If we humans aren’t giving away our personal information (as we do on FB, Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter and every other social media account), we’re having it stolen without our permission or knowledge and sold to those who mean us harm. As a teacher-author, this is a bigger deal than most because:
- we have copyrighted files that provide us an income.
- we have a access to our income streams on our digital devices. If we’re hacked, the bad guy can shut us out of those and divert the monies from them to himself.
Because of this, I spend more time than most Normal People I know trying to secure my online environment. Here are six easy steps everyone should implement. To keep this article as short as possible, I don’t go into a lot of detail, simply an explanation of what the security feature is, why I use it, and what’s involved initiating it on your device:
Cover your webcam
Any moderately-talented hacker can access your computer’s webcam and microphone remotely. Lots of movies and novel spotlight this invasion of privacy because it has been normalized in the digital world. You can make this invasion difficult for Bad Guys by covering your webcam, either with a sock or a post-in note. And, if your digital device of choice is a laptop, when you finish, close it. Don’t leave it sitting open with a view of your bedroom, your face, and a reflection of your keystrokes in your glasses.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) hides (masks) your real location (your IP address) from prying eyes by bouncing it around to other parts of the world. For me, this week, it’s Australia. Other weeks, it’s Britain. These involve a monthly charge, probably a download, and minimal setup. VPNs can be used on phones, desktops, laptops, iPads, and more.
The setup for my chosen VPN (Surfshark) wasn’t difficult but it is a bit quirky when compared to my norm so it takes some getting used to (for example, Outlook won’t send email through a VPN so I have to turn it off first).
Signal is a free messaging/phone app that collects no personal data at all and works on most digital devices. Its end-to-end encryption means no one sees your messages except who you choose, not even Signal, and is considered the gold standard of communication privacy. If you read spy novels, they often use Signal for their communication. If you currently use a messaging app (iPhone’s native iMessage app or Facebook’s Messenger), stop doing that. Use Signal instead.
To start, I downloaded the app to my smartphone and to my desktop. I created an account with my phone number–that’s all. Then, I started texting folks and calling my son in Japan–for free (both voice and video).
DuckDuckGo is a powerful ad-free internet search engine that collects no personal data on you, which means it sells nothing. If you’ve searched the internet about a private health issue and then been barraged with ads for that problem, you know how annoying it is to have zero privacy when browsing.
DDG is a downloadable app for phones and an extension on desktops. I no longer ‘Google’ something, I ‘Duck’ it.
Hotspot from your phone
A smartphone’s native hotspot allows you to link to the internet through your personal internet account rather than the free WiFi provided in coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and everywhere else. Why? Because most of these aren’t encrypted like your phone, they aren’t safe. There are numerous hacker videos showing how they can hack into your computer in about three minutes when you’re on free WiFi. Here’s a two-minute video showing how simple it is:
My iPhone has a native hotspot that my iPad can easily connect to or I can allow others to use via a code. I don’t share it much because it runs off of the data in my Cox internet account. BTW, if you are overseas where you can’t access mobile data, if you have a VPN, that will encrypt your data and make surfing safe.
2-step authentication is exactly what it says. You not only must enter a password to access an account but you have to do another second step to prove you’re not a bad guy who stole the login. It might be a code sent to your phone or an Authenticator app. Basically, this means before you access confidential and critical information (like your banking), you must show you possess another device that only the real person would have, such as your phone.
If this sounds onerous, it’s worse to have your identity highjacked or your online access corrupted. When I had my laptop stolen in South Korea, I knew anything important would be impossible for them to access because I’d be alerted on my phone. Which I was, a few times.
More: Sign up for an identity protection program to monitor the internet for fraud involving you (I use Identity Guard) and an encrypted email program like ProtonMail (I know, you love your free Gmail but it is one of the worst offenders in the area of privacy).
What do you use to protect your online privacy? I love simple solutions that are affordable, simple, and effective.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.