Keep the NSA From Watching Your Every Move Online

By Jessie Geoffray

Following the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden regarding its surveillance of domestic and foreign Internet traffic, email, and phone usage, it might be easy to become paranoid about Big Brother. However, those most eager to get information about you are simply private companies that mine and sell data about what you click. Here are some are simple steps you can take to reduce your online footprint.

Overview

Following the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden regarding its surveillance of domestic and foreign Internet traffic, email, and phone usage, it might be easy to become paranoid about Big Brother. However, those most eager to get information about you are simply private companies that mine and sell data about what you click. Here are some are simple steps you can take to reduce your online footprint.

Be Conscious of Social Media

When you’re logged into Facebook, the social media site effectively tracks your every click, using cookies on its integrated sites to collect data about you. (Same goes for your Google account). Now, Facebook even collects some data from users when they have logged out. The best way to avoid this kind of tracking is to use a separate browser for Facebook only.

Connect to a VPN

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, extends a private network over a public network (i.e.: the Internet). This ensures that your Internet connection is secure by working through the encrypted VPN connection, regardless of your computer's physical location. If you don't already have free access to a VPN through your employer or school, try the popular VPN service called "Private Internet Access."

Turn On Your Browser’s “Private Mode”

This is one of the simplest ways to prevent other parties from collecting data from your Internet usage. Using your browser’s private mode blocks cookies that track you as you navigate different websites. To activate this on Chrome, click the button for a "New incognito window." On Firefox, click "New Private Window" under the Firefox tab. In Internet Explorer, choose "InPrivate Browsing" under the "Safety" tab. The drawback: you won’t have a browsing history.

Consider Using Tor

"Tor" is free software designed to defend you from unwanted network surveillance. By using something called "Onion Routing," Tor routes your data traffic using layers of encryption and random network nodes. The result keeps you anonymous as you browse -- great for journalists, activists, and the generally paranoid.

Search DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a search engine -- like Google or Bing -- that is unique thanks to its "no tracking" promise. It also promises not to "filter bubble" you, meaning it won't tailor your search results based on what you've previously clicked on.

Use Free Browser Add-Ons

Free services like Ghostery and Do Not Track Me can help strengthen your online privacy efforts. Ghostery is a browser tool that makes the "invisible" part of the web -- tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons -- visible, allowing you to make informed decisions about your online privacy. Do Not Track Me is a browser tool that blocks the tracking capabilities of advertisers, social networks, and data-collection companies.

Disconnect Your Webcam

While webcams are a useful tool, there is a potential risk of someone hacking into yours and spying on you. There some things you should always do that can help prevent this, such as not clicking on suspicious attachments or securing your wireless connection, but the most effective defense is simple: If you use an external webcam, detach it when it's not in use. If you have a built-in webcam, cover the lens with an adhesive bandage or a yellow sticky note.