Security awareness

Your Privacy is at Risk: Ways to Protect Yourself Online

November 18, 2014 by Ali Qamar

Although the Internet is responsible for a lot of amazing improvements in modern society, there is a whole different story when it comes to our privacy. Indeed, there are several alarming privacy breaches that require our attention and call for immediate action.

Rather than standing idle and taking the punch of data compromise, we should learn more as to how we get to increase the chances of having our personal privacy jeopardized. Knowledge is the first step towards finding the proper cure for something and therefore it is crucial for all Internet users to become fully aware of the dangers that come with some of their digital patterns, after all.

Privacy Threats and Line of Defense

  • Malware Attacks: This comes as no surprise to the tech literate, who are used to keeping up with the reports of security companies worldwide. Malware and spyware attacks have become truly aggressive forms of compromising one’s data and penetrating one’s private information.For example, McAfee Labs has published a quarterly report in August 2014 with the outstanding number of over 250,000,000 malware samples found on the web. At the same report, North America is the region hosting significantly more potentially malicious content than any other place in the world. It is imperative that you keep the anti-virus and firewall up to date and that you avoid visiting fishy websites or opening suspicious emails.
  • Phishing: Phishing is the process of trying to elicit private information from somebody, while trying to mask your true identity and deceive him. This is what happens when you receive a suspicious email from an unknown source, including a link or asking you to provide personal information (like your ID number or your address, even your credit card number and other financial data).

It can be really difficult to realize the fraud, in case the email appears to be sent from a trustworthy business. There are incidents of phishing emails that were supposedly sent by the bank, where the email recipient had a valid account. In avoidance of such negative consequences, always check the validity of the email sender and do not click on any links within emails. If there is reasonable doubt, do not take that risk!

  • Photos Uploading: All of you who think it is perfectly OK to upload photos from your private life on social media should be more sceptical. There are various cases, where people have downloaded photos from personal social media accounts and used them for their own gain.One shocking example of how cruel such online photo stealing can be is that of dating ads featuring a dead girl from Canada, Rehtaeh Parsons. Even though the ads were finally removed by Facebook, there is still a grave issue to be analyzed as to how privacy can be protected in social media. Just think again if it is worth taking the risk of having a personal moment of yours copied and uploaded somewhere else, without you even knowing.
  • Privacy Settings in Social Media: Besides photos, the truth is that social networking conceals severe threats that you need to pay attention to. In terms of privacy, there are innumerable breaches occurring on a daily basis and they all flow from the lack of prudence in the details that each person publishes on his wall. If you think that publishing your personal information on Facebook cannot trigger any serious damage, you will be surprised at the potential harm.Identity theft is NO joke and it happens at a dramatically large scale. You cannot be sure who sees your profile and therefore you should publish everything with great caution. It is extremely useful for you to adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts, so that you minimize the chances of the wrong eye catching something that might compromise your privacy.
  • Browsing History and Personal Info: This is a problem especially to those who share their computer with others, whether these devices are located at home or at the office and at educational institutes. You should make sure to log out from your email accounts or any other personal account of yours (such as your banking account or your Skype), before leaving.In this way, you do not risk someone accessing your private digital life without the adequate authorization. You can schedule for your PC to erase passwords and other important data automatically at regular intervals, in case you forget. Still, this is something worth remembering!
  • Cookies and Pop-ups: There are many cookies released upon visiting a specific website, in order to track down your patterns and make use of your digital trace. Some of them are harmless and do not do anything else but deteriorate your user experience. Ads and pop-ups are similar to cookies and most of them are not dangerous.

Nevertheless, there are some cookies and other pop-ups that can lead to cracking your privacy layering. Fortunately, there are settings on your browser that adjust your behaviour on that matter. Alternatively, malicious cookies and pop-ups are automatically blocked by your anti-virus software or any program dealing with adware and spyware.

  • Public Wi-Fi Hotspots: It makes total sense why you should be on alert when using a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Convenient though it may be, you should limit its use to the times when this is inevitable. There are potential dangers lying beneath such a connection, as there is no actual protection or encryption of any sort involved.

Hackers and snoopers prefer fishing for their catch at places where there is public Wi-Fi offered, as its users are totally exposed. In order to prevent data compromise, you had better only visit the sites that you have to and not reveal sensitive data in any way throughout your connection. If possible, you should consider subscribing to a VPN service provider and have everything encrypted. Last but not least, using 3G or 4G on your mobile device can be truly helpful.

  • Mobile Concerns: Some people believe that their mobile devices do not need any security software, even though they make regular use of the web. Of course, this often results in absolute disaster and this is the main reason why mobile malware has been rising exponentially over time. Whether a mobile you use runs on Android, iOS or any other OS, you should ensure that you have got the proper security software that can handle malware especially targeting mobiles. Since you use it as a computer, you need to provide the respective security tools.
  • Cloud Storage: Nowadays, backing up and storing your data has become quite easier with the use of cloud computing. You subscribe to a cloud storage service and you store everything there, without any additional requirements. There is no local backup option needed and you can sync all your devices at once with any updates or additions you make.However, not all of the cloud options are equally safe for you and therefore you need to check through their privacy and security settings. In case a cloud service does not offer advanced encryption, you may be exposed to hacking attempts and have data leaks, when you least expect it. So, do your research and be thorough prior to deciding where you are going to store your precious data.
  • Surveillance Everywhere: It has been reported that many aspects of our lives are controlled by adequate surveillance equipment and various different methods. From the loyalty cards that we use (at the super market or at any other retail store) for gathering points and getting rewards to the electronic filing of our medical history, from the drones to the public surveillance cameras, there is really no way for somebody to avoid leaving any trace of his daily routine.Although this is a reality that we are expected to get used to, there are things that you can do for narrowing down the trace that you leave. Do not use credit cards unless you have to and choose to get temporary credit cards or prepaid cards for your financial transactions. Avoid using extra digitalized IDs, like the ones highlighted above, as their main goal is not to reward you; instead, they want to gather personal details of yours. Overall, if you are conscious of the threats, you can deal with them efficiently!
Posted: November 18, 2014
Ali Qamar
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Ali Qamar is an Internet security research enthusiast who enjoys "deep" research to dig out modern discoveries in the security industry. He is the founder and chief editor at, an ultimate source for worldwide security awareness having supreme mission of making the internet more safe, secure, aware and reliable. Follow Ali on Twitter @AliQammar57