Cybersecurity: Protect Yourself Online
By Reeti Shah
The Internet is one of the most comprehensive sources of information existing today. We can easily access any kind of information we want and talk to people anywhere in the world at any time. The internet’s importance has become clear, especially during this pandemic, with the shift towards learning and working remotely. However, with the growth of the internet, issues of privacy and data security have also emerged.
Of course, we can’t discuss data security without bringing up Facebook. Although younger users don’t use Facebook as much anymore (as of 2017, the number of 12 to 17-year-olds using Facebook in the US declined by 9.9 percent), it still has more than 2 billion active users in the world. Facebook’s Terms of Service allows the app to store various user data, from the posts you like to the things you purchase online. This stored data records what users like and then present individualized advertisements to them. Facebook also provides access to user data to other companies. This means that if you have ever seen a login page for Facebook on a website, that website probably has access to the data Facebook has on you.
You might be thinking that if you don’t use Facebook, you’re safe. However, since Facebook owns social media services like Instagram and WhatsApp, security only goes so far. WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption (only you and the recipient can see the messages you send them) but it can still track and collect data on your contacts and location. Facebook also has access to the data Instagram collects on you based on how you use the app.
Google & Data
User data is the “price” you pay by using social media and the internet at large. Google was recently sued for violating users’ privacy by tracking their internet use in Incognito mode (a feature in browsers in which they aren’t supposed to track or store your browsing history). Tech companies are collecting information on you to then sell to companies to target products or conduct social experiments on you effectively. Data breaches have also been increasing (the number of data breaches in the first six months of 2019 was 54% higher than those in the same time period in 2018). These breaches can release harmless information, such as email addresses, or damaging information, such as bank account details. Thus, it is important to be careful about which websites you give your information to.
protect yourself online
There are measures you can take to keep yourself safe online.
Set your social media accounts and stories to private.
Make unique and secure passwords for these websites
Use two-factor authentication (you need to give your password and another piece of proof to verify your identity to log in to your account) when possible.
Although this is cliched advice, it’s still true today: don’t friend or follow people you don’t know.
I would also recommend using alternative search engines such as DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t track your activity online, or Ecosia, which uses the revenue it gains to plant trees (around 45 searches are needed to plant one tree). Using secure browsers such as Brave (it also can block advertisements) or Firefox can reduce the amount of data collected on you.
It’s important to be careful of the data you put online to maintain your privacy to prevent predatory companies from collecting and using your data in unethical ways. Once you post something online, it can never be deleted completely, and it will become part of your digital footprint. Thus, although it can be annoying, take measures to protect yourself online and be aware of the data you are putting out about yourself.
Editor: Lynn Larabi