Saturday, August 7, 2010

Six Steps to Ensure Your Online Privacy

You can use software, browsers, and the monitoring of your own activity to ensure your safety and privacy.

1. IP Address
One way you can ensure your online privacy is by hiding or changing your Internet Protocol, or IP address. Vidalia is a package of software that can help do just that. Within Vidalia is Tor, a piece of software that can allow you to hide your IP address. Tor also has an add-on for Firefox that you can turn off and on to change the IP address right from your browser. You can even use a new identity by changing your IP to one in your region or one from a country all the way across the globe. This makes you difficult to locate. Unfortunately, this can slow your browsing speed. As a result, I recommend using this only when visiting unsafe sites or sites that will store your data, like Google. Web researchers and advertisers store and use your data whenever you visit a website. Vidalia is also handy for giving misinformation to these companies. As a result, you might sometimes an advertisement for someone in Russia or Australia.

2. Cookies
In the options section of your browser, you can delete your cookies and online history. Cookies are temporary files that are downloaded into the temporary folder whenever you visit some websites. You can change your settings so that your browser accepts no cookies, however this is not recommended. Your internet activity will be very limited if you do not allow the download of cookies. Instead, I would recommend selecting the deletion of your cookies in an hour, day, week, or every time your browser closes.

3. History
Your online history is a databank of all your visited websites. You can delete this upon entry or exiting of your browser. On some browsers you can even choose to not save any history at all. This will not affect your bookmarked or favorite items. I would highly recommend this in case your computer is ever hacked. This is also handy if you have nosy family or friends. If you do have watchful eyes in your household, you might want to lock your screen whenever you are away from the computer by clicking on the Window's symbol and clicking L or by going to the Start menu.

4. File Deletion
You can hide your online activity and download activity by simply deleting permanent and temporary documents saved on your hardware. Your temporary folder can be found in various locations depending on both the operating system and browser of choice. When deleting folders and items from your computer, keep in mind that you and anyone else can still retrieve your data. The Recycling Bin is not enough to permanently delete your details. Even if you empty your Recycling Bin, your data can still be located. I use a program called File Shredder, which deletes all locations of the file in question. As a result, there is no trace of the document, file, or folder.

5. Online Activity
Securing your privacy and security online requires simple, common sense steps as well as the more technical ones. When visiting a strange site, do not give your social security number or bank account information. Make sure the business or website is a legitimate one by scanning the web for information about the site in question. When on social networking sites, keep in mind that your information will be scanned by the government, advertisers, and potential employers. If you do not want anyone to see it, do not post it. That simple rule can prevent many disasters to your reputation and safety. Also, never post information regarding your work, especially if you work for the government. Remember that when you add someone as your friend, they have more access to your information than the general public. This can be used against you. When blogging or beginning your own website, be careful what terminology you use. If it is a political or economic blog or site, realize that certain search terms will single you out in government scanning of internet data. Make sure that you do not post anything that can be used against you. Also, and unfortunately, you must now be careful of what you send via e-mail. Do not send anything that can cause you to lose your job or be suspected of illegal activity.

6. Search Engines
As mentioned earlier, Google has a tendency to save all your search terms and double clicks. If you do not want your activity to be monitored, there are alternative search engines. Firefox now has a new private browsing option. As this is fairly new, I am not sure how secure this option truly is. Firefox uses Google as its primary search engine. It even has Google as its customized homepage. I use a search engine called Scroogle. What I like about Scroogle is that it uses the same search results as Google. Scroogle does not save any of your data and it deletes your search terms within two hours. Scroogle even has entertaining pictures and articles underneath the search bar depicting Google's corrupt behavior. Another search engine worth considering is Startpage. Unlike Scroogle, Startpage includes image search. Although Startpage has less images and different search results than Google, it is the most secure search engine. It allows for Tor-like capabilities such as IP protection so that no one can track you when you click on a link from their search engine. This can be enacted without downloading any software. Another decent search engine to consider is Dogpile. Although it is not as secure as both Scroogle and Startpage, Dogpile displays results from Yahoo, Google, Ask, and Bing. There are many secure alternatives to Google out there if you look for them.

In conclusion, there are many ways to secure yourself and your online activity from hackers, researchers, and advertisers. Following these simple steps will protect you and your family in this new hi-tech era.


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