How to Secure Your Digital Life

8 minute read Modified:

Protect the digital you. Secure yourself with these simple privacy hacks.

I’m no Steve Wozniak but, like many others, I carry a healthy distrust of computers. After the massive Equifax breach affecting the privacy of 145.5M Americans and following by the “hugely problematic” Edgar data hack affecting major stock exchanges p@raNoiA levels globally have hit a new plateau.

Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window.

Steve Wozniak

What can we as individuals do to secure our identities online when the CRAs and SECs of the world can’t even protect themselves? Here are some hacks to protect your privacy online.

Hacks to Secure Your Digital Life

Review the following threats and responses you can take against those threats to hack your way to better privacy.

THREAT: 75% of the top one-million websites help track your every move.

Advertisements seem to be following you around the Web, do they? You bet they are.

In 2007 Google, the world’s top search provider, spent 3.1 billion on a to acquire a company called DoubleClick. With the acquisition Google introduced a feature called Demographics and Interest in their wildly popular (and free) Google Analytics tool—itself an acquisition just two years prior.

Google then incentivized Analytics users into bugging their own websites with something called the DART cookie—which today gives Google detailed insights into not just your search behavior, but allows Google to track your very specific browsing behavior.

RESPONSE: Prevent ads from following you everywhere you go.

Don’t go wasting your time with an ad-blocking. Do this instead:

  • Learn how to go Beyond Incognito with a host file override and curtail at the OS-level all outbound traffic to nefarious ad and malware servers.

  • Though few people know it, Google gives users the ability to opt out of personalized ads through Ad Personalization. Go ahead and disable personalized ad tracking right now. And while you’re in there have a have a look at all the other stuff Google is tracking too, including a precise history of your location if you’re an Android user.

  • Not the tech savvy type? Not to worry. There’s a new browser just for you called Brave, screenshot below. Use it to disable trackers and prevent unnecessary bandwidth usage loading ads—which can actually save you money.

Brave. A browser with your interests at heart.
Brave. A browser with your interests at heart.
THREAT: Facebook is selling your data and hijacking your mind.

It’s no surprise Facebook captures your data and mines it. But did you know it even shapes the way you think using AI? Everything you say and do on Facebook is not only used to fine-tune the ads targeted at you by DoubleClick and others, it is also used to train itself to hold your attention longer–turning you into the best consumer possible.

If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold.

Andrew Lewis

Facebook also owns a number of apps not commonly associated with Facebook such as WhatsApp, which uses deep learning to collect metadata and monetize users without showing advertisements.

RESPONSE: Use encrypted and ephemeral messaging.
  • Message with Telegram for encrypted near-time chat. Like Signal it’s free but unlike Signal it’s open source and also has a desktop client for those times when you’re staring at a screen other than your smartphone. Like stickers? They got those too.

  • Use ProtonMail with end-to-end email encryption. They have both 2048 (bank-level) and 4096-bit encryption options, it’s completely free and you can even opt in to receive email receipt notifications to help you maintain sanity with multiple inboxes.

ProtonMail Splash Screen
ProtonMail Login Screen
  • Communicate ephemerally with Snapchat. Not only did Snapchat reinvent the camera, to solves the problem of too many disturbances when using social media. A little known fact, Snapchat also allows you to hide photos from your phone.

  • Believe it or not iMessage by Apple is also E2E encrypted. If you’re fortunate enough to own a computer with iOS you’re already protected by their messaging service when you communicate with any other iMessage user.

THREAT: Centralized password managers get hacked.

Most people understand the importance of changing their passwords for each account or app and using only secure, difficult to crack, passwords. But none of that matters when your online password manager can get hacked like LastPass was hacked in 2015 before critical security flaws popped up again just two years later.

RESPONSE: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

And by you I mean everyone, with all their eggs in one basket. Of course the LastPasses and Dashlanes of the world are prime targets for hackers. And if hackers can get past ultra high-security DMZs like Equifax likely has of course they’re going to find a way in to a centralized database. Use free and open-source KeePassX to protect your secrets and decentralize your passwords right now if you haven’t done so already.

THREAT: Your insecure Wi-Fi connection allows snooping.

Years ago I received an email from a college buddy named Tom who was traveling overseas. In the email he pleaded for help after losing his wallet—he needed money and fast. Several hours later I received another email from Tom.

The second email was from the Tom explaining how he hadn’t lost his wallet and didn’t need money. Tom went on to explain he was at an internet cafe using an insecure Wi-Fi connection and someone jacked his passwords using a packet sniffer like WireShark.

RESPONSE: Encrypt your connection across any network with VPN.

In the past setting up VPN was a tricky task and meant installing some fugly-looking software and reading a bunch of dry technical instructions. That is if you didn’t choose to pay for your VPN… But those days are over.

Today we have TunnelBear—a VPN app for iOS, Android, Windows, Linux and macOS. The bear will give you VPN easily, and it’ll do it for up to 1.5GB/month free. TunnelBear comes recommended by the privacy aficionados at DuckDuckGo and, based on my personal experience, is a damn pleasure to use.

Use TunnelBear to put a jammer on the packet sniffers. You can also use it to workaround censorship restrictions in countries like Indonesia by spoofing your location. Because sometimes you really just need that awesome Giphy – y’know wha’m sayin’?

Towards Better Digital Security

Here are some additional things to try if you want to improve your privacy and better secure your digital life. A strong dose of paranoia will help you stay safe, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find the techniques which work best for you.

But don’t just take it from me. If you want to learn the importance of privacy take it from Kevin Mitnick, who lays it all out in his book titled The Art of Invisibility. Because once you start doing things like mining altcoins and paying for groceries with cryptocurrency you will quickly understand just how important security and privacy truly can be.