Maintain a healthier, more protected digital presence with these steps.

By Trevor Wheelwright
February 07, 2020
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You have a skincare routine and an exercise or stretching routine, but do you have a routine for your internet privacy? Practicing good privacy hygiene can keep your digital information (and other personal details) protected, preserved, and generally in good shape—and it doesn't have to be intimidating. Start practicing good privacy hygiene now, and when reports of hacking and identity theft pop up on the news, you’ll be grateful for each step you took toward a clean, healthy online presence.

RELATED: 5 Rules You Should Always Follow to Avoid Getting Scammed Online

1
Focus on the basics

Just like physical hygiene requires showering, brushing your teeth, and washing your hands, cyber hygiene is all about taking care of the basics. And the most essential step toward improved internet privacy? Keeping your important accounts safe with a good password.

2
Make a list

Make a list of the accounts you regularly use. (Think Apple, Amazon, Google, Evernote, PayPal, etc.). Prioritize any accounts that work as a single sign-on for other services (like Google for Gmail, Google Drive, and the like, Apple for your iCloud and App Store, and Facebook for Instagram). Authentication apps and IDs work as a gateway to your data, so by focusing on keeping those safe, you’ll prevent the vast majority of potential hacks, identity theft, and cyber attacks.

3
Plan out your password strategy

Are you going to use a password manager? (Dashlane, LastPass, and 1Password are all options.) Will you rely on memory? How about two-factor authentication? A combination of these will ultimately help you out the most, but you’ll have a better chance of staying on top of your routine if you make an easy plan. Keep it simple enough to follow on a regular basis; even the most well-rounded plan won’t work if you can’t follow it.

Your password should not be simple, though. In fact, it should not be a password, but instead a longer passphrase that you can remember. Nowadays, most passwords require 12 characters, including at least one number, one capitalized letter, and one special character, anyway. For example, you could take something like “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles (1967) and turn it into “StrawFields4ever!” or make it even less recognizable (i.e. “sf4ever1967TB”).

Don’t use any phrasing that can be directly associated with you, or that you have used often. You should have a different password for just about every account. You can cater each phrase to the account it’s being used for (i.e. Google = #1BiggestSearch, but less obvious). If that doesn’t seem feasible, use a password manager.

4
Keep passwords and IDs safe

Don’t physically write down login info without storing it in a secure place. And that goes for online or app note-taking too—if you’re going to record login info in a note-taking app, enable a different password to use the app for your own two-layer protection.

Anytime someone gets access to your data with one password, it could lead to more trouble on your other accounts. Do not tell anyone your passwords or passphrases. That may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people openly share their information, especially if they use a single password for everything.

5
Use more than one password

Do you want someone looking at your information because you used the same passwords for your Netflix, WiFi, and insurance? At the very least, use different, stronger passwords for high-importance accounts to prevent strangers from signing on through one app. It’s no fun to think people could know all of your bank account information because you were sharing your streaming logins with a careless friend, so make sure your passwords are different for each account.

6
Be careful who you provide information to

Sure, downloading those new filters for Instagram seems like harmless fun, but where are they coming from? If you’re creating an account on an app or service that doesn’t have high-quality security measures in place, then a simple hack could lead to an identity thief following your online trail. Be wary of unknown apps, downloads, and emails.

7
Clear your browsing data

Cookies and other tracking methods can make you a target for advertisers and hackers alike, so it’s a good idea to refresh your history’s profile every now and then by clearing your browsing data.

RELATED: 7 Things You Should Never, Ever Do on Public Wi-Fi

8
Conceal your identity

Prevention is part of any maintenance routine, and privacy hygiene is no exception. Whether you’re doing basic searches on Wikipedia or looking at sensitive personal information, it’s a good idea to stay stealthy as an added measure. Use private mode, VPNs, or apps like Sudo to obscure and hide your identity as you roam the internet.

9
Learn the specifics

While these steps may get you closer to a great cyber hygiene routine, not every company treats privacy quite the same, so it’s important to learn what each account will and won't protect you from.

Apple’s new privacy techniques obscure your data by providing random basic identification markers (not your actual ID) when required. The company makes it difficult for trackers to piece together your info, and it avoids connecting your ID to your activity.

Apple is trying to set high standards, but not every company will be able to keep up, so it’s important to go through your major accounts’ specific needs. For each of your most-used profiles (like Facebook or Google), you’ll want to go through each privacy setting available to ensure you have the security you desire. Making your accounts private or only visible to friends will greatly reduce basic random hacking and phishing attempts. Make a plan to revisit privacy settings on these major accounts every few months.

10
Round out your cyber security knowledge

It’s easy enough to practice the basics of a good privacy hygiene routine on your own, but you can get additional help too. Following these steps and scheduling time to refresh all of your login info will get you most of the way there, but you can also get a little extra credit.

Most major internet service providers come with basic anti-virus and anti-malware software for free, but you can also buy security software and services such as Norton or Bitdefender. Beyond that, there are many different ways you can follow advice from tech-experts, hackers themselves, and other privacy experts—keep up with the latest updates and articles on digital privacy, and you’ll have a head start when there’s a privacy breach or fresh concern.

11
Make it work for you

Getting your cyber hygiene routine down requires that you be invested in it. Dive in as deep as you want, but make sure you’re covering the fundamentals first. If you want to start simple, change your passwords on major accounts, especially the ones you use to sign onto others. This includes email and social media, too. You’ll also want to update any financial or medical account information regularly. Even if you’re switching multiple passwords every few months, you’re better off than folks who haven’t updated their only password for years.

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