The internet is intertwined in every part of our lives – so much so that our digital identity has become a large part of who we are.
But would you leave your passport out for the picking? Of course not, because it’s a key part of your identity. So isn’t time you took the necessary precautions to protect your digital identity in the same way? Online data protection practices are often confusing. It can be even more difficult to get your head around which of these applies to your digital persona.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best practices you can follow to protect your all-important digital identity.
Most people see passwords as a bit of a nuisance. They often choose one easy to remember password for convenience and use it for each online service. But your password is often the only thing that stands between malicious attackers and your online services. So you should take them seriously.
If you’re using for example, your pet’s name, followed by your date of birth, whilst you might consider that data to be personal to yourself, it’s likely available publicly, and crucially to malicious third parties. With that in mind, the much more sensible alternative is to choose a password that’s made up a random sequence of letters, numbers, and characters. It’s also good practice to use a unique password for each of your online accounts. Ensure here that you don’t use the same password twice.
But you’d have to be superhuman to remember a 16 digit string of random characters for each of your online services, right? Well, not necessarily.
Services like LastPass offer to remember all of your passwords, so you don’t have to. LastPass will store your credentials using cloud-based encryption, and then automatically populate sign-in fields across your devices. It’s quick, simple, and free – allowing you to take the hassle out of good password practice.
For those who really care about their digital security, two-factor authentication goes one step further in guarding against malicious interference. However, it’s a tool that isn’t just reserved for the ultra-security conscious. We recommend that everyone uses it for adding that extra layer of protection to important accounts.
Two-factor authentication, which you might have heard referred to as 2FA, TFA, or two-step verification, means not only requiring a password when signing into an account, but also requiring an additional verification step – which commonly comes in the form of a physical token that the user has on their person. Many widely-used online services offer two-step verification through your mobile device. This means, following a successful login attempt, the site will send an SMS message to your device containing a verification code in order to proceed.
This security technique can also be managed through dedicated authenticator apps – including the widely used Google Authenticator and Authy – that manage all your security tokens in one place. Either way, it’s an effective option to ensure only you can access your online accounts, no matter who has access to your passwords.
It’ll come as no surprise to learn that your digital manoeuvres are very closely tracked. It’s a practice that some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley have come under criticism. For example, online tracking allows Amazon to serve ads based on what you last searched for on Amazon, or Facebook to pass data about your likes and dislikes onto third parties.
If that concept scares you, you’re not alone. A growing number of facilities allow you to cut back how companies track you online and in some cases, altogether.
Whilst many online service providers offer the ability to turn off tracking from within your accounts settings – like first/third party cookies and location/activity tracking – it’s not awfully convenient to do this for each service you use. One well-regarded tool that allows you to eliminate online tracking is Ghostery, which is an add-on for your browser. Disconnect.me is a similarly useful tool.
Most internet browsers now also offer “do not track” instructions that automatically block tracking where possible. Firefox – which is developed by the non-profit Mozilla corporation – is a favourite choice with those looking to bolster online privacy. But your current browser should offer a similar facility.
Virtual Private Networks
Finally, those seeking ultimate protection for their digital identity – whether it be from malicious intruders or government snooping – often turn to a virtual private network, or a VPN as they’re commonly known. But there’s still a considerable amount of confusion over how VPNs work and why they’re useful for privacy protection.
When using a consumer VPN – as opposed to a corporate VPN, which is something altogether different -your data is tunnelled through a private network via encrypted paths. It all sounds very futuristic but essentially means that when you browse the internet, you’ll be doing so as if you’re connected to a remote network. Simply put, this allows you to protect your security and anonymity from your internet service provider, whether it’s at home or using public Wi-Fi.
VPNs are also capable of masking your online location. This could be useful for bypassing online censorship and accessing geo-blocked websites.
At a basic level, every VPN service should mask your IP address whilst browsing the internet and that’s something you can easily check with a quick search for “what my IP,” but you’ll also want to look for a few other useful features. Different services offer varying levels of protection. But you’ll want to find a service that doesn’t keep hold of your activity, and ensures encrypted tunnelling.
It all sounds very technical and difficult to get your head around. However, you can’t go wrong with some of the well-known VPN services on the market. For example, ExpressVPN promises the quickest speeds of any option on the market, but comes at a premium. Meanwhile, IPVanish offers a service that’s purpose-built for torrenting. Therefore, choosing the VPN service that’s best for you is entirely dependent on your specific needs and budget.