If you've been worrying about staying secure and private online lately, then you're not alone. With restrictive surveillance laws being passed around the world and authoritarian regimes increasingly censoring the Internet, it's an anxious time for all of us.
And when it comes to using public Wi-Fi, especially for managing financial transactions, we now know that it’s not safe to use our credit cards or disclose any other personal information while out and about – hackers are a fast-growing threat. Using cryptocurrency helps you to stay anonymous to some extent, but what are the other ways to remain completely invisible online?
The following five essential services could significantly enhance your online anonymity and security in 2017:
Bitcoin is a decentralised currency that does not belong to any country – just its user. And when it comes to security, it’s hard to beat. Bitcoin online transactions are conducted without disclosing any personal financial information. When it comes to privacy, it’s certainly reassuring that no one can trace who is the owner of a specific bitcoin account.
However, not all merchants accept it. In those cases, when using a credit/debit card is the only option – extra steps should be taken. Use strong passwords and update them often. Ensure the websites are trusted (double-check for 'https') and be wary of any suspicious redirects. Use trusted encryption services (i.e. VPN service) to protect one’s Internet traffic.
While bitcoin is great for financial transactions online, it’s wise to stay private while conducting any other activities – such as email. Emails might also contain some private and sensitive information, which could be easily intercepted by hackers or any unwanted snoopers. The solution is to use one of the encrypted email services. There are a few good examples, including Tutanota, or the Gmail-like ProtonMail that offer automatic end-to-end encryption, and no personal information is required to create a secure email account.
Everybody uses their mobile devices for instant messaging – but how safe are these regular apps? For example, WhatsApp has received some harsh criticism for tracing user chats even after their deletion. Signal, on the other hand, is an encrypted messaging and voice calling app that provides end-to-end encryption by default to secure all communications.
The app can also verify the identity of people you're messaging and the integrity of the channel they are using. When texting with non-Signal users, you have the option to invite them to an encrypted conversation via Signal.
PGP (Pretty Good Privacy)
If you're looking for an advanced option to secure your communication and personal files, it might be wise to turn to PGP, which is one of the most popular encryption software used worldwide. OpenPGP encrypts data and creates digital signatures, and could be used to encrypt your files or to exchange encrypted communication. It protects all communication with a digital signature and is available for all operating platforms.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Anyone who is taking their online security and privacy seriously will use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network. A VPN encrypts all of your Internet data into a secure tunnel and creates a secure connection between your device and a VPN server. All the information travelling between your Internet-enabled device and the secure server remains invisible to any third party.
Those who want guaranteed protection will be disappointed that not all VPNs accept bitcoin as a method of payment – but there are a few that do. NordVPN, for example, allows you to pay by bitcoin and, more importantly, does not store any logs. It also offers an option to encrypt all the data twice for extra safety, which is a rare feature for a VPN. A helpful kill-switch feature allows you to select Internet programmes that would be terminated if the Internet connection drops for any reason, to make sure that no unprotected online activity is exposed.
A final word
In addition to these super strict security measures, you should also be more vigilant and use extra caution when sharing information or opening messages from unknown recipients. Also, make sure your device’s Firewall is turned on, and reliable anti-virus software is installed and kept up to date.