The average person isn’t overthinking their digital footprint.
They might think, “Hey, I’m not doing anything embarrassing or illegal, why should anyone care what I’m doing?”
Still, if you’ve looked at the news at all in the last year, you know that things have never looked worse for our data. Not to sound like those alarmist dark web commercials, but keeping your data within your control has never been more critical.
While you may have nothing to hide, advertisers are after your data, phishing attacks remain rampant, and sensitive information is there for the taking.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of things you should add to your digital toolbox, you know, just in case.
Most important digital privacy tools
Spyware Removal Tools
Spyware is a type of malware that hides inside your systems and collects information about you without your knowledge. It could enter the system by way of a seemingly legit download, an email attachment, or a malicious link. The danger is, spyware monitors your keystrokes to learn your passwords — which, of course, puts you at risk for identity theft.
A user-friendly antivirus program, Bitdefender doesn’t ask you a ton of questions at the point of install. Instead, it works to eliminate any security risks quickly.
One of the most effective malware removes on the market, Malwarebytes detects ransomware, adware, and works well with your existing antivirus program. The tool targets and removes security threats and performs deep scans that remove unwanted programs that mess with your system.
Emsisoft Emergency Kit
This app is a portable app that allows you to use the program on your own devices, as well as anytime someone you know needs help fighting off a virus. Keep the app stored in the cloud or USB drive for easy access. Like other malware removal options, Emsisoft keeps a database of current threats, so it requires an internet connection to keep things up to date.
Internet service providers often record information like connection times, metadata, and more. Without a VPN, ISPs have access to every website you visit. And, in the U.S., the UK, and Australia, governments require internet companies to keep track of this information.
VPNs, or virtual private networks , are used to route all internet traffic through a secure server. This process hides your browsing history and allows you to access blocked or banned online content.
While there are some free VPNs out there, most fail to conceal your online activity completely, or worse; they could be scams.
You don’t have to spend a lot; in fact, NordVPN ($2.99 per month) ExpressVPN ($6.99 per month), and VPNArea.com ($4.92) all provide comprehensive privacy for just a few bucks.
This is why you should always pay for a VPN
Adblocking and Tracking Prevention
Good adblockers are essential in this era of autoplay ads and tracking. From a security standpoint, adblocking is crucial, because advertisers are recording your online activity so they can show you targeted ads.
The best ad blocking stack depends on your needs — you might look for an option built into a private browser or VPN, or seek out a tool designed to work across all your devices.
The benefit of AdGuard over simply using a browser extension is, it brings more blocking capabilities to the table. See, browser extensions do a decent job keeping ads from getting out of control, but they don’t fully prevent companies from accessing your data.
Chances are, you’re using the same weak, easy to remember password you’ve been using for years. Most people stick to the same few passwords — and tend to share them with family members or whoever asks them for access to Netflix.
The problem is, if someone gets their hands on one credential , they can log into bank accounts, credit cards, and social profiles.
LastPass , 1Password , and Dashlane all make it easy to create and save unique, complex passwords that don’t require you to remember a long list of special characters, numbers, and a mix of cases.
Apple users with the latest OS, Mojave have access to a free password manager, too. So, there’s no excuse.
Consider changing your browser
Browsers are the portal to the rest of the web. Unfortunately, as you surf the web, you leave a digital imprint on every site you visit. Chrome, for example, automatically logs you into the browser when you log into a Google site.
Users do have the option to switch back to basic mode (which doesn’t access your password. Still, you need to choose this option. Otherwise, Chrome will keep logging you in automatically.
All activity in the Chrome browser links to your Google account, which keeps tracking scripts on the sites you visit.
If this concerns you, consider switching to a browser that offers more privacy features. A few options:
Brave’s whole selling point is that they don’t treat you like a product. The platform automatically blocks ads and trackers, allowing you to navigate the web with your privacy intact. Brave is one of the best options for privacy — it’s built on the open-sourced Chromium project and promises load times up to 8x faster than Safari and Chrome.
Tor Browser doesn’t have the flashiest website, but don’t let the poor user interface prevent you from giving this a chance. Tor comes equipped with privacy add-ons, encryption, and an advanced proxy. You also don’t need to install anything on your computer. Instead, it comes as a pre-configured web browser you can run off of a USB drive.
Perhaps the most mainstream of our three recommendations, Firefox has upped their privacy game in recent years. Their private browsing settings automatically erase online information like cookies, passwords, and browsing history, so that every time you exit the browser, you don’t leave anything behind.
It’s important to note that the default configurations don’t come with the privacy settings enabled. However, several add-ons make Firefox a reliable private browsing option. Features like tracking protection, HTTPS Everywhere, uBlock Origin, NoScript, Stop Fingerprinting and Windscribe come together for a more secure experience.
12 ways Firefox can defend your data against internet threats
A better trash bin
You might move unwanted files and photos into the trash bin and call it a day, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s actually been destroyed. The data still exists and could potentially be recovered.
In most cases, the recycling bin is fine — so long as the information you’re getting rid of doesn’t contain identifying details. Sensitive information, on the other hand, should be treated as such.
CCleaner and CleanMyMac are free services that allow you to securely erase files — which matters if you loan your computer to someone, take your device to the shop or return a laptop to your employer. What’s more, should your device get stolen, identity thieves know to head for the hard drive when for valuable data.
How to wipe your hard drive before selling or donating your computer
Encrypted hard drive
Speaking of hard drives, an encrypted version is essential. While you might spend a good deal of time using cloud-based tools, your information could be exposed when you download — think tax forms, financial information, trade secrets, and so on.
Hard drive encryption works like this: data is encrypted through a cryptographic algorithm. This renders all data unreadable unless it’s unlocked with a secret key. We don’t recommend using an encrypted hard drive to store items that do not include sensitive information, because again, data is unreadable without the secret key.
As such, you’ll need to make sure you keep this passcode in a safe, secure place — if you lose it, it could be gone forever.
How to encrypt your hard drive and keep your folders and files safe