Digital Privacy 101

Reggie Lewis/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

So, assumably you don’t want to get hacked. Yet most people don’t think they have anything to hide—they don’t think it matters if the government surveils them. This is a basic disregard, though, for why privacy should and does matter.

Governments lie to us all the time about how they use our data and collect it. Historically, the U.S. government has not been kind to people they claim as dissidents or activists. Even if governments aren’t stealing our data, Facebook, who owns Instagram and WhatsApp, probably is. These companies data-mine and make money off of our preferences. At the very least, you should be an informed consumer of the technologies you are using.

That’s why I am here! I’m going to give you some basic tips on securing yourself digitally.

Level 1: Basic, Not Too Tech Savvy
  • For goodness’ sake, please don’t use the same password everywhere. Also, don’t use any of these common passwords! If anything, please use a password phrase only you would know with some random numbers and symbols thrown in.
  • If you do think something of yours has been hacked, please just reset the password. To check if have been hacked, you can use a website like this.
  • Use the search engine DuckDuckGo which does not track your search requests like Google does.
  • If you use Chrome, go to to chrome://settings and scroll to the bottom to find Advanced. Have a little fun and look at the different settings you can toggle like blocking pop-ups, blocking location, and sending Do Not Track requests.
Level 2: Willing to Do a Little Bit of Work
  • Install HTTPS Everywhere. It’s available for most web browsers. The HTTPS method will make sure any website that offers it will secure most of your web traffic.
  • Encrypt your hard drive! This means if anybody manages to get a hold of your computer, they will have to invest a lot of effort into decrypting all of your information and files. Learn how to do it here for Mac and here for Windows.
  • Look into a password manager. You just need one really secure password, and the manager can remember the rest for you. There are still risks involved with storing your passwords in one place.
Level 3: I Am Paranoid
  • Turn on two-factor authentication. Usually, two-factor authentication involves a password and a code texted to your phone before you can log on.  Most email and social media platforms offer two-factor authentication.
  • Encrypt your email. This is a little beyond my own skills. Encrypting emails basically revolves around the idea of possessing both a public and private key. After encryption, you cannot read your own email unless you have a private key. Find more information here about encryption for different email services.
  • Use a VPN. A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, basically makes your web traffic look like it is coming from somewhere else by changing the way your IP address looks. Most VPNs cost money and can be set up on your computer with several clients. Another option is a web browser like Tor, which sends your web requests through several locations.
For further reading, check out this guide I always refer to and these guides from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

By Amelia Dogan

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