At Elite X Computing, we are often asked the question, “what should I do to protect my privacy online” Its a very valid question, and one we want to take the time out to answer here. Without a doubt, if you are worried about ads and tracking, the number one item we recommend is a reliable and continuously updated browser. The second major thing we can say helps to keep your accounts secure is two-factor authentication (or 2-FA.) Finally, we recommend a trustworthy VPN provider, especially if you are a road warrior. We are going to give you some reliable recommendations for applications and services to help keep you safe online.
In the beginning, there was the browser
You are going to find a lot of opinions about what the best browser it out there. A lot of it is going to depend on personal preference and taste. There are some general rules to follow when maintaining and choosing a browser. For starters, you want a browser built on a modern framework like Chromium, WebKit, or Gecko. If these browser frameworks sound foreign, there is a good reason for that; almost no one calls Chrome, Safari, or Firefox by those names. All three browsers have their place with one exception that no longer gets a pass on the privacy front.
The most significant piece of advice we can give about your web browser is this; If you are on Windows, use Edge, if you are on macOS, use Safari. The reason why we say this is that when the browser ships with your OS (operating system), it’s easier to maintain and is more likely to be on a current framework (Edge relies on Chrome.) Here at Elite X Computing, we recommend most users install OS updates as soon as they are released. Having the browser update with your OS helps to keep you safe, and its one less thing to manage. We will get into browser extensions at another point in time.
Now comes the fun part, venturing out into the wild to catch a new browser that may feel more like your style. We won’t be recommending Chrome for most people, mainly due to the privacy concerns which you can read about here, here and here. So now that we have that out of the way, we have two trustworthy and reliable browsers to recommend for most users, depending on your level of savvy and paranoia.
Firefox: an old faithful browser that started its life as Netscape Navigator! Seriously, you can read the history here. Firefox is reliable, fast, and has a lot of built-in features to protect your privacy online. It is compatible with most sites and just looks and feels modern. If you are looking to just upgrade your built-in browser with something a little more feature and privacy-focused, Firefox is the way to go. Check out a list of things the team at Mozilla does to protect your privacy. Once we start talking about ad-blocking and preventing malicious ads, Firefox needs to rely on third-party plugins and for end-users to be a little savvier than most. Need more privacy and adblocking is where our second recommendation comes into play.
Brave: recent updates to this fork of the chromium project have made it my defacto choice when I am wanting to easily avoid ads and recommend a stable browser to those looking for a more all-in-one experience. It has plenty of features along with great ad-blocking by default and just a reputable developer reputation. You may run into some compatibility issues with sites that use extensive scripting as part of their frameworks. Overall, if you are wanting to see fewer ads and maybe make a little money while you browse its top dollar. It, along with Firefox, can be augmented with extensions to add your favorite password manager or handle and block even more ads.
How many factors
Its not a privacy concern directly, but everyone should have two-factor authentication turned on (we will reference it as 2fa going forward.) While it more squarely lands in the best practices defaults for online account security settings, we are going to have it here as well; security and privacy can go hand in hand. In short, 2fa is something you have! It can be an SMS sent to your mobile phone or a code generated by an authenticator app.
Every account you have online should leverage 2fa. Your Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Sony, Blizzard account, and yes, even your bank! There are a lot of writeups on this subject online, so we won’t get into it too deep, but having multiple authentication types associated with your account helps to protect you. It is not likely that someone is going to compromise both your password AND your mobile phone; if they do, you are more than likely to have bigger problems than just securing your online identity.
Most people are going to find enabling SMS 2fa to be the easiest and less error-prone way to receive an authenticator code to add a layer of security to your account. If you do not have good cell coverage or have it built into your threat model not to trust SMS 2f,a then an authenticator app is the way to go. There are a lot of different authenticator apps out there, and they all pretty much work the same with some having more features than the other. While your specific service may work better with their brand of authenticator, notable ones being Microsoft and Blizzard, pretty much any authenticator app can be used as a replacement for SMS. We here at Elite X Computing prefer the Authy app.
In essence, get 2fa for all of the things! Seriously, do it now.
Privacy for Road Warriors
VPNs are a series of connections that allow your client (browser) and internet resources (website and services) to communicate. VPNs encrypt your traffic with either SSL, NNTPS, or LDAPS. While each of the different ways VPNs protect your connection, and we are talking about privacy, where you want to find a provider who does not keep or track any of your personal information and routinely cleans its access logs and DNS records. They also should have robust security best practices. You may have seen a lot of ads out there for one VPN provider or another, but our recommendation is ProtonVPN! It comes in macOS, and Windows flavors will support both iOS and android and has a terrific track record for privacy and security. Sure there are other great options like NordVPN and Private Internet Access. Do your reading up on the different ones and find one that suits your needs. A good VPN is especially useful for those who find themselves in coffee shops or getting access to the internet in hotel rooms a lot. Think of it as just one more layer of protection for all of your data when your computer or phone is in an unfamiliar place. It’s like, an internet bubble for your device!
While we have briefly hit on what we consider the three pillars of internet privacy, we would love to hear from you in the comments any helpful hints or tips you may have on the subject! If you find yourself not feeling comfortable setting your PC up for security or need adware/malware or viruses removed, drop us a line, and we would be thrilled to assist you!