steal your passwords. To stay safe, avoid using public Wi-Fi as much as possible. Most of us jump at the opportunity to use free Wi-Fi and begin scrolling our Facebook accounts readily. But we should remember that such networks usually don’t have password protection. It is advisable to stay off of them, unless one really has to go online. 

  1. Encrypted websites

We should avoid browsing through websites that don’t have HTTPS protection. Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is the secure version of HTTP, the protocol over which data is sent between your browser and the website that you are connected to. The ‘S’ stands for secure. Although HTTPS doesn’t absolutely guarantee online security, not using it ensures hackers can snoop in and steal your data much more easily. You can easily see which websites are protected by this protocol and which are not by looking at the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) in your web browser where your website’s address is mentioned.

Read more: Investigations begin for Facebook data scandal

  1. Web browser

Google Chrome is the most popular browser in the world, followed by Mozilla’s Firefox. Apple users will be familiar with Safari. Microsoft’s Internet explorer has gradually phased out and its new browser, Edge has recently been launched. Another popularly known browser is the Opera. All these, and possibly others whose names are not so well known, provide convenience while we surf the internet. What they don’t ensure, however, is anonymity. You are often prompted by websites with pop-ups explaining how the website you are on uses cookies. Cookies are bits of data that are downloaded onto your computer. Their purpose is to store information that is useful to the website. This information allows the website to load faster the next time you visit it.

A browser by the name ‘Tor’ ensures anonymity. The Tor network is being crowd-funded and is operated by volunteers. The browser prompts you with options on how best to stay safe online while your browse and prevents cookies from being downloaded onto your system and doesn’t allow social media platforms to gulp down your data for advertising purposes. It also guarantees your real IP network is not discoverable and you can choose your IP address from a small list of secure locations around the globe.

 However, this anonymity comes at the cost of speed and convenience.

Read more: Mark Zuckerberg explains Facebook’s secrets for acquiring companies

  1. HTTPS Everywhere

It is an extension available on the three most popular browsers i.e. Chrome, Firefox and Opera. It encrypts websites that are frequently visited by users around the world with HTTPS. The project was produced as a result of collaboration between the Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF). EEF is a leading non-profit organization that defends digital privacy.

  1. Updates

Always to try to have a genuine copy of your operating system (OS) installed on your computer. What this ensures are updates from the software company owns that OS. Regular updates may seem annoying and even prevent you from using your computer for a few minutes up to half an hour. But these updates are necessary to make sure your computer not only has the latest features of different softwares on your laptop or desktop computer but also to protect your system integrity against viruses, spyware or worms.

Worm is a computer program that copies itself across various computers via the internet. Spyware are tools used to intercept data. And viruses generally wreak havoc on your operating system. Keeping your operating system up to date as well as your anti-virus software helps reduce the vulnerability of your system.

Read more: Inside the Perpetual Battlefield of Information warfare

  1. Search Engines

Virtually everyone accesses the internet via some search engine. Google is easily the most widely used but you can still find the odd internet user who prefers Bing or Yahoo. These search engines gather data with every search parameter that you enter via your keyboard. In order to make sure we don’t hand in our data to algorithms while surfing, we can use the DuckDuckGo search engine. It has a weird name but lives up to its promise.

  1. Don’t use proxies

Facebook and YouTube both are popular across Pakistan. Both have been banned by the government on different occasions. Most people didn’t simply stop using them. Instead, the average Facebook and YouTube user opted for free proxies (such as this one) that bypassed government controlled internet by presenting a fake IP address. What people didn’t realize is that these proxy services can store our passwords when we route our internet traffic through their servers.

We should avoid using free proxy services. There are better, more secure ways to browse the internet anonymously.

Read more: Information Warfare: Historical Excursus and Russia’s Position

Conclusion:

The internet has become ubiquitous in the 21st century. It is very difficult to imagine that we could go back to a time without the World Wide Web. Businesses, governments, students, teachers and researchers all rely on it. But the risk of data theft can’t be ignored.

These habits and tools can help us keep our data secure. Since there are nearly 3.7 billion unique users worldwide that surf the internet on their phones, it goes without saying that the tips mentioned above apply to browsing on our mobile phones as well.

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