How safe are you while you browse the internet? How often do you stop to consider that someone is watching your every step as you use your phone online? Rest assured that your internet activity is being monitored, analyzed and you are targeted. Does this seem like a far fetched illusion? Well, read on and understand how to not only secure yourself but, cover your footprints wherever you go; online.
Whenever you visit a website, any website there are some “things” you leave behind there. The website (server) in turn leaves a few “things” on your mobile phone or computer. These “things” are used to identify you, your location and your preferences. They include your IP Address, some cookies (not the edible ones), the browser you are using (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) and the Operating System you are running (Android, iOS, Windows, Linux) and so forth. That is to scratch the surface of how tracking begins. We have not mentioned third party APIs that may be on that website such as “Sign In With Google“, “Facebook Like & Share Buttons” among others.
You ask: How do you know I am being tracked?
Other than the fact that I am keeping an eye on you? Well… (Just kidding). That previous statement made your heart skip a bit? Not to worry, I want to bring out the paranoia in you as I give brief examples how websites track you, and by extension, other organizations. This will answer the question of “how I know you are being tracked”.
Have you ever tried shopping online for an item, on any e-commerce website and moments later when you log in to your social media account see a advert of items related to what you were, or wanted to shop? Have you ever heard of the famous Cambridge Analytica scandal that politically targeted specific people by using their social media activity? If these two cases have not occurred or have not been heard by your ears to you, then my friend, you are as alienated from the digital world as they come. These are just but two cases to serve as an example.
You ask: Okay, I am being tracked & I have no way of knowing it?
Quite frankly, you know you are being tracked. Your gut tells you so. You can feel it. Its not a question of whether you know or not, its a question of why you have not acted to protect yourself.
You ask: How do I protect myself then?
The easiest and most popular way of protecting yourself, your data and prevent others from tracking you is using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Many have been advertised, and how the work is pretty straight forward. You get connected to a specific server through a secure, encrypted “tunnel” so to speak, protecting your data. Once you send a request to visit a specific website, the request first goes through the VPN server and then to the website. The website you visit never sees you… it sees the VPN server, effectively concealing your true identity. There are a bunch of VPNs out there, and I won’t recommend any to avoid bias.
Another well known but less utilized way of concealing yourself from online trackers is using the Tor. New to you? Not to worry, I shall cover it briefly here and follow it up with a complete article in the future, keep tabs to know when.
Stripping its definition to bare bones: Tor is open-source software enabling anonymous communication. Yes, anonymous. Word of advice though; you have to be careful and know what you are doing if you need to be anonymous. Most people are just better off with a VPN: its plain and simple. Lets jump on to the third method of protecting yourself online.
The use of proxy servers. What are they? In simple terms, a proxy server is a computer (appliance or application) that acts as an intermediary between the client (you) and the web server (website you visit). Sounds pretty much like a VPN, right? In general terms, the logic is the same except this: a VPN encrypts all your data, forces all application through a secure tunnel and is normally paid for. This is not to say that proxies are insecure or not private, no. Proxy servers provide a degree of privacy however, you may want to avoid them unless you know how to properly configure you computer or phone to use them.
That’s all for this article. You now know how you can use available resources to protect yourself online. Next time, be wise; secure yourself online.