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How to Protect Your Digital Self

YOU CAN’T LOCK down all the things all the time—it’s the digital equivalent of hiding in a bunker. Build a personal protection plan that makes sense for you.

Look in the Mirror

Start your security assessment with what’s known as a threat-modeling exercise. Ask yourself what you want to protect and from whom, and estimate the likelihood that the specific parties would compromise your data. Plug the high-risk holes first. Everything else, you can sweat a little less.

Master Your Passwords

A good password manager generates, stores, and updates all your passwords with a button press. The actual passwords are encrypted and accessible solely by you, but the system is only as good as your master password. Use a key generated by the Diceware method, which randomly selects words to build a complex but easy-to-remember phrase.

Ditch Touch ID

It’s a neat way to quickly unlock your phone, but your fingerprint sensor is also one of the easier ways for someone to access your device. Think of it this way: It’s simple to wrestle your thumb onto your phone, not so for the strong passphrase nested in the corner of your brain.

Avoid Cookies

Cookies are small bits of code that are temporarily installed on your computer when you visit a website. Even after you close your browser, cookies continue to track information. This is your new mantra: Flush the cache, delete the cookies, protect your privacy.

Browse Safely

To surf the web is to publicly share your browsing activity with online data collectors. Foil their plans by downloading HTTPS Everywhere. This browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera forces encrypted communication with tens of thousands of websites, including those that don’t use HTTPS by default.

Know Thy Settings

You won’t believe what Google knows about you. Seriously. Personal information, search logs, browsing habits, locations—all of it stored and used for ad targeting, unless you know how to navigate your privacy settings. Find them and learn how they work. Granted, you won’t be able to opt out of everything, but you’ll definitely mitigate the intrusion.

Layer Up

Two-factor authentication requires you to provide a second method of identifying information along with your password to earn access—an ever-changing six-digit code, a fingerprint, a retina scan, an NFC key fob. Many web services offer this option. Take advantage of it. Setup takes a few minutes, and you may need to download an app. But 2FA is one of the best ways to prove it’s really you trying to download files from your Dropbox folder.

Go Virtual

Virtual private networks can be useful for maintaining browser secrecy, but not all can be trusted. Do your research and only choose a VPN service that doesn’t keep activity logs, like CactusVPN or F-Secure Freedome. If you possess the requisite coding skills, build your own fully private, cloud-based VPN server using free software packages like Algo and Streisand.

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