The internet has been around for some time now and it’s likely that there’s plenty of information on there that many people would rather be deleted. Plenty of devices connect to the internet these days and with the proliferation of smart devices, everything is generating data about you and your habits.

For some people this may seem intimidating, perhaps even scary, but there are ways to minimize your exposure online. There are others however, who need the internet and its exposure for their business or their work to succeed. Regardless of what category you fall into, it’s worthwhile understanding how the internet works and utilizing good practices while online.

These days however privacy is a premium commodity so let’s consider some ways that you can keep control of what’s known and shared about you.

Private browsing

IncognitoA simple place to start is on your internet browser. Most users just use it as it comes, but surfing the web safely requires some good practices. The first step is to browse the internet privately.

This does help but users would do well to remember that it’s only one element when it comes to being private and secure online. Private browsing basically ensures that your internet browser isn’t keeping track of the pages you view.

That’s not to say that your ISP doesn’t still log the pages that you visit, but private browsing does limit the amount of information stored locally on your computer. Private browsing comes under some different names depending on the browser in use:

  • Internet Explorer – InPrivate Browsing
  • Chrome – Incognito Mode
  • Firefox – Private Window

On each of the browsers mentioned above it’s an easy enough task to find the private browsing option. Simply navigate to the main menu to enable this feature.

Private browsing is very limited as a security fix

Firefox Private BrowsingPrivate browsing keeps your personal computer clean but you’re still broadcasting your information to the wider web. That means that private browsing has no effect on the server side. In other words, websites will still log your IP address and any unencrypted data is vulnerable to interception.

There are options to make your internet experience a bit more private. For more covert browsing there’s the option to use Sandboxie. This is an application that functions to prevent any illicit or unwanted programs from accessing your computer and it stops those programs from saving anything to your disk. This is effective in numerous ways but perhaps the best element of Sandboxie is its ability to prevent malware from sneaking past your firewall and security software.

Using Tor

TorMany of you have likely heard of this networking option. Tor lets users browse the internet not only privately but also anonymously meaning that any outgoing or incoming traffic is bounced via other users of the Tor platform. This makes it virtually impossible for anyone to track or monitor your internet activity.

Sites that you visit while utilizing Tor won’t be able to log or read your IP address (your IP address can be used to reveal your geographical location) and Tor will also prevent anyone from listening in on your outgoing traffic.

Tor may seem slightly paranoid (and perhaps it is) but with all of the recent press surrounding governmental spying allegations it seems to be increasingly necessary.

It is worth noting however that although Tor is a great option for the security conscious it’s also something that’ll slow down your browser and internet speeds considerably. This is down to the server bouncing so unless you really need to be anonymous then this may be an option that’s more hassle than it’s worth.

There’s an option to turn Tor on or off so this may be a good way to pick and choose when to use the network tool.

Password protect everything that you can

Microsoft BitLockerWhatever the account type, there must be a good and unique password to ensure that it’s not susceptible to attack. This includes passwords for personal computers. However, passwords alone (no matter how well devised) aren’t a guarantee that your data will remain secure.

To make your files completely secure you’ll need to encrypt it and the easiest way to approach this is by using a third party option like Bitlocker. This is a service that comes built in and pre-installed on the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7 and Vista. Bitlocker is also available on Windows 8 on the Professional and Enterprise versions, but on both platforms Bitlocker isn’t natively turned on.

It’s easy to do however. Here are the steps:

  • Control Panel
  • System and Security
  • Bitlocker Drive Encryption

Following the above steps will ensure that your computer is inaccessible without your unique user account password.

For those users on another OS (Mac) or for those that don’t want to use Bitlocker there are other options available. There’s the service called GnuPG. This is an open-source platform, meaning that it can be modified and adapted if needed.

Once deleted, not always gone

Empty Trash CanDeleted files aren’t completely gone, as Windows doesn’t remove files or data from your hard drive. Instead it deletes and removes the file system itself that directs you to the file. There are plenty of programs that can recover data that’s been trashed so it can be a good idea to use a program to ensure that your data is truly deleted.

For Windows users there’s a tool called Eraser that works as a secure removal tool and it completely deletes sensitive data from your hard drive. It does this by overwriting it several times to ensure that it can’t be readable.

It might be time to change your OS

LinuxWindows isn’t best known for its ease of use and there are plenty of times where it becomes hard to keep track of exactly what’s going on with the OS. If you’re looking for a completely anonymous browsing experience then it’s probably advisable to use a different OS.

Mac is a good alternative but it’s expensive. In some ways it’s a more closed system but its Unix base is an intelligent place to start. It’s probably better considering Linux for a truly private and customized digital experience. Linux is experiencing great strides forward in developing and emerging economies.

It’s a free and open source platform that has been added to and experimented on for years by a wide variety of people and coders. Here is one such option to consider:

Virtual Private Networks

Private BrowsingReally if you’re concerned about your privacy and anonymity online it’s worth considering virtual private networks. Like we mentioned earlier with Tor, a VPN will allow you to browse, download, and generally utilize the internet from a completely anonymous place.

Although much of the above may seem paranoid, it is in many cases justified. We have the right to be private but the way that we natively use the internet provides advertising companies and governments with unlimited streams of data about our every move.

Advertisers will actively seek out new ways to monitor and listen in to customer conversations and browsing habits. There are also plenty of reports of governments performing mass surveillance so to ensure that you remain anonymous many of the above steps become completely necessary.

It’s not about whether or not you have something to hide; it’s about safeguarding yourself and your life. It’s about making sure that what’s private to you remains that way. What we’ve focused on today is mostly about prevention and steps to ensure that you’re anonymous online from this point onwards.

Although there is a vast amount of past information stored online relating to people’s pasts, there are emerging options. The recent EU ruling relating to “The Right to be Forgotten” means that Europeans can request that Google removes specific content that’s relevant to them. This is clearly a start but the future is one where more and more devices (and people) will become connected to the internet.

Use some of the above information and stay in control of what you’re broadcasting about yourself – you never know who’s listening in. A just remember that Joseph Heller line from Catch 22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

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Kerry Butters

Kerry is a published author and writer on all things tech, corporate tech, data centres, SEO, webdesign & more for some of the world's leading sites.

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