As technology continues to advance, the line between our real lives and digital lives continues to be blurred. Online, it’s easy to shop, connect with friends, and do work with the click of a button. Doing this, we put information about ourselves into the digital world. Names, photos, credit card numbers, personal information, and more. It’s part of the exchange we make in order to make our online lives easier.

However, with major company data breaches regularly making the news, including Facebook’s recent user data scandal, it can feel scary being online. Having little control of the data you put out there and who can use it is an understandable concern. In fact, you aren’t alone. Pew Research Center has found that 49% of all Americans feel their online information has become less secure in recent years.

Despite these statistics, most folks don’t actually do anything to protect their information. Perhaps it feels overwhelming, daunting, or you make even be thinking, “What’s the point? These things are inevitable anyway.”

However, protecting online information does matter, and can prevent users from identity theft, data breaches and financial grievances. Cyber security is for all users, and even with little computer knowledge, users can take control of their data and protect themselves from cyber attacks. While there’s no sure fire way to go completely off the grid when surfing the web, there are still plenty of ways to reduce risk.

In order to understand what you’re up against, let’s break down the ways your data can be used by others online.

The first, and definitely most alarming, is through hackers and cyber attackers. There are many different methods of hacking, including keylogging (keyboard tracking), social engineering, phishing, DDoS attacks, viruses, and cookie theft. These hacks happen at all levels, from hackers hijacking personal browsing sessions, all the way up to the 2017 Equifax data breach, affecting 145 million people.

Another less malicious but still invasive way your data is used is Internet Service Providers personalizing ads to fit your interests. They gather this information by tracking third party cookies, online “breadcrumbs” that follow users’ browsing behaviors. Data companies use these cookies to create in depth consumer profiles that they sell to advertisers right under your nose.

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How is this okay? Well, cookie tracking is perfectly legal in most of the world. Cookies are necessary to keep you logged into your accounts and simplify your browsing experience, but it can become invasive when third parties begin tracking cookies. They can see your data even when you aren’t even on that particular site. While you may have agreed to allow cookies, it can sometimes be unclear what you are agreeing to.  

While some data sharing agreement is necessary to access various websites, here are easy preventative measures to turn off certain behavior tracking abilities. Browsers have settings to turn off cookie tracking, which Panda Security explains in this guide on how to stay more anonymous online.

The guide provides other concrete actions you can take to further protect your online privacy, like hiding your location and securing your emails and searches, even when using public WiFi. While it is impossible to be completely anonymous online, there are many preventative measures you can take to lessen the risks.

It’s worth protecting yourself online. After all, this is your data and personal information that you have the power to protect.

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