Data breaches, malware, hacking, online snooping – no it’s not just some chatter from the tinfoil hat people. These things are very real and are happening around you. Your communications are being heard and recorded and your data is being collected – some for advertising and some for more malicious purposes.

It’s important to protect your privacy. After all, your data is your own and nobody should be able to track it without your knowledge and consent.

Before we discuss how to protect your data, let’s see what the threats are.

When you use the internet, whatever you do online can be monitored and recorded by your ISP. Your ISP sells this data to third parties. These third parties are generally marketing companies who want to know your buying behavior in more detail.

This data is also available to the government in case they want to get any information about you. While you might not have anything to hide from the government, there are still some risks involved.

For starters, if a hacker breaks into the database of the ISP, they can get all your information and use it for malicious purposes. Second, the government employees managing your data just might be interested in your real life.

Does an NSA Employee have your objectionable photos?

Recently, there was a news report floating around the internet that Hillary Wang, an NSA employee, has kept over 16,000,000 objectionable photos of people. Turns out that this was a hoax. But it could’ve easily been a reality. Hoax or real – either way, just make sure you keep your data private.

Let’s see what you should do in 2019 to stay safe online.

  1. Keep your software updated

From your operating system to the apps on it, keep everything updated. As new bugs and malware do the rounds on the internet, software developers build code against it so you can stay secure. If you don’t update the software, it will be susceptible to the malware even when it’s easy to escape it. Just make sure your device is completely up-to-date and you will be able to avoid a number of malware and viruses.

  1. Use a VPN

A VPN will encrypt your data and reroute it through one of its own servers so your data and identity stay protected. When you use a VPN, your ISP cannot see what you’re doing. Since all your data is encrypted, they see garbled data packets that don’t make any sense to them.

And if there’s a hacker lurking on the network trying to intercept your data, they’ll be unable to read the data. However, make sure you use a strong protocol such as OpenVPN and not PPTP that’s easily breakable.

Also, as a rule of thumb, don’t go for free VPNs as they are generally not very safe and can share your data with third parties.

  1. Use secure passwords

It’s 2019 and this one is still on the list. There are several people who still use short and unsecure passwords. It’s a good idea to use a long password and have uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters in it.

Since it’s difficult to remember such passwords, it is recommended to use a password manager. A password manager will remember passwords for all your accounts. It encrypts all passwords and keeps them in a secure vault. You just have to remember the master password of the manager.

This way, you can keep strong passwords, different passwords for different accounts, and keep changing them frequently without having to remember them all.

  1. Two-factor Authentication

Just securing your password isn’t enough. Make it more difficult for hackers by adding another layer of security. Two-factor Authentication or 2FA involves verifying a code that’s sent to you through email or SMS on your phone.

Alternatively, you can also use an authenticator app. These authenticator apps generate unique codes that can be used to authenticate your credentials on a website.

  1. Use a security suite

If you don’t have a good online security suite, you’re putting yourself in danger. A security suite will consist of tools such as antivirus, anti-malware, and possibly a VPN. You don’t need to get all these tools from the same company.

You can have antivirus from another company and VPN from another one. However, it’s important to have all these security tools on your device to make sure it stays protected.

  1. Encrypt the hard drive

A VPN will encrypt your connection so your moving data will be safe. But what about the data that’s on your device? This offline data can be accessed by hackers if they get hold of your device. To make sure your offline data stays secure in case of an infiltration attempt, make sure you encrypt your hard drive.

There are several encryption tools available in the market and many of them are free. However, you’ll need to choose the right tool depending on your operating system.

  1. General awareness

Even if you have an anti-malware and a VPN, you can fall prey to a hacking attempt if you’re not cautious. If you just hand over your password to someone. Phishing is a common form of hacking and it doesn’t need a lot of technical knowledge.

Any amateur hacker can lure you into taking their bait. As a rule of thumb, don’t click on suspicious links and don’t give your login credentials to anyone.

  1. Purchase from trusted websites only

Online shopping is easy and almost everyone does it. However, don’t enter your credit card information on dubious websites. There are several shopping websites that follow all security protocols. But not all of them do.

When you enter your credit card details on a website, they store it for future transactions. If a hacker gets to their database, they can steal your credit card information and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s best to stick to only trusted eCommerce stores.

  1. Don’t overshare

You can’t ignore the impact of social media on your life. Whether it’s a recent vacation or a new haircut, we like sharing our selfies. While a little sharing is always okay. Make sure you don’t overshare your details.

The school your child goes to, your address, phone number, and other personal details are something that should be kept personal. Also, platforms such as Facebook give you privacy options. Make sure you keep some things private and don’t share them with others.

  1. Take regular backups

Taking regular backups will prevent you from several problems. For example, if you get hit by ransomware, it will lock up your files and will not let you access them unless you pay the hacker a certain amount.

If you have backed up all the data, you don’t need to be worried about it. You can just format your device and get rid of the ransomware. Then you can load a fresh copy of all your backed up data.

Regular backups can help you in case of not just ransomware but also against stubborn viruses and other malware.

Are you ready to securely enter 2019? It’s easy to follow all the tips mentioned above. Most of them don’t cost anything and others cost just a few dollars. Make sure you start the New Year with a safe online experience.