Enhancing Your Computer and Online Privacy


Enhancing the security of your computer doesn't mean just your desktop or laptop but all of your mobile devices too. Many computers and mobile devices have security software installed on them at the factory. But it's your job to make sure that it is activated and kept up to date. Keeping your personal information secure is an ongoing task. This article provides tips to help with that task.

Many examples of security products are mentioned in this article. You need to research these and similar products to decide which best fit your needs.

With all the various ways that scammers try to get your your personal information, security software can help you protect that information. Security suite typical features include anti-virus for email, web, IM, and files, firewall, anti-spam, network monitoring, and ad blocking. Some include web content filtering and parental controls. There are some free suites that have received good reviews as well as paid ones. Many popular suites are available from Norton, F-Secure, ZoneAlarm, Webroot, and Bitdefender.

If you prefer to choose separate programs for the various security features, then these types of programs are important:

  • AntiVirus program such as Bitdefender AntiVirus, and AVG AntiVirus FREE to name just a few.
  • Software firewall such as ZoneAlarm (available in free and paid versions) and Comodo Firewall. If you run a Windows computer and don't choose to use a third-party software firewall, make sure that the Windows firewall is turned on.
  • AntiSpyware program such as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

Many of us already have programs on our machines that can help with privacy intrusion such as spam and tracking.

  • Most email programs provide some message filtering capability – some harder to master than others.
  • Many Internet security programs do many things including managing privacy and helping to control spam.
  • Web browsers have privacy settings that you can control including to show cookies and allow you to choose which cookies to accept.
  • Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide spam/junk mail filtering.

Looking for "privacy controls," "spam" "email filtering" "email controls" "cookies" under "HELP" on any of these programs should lead you to instructions on how to use these tools.

There are many other tools available to protect your privacy online. Check out the EPIC Online Guide to Practical Privacy Tools which has short descriptions and links to all sorts of tools. It's from the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Spyware and Malware

Spyware and malware (malicious software) usually refers to software that has been installed on your computer without your consent or without your knowledge and controls or monitors your computer use. There are numerous malware programs that do some or all of the following: pop-up ads, monitor your Internet surfing, redirect your computer to websites, record your keystrokes, and steal your personal information. Read more about Malware from the FTC.


A rootkit operates in a computer secretly and silently. Rootkits may be used to log keystrokes, collect information from the computer and send it to another computer or control the computer. This group of software programs—it's typically more than one—is usually installed so that the operating system doesn't know it is there. Another issue with rootkits is they are harder to detect by a computer's usual security tools. The good news is that rootkit detectors are now included in the most Internet security suites. The bad news is that if your computer gets infected by a rootkit, the computer hard drive will have to be wiped clean and the operating system (and all the software) will have to be reinstalled from scratch.

Improve Your Computer Security

Keeping your operating system and browser updated and patched is highly recommended. Automatic updates and/or automatic downloading of updates is available for most operating systems, browsers and security programs.

Make sure that you are using the most recent version of your browser. You may want to try different browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Brave. They are free and are available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux machines, iOS and Android.

Many homes now use wireless networks. Your financial, personal information and privacy can be at risk using your home wireless network unless you have secured it properly. Most networking components are not secure right out of the box but can be made secure (or more secure) by changing several of the settings. Experts recommend that you secure your home wireless networks by doing the following:

  • Change the default password
  • Restrict access to the network to specific computers
  • Encrypt the data on the network
  • Change the SSID
  • Install a firewall
  • Install and maintain anti-virus software

You can read more about these items in these articles and videos:

To learn more about these cyber security topics and why it is important, read the Cyber Security Tips from US-CERT.

These articles have more information about protecting your privacy both online and off.

Protecting Your Family's Privacy Online

Social Networking sites are a favorite of tweens, teens, and adults. These sites can pose a risk to your family's personal information but you can take steps to reduce that risk. The Protect Kids Online section of The Federal Trade Commission has many articles to help parents. These articles from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provide lots of information Social Networking Privacy: How to be Safe, Secure, and Social, and Keeping Your Children Safe While They're Online.

Targeted advertising

Targeted advertising is the norm. Advertising networks use cookies to track the sites you've visited and the searches you've made and then use that information to display ads to you. The premise to targeted advertising, is that if the ads are more relevant to the viewer, then the consumer will click on the ad.

Several advertising networks will allow you to opt out of ad cookies. Instead of a cookie with a unique id number, the id instead indicates that you've opted out. If you delete all your cookies, then you will have to opt out again. Note that this type of opt out is per browser, not per computer, nor per person.

Opt out of various advertising networks:

Another option is to use the browser settings to manage cookies. Advertising cookies are typically from a third-party. Find your browser cookie settings and choose how you want to handle them. Having your browser prompt you for first-party cookies and block all third-party cookies can be a good choice.

Most recent browsers have a “do not track” setting, the default setting is usually off, but there is no requirement that it be respected. It is up to each site and entity whether they do so. Many major sites have stated that they will ignore this setting under the guise of "improving" the user experience but it's about advertising income. To turn it on, look under privacy settings.

You'll also want to check your privacy settings on any site where you have an account. For example, Yahoo allows members to edit their marketing preferences.

Online Tracking Programs

As mentioned above, targeted advertising uses cookies to track your activity. But cookies aren't the only mechanism used for tracking your activities. "Super-cookies" such as "Local Shared Objects" (also called Flash cookies), "User Data Persistence," and Document Object Management (DOM) cookies can't be managed through browser settings. They must be managed through specialized tools.

These resources provide information about these types of programs.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has very detailed information about online behavioral tracking.

The Privacy Rights Clearing house has a very detailed factsheet "Online Privacy: Using the Internet Safely" that describes more than just tracking programs.

From the FTC: Online Tracking and Understanding Mobile Apps

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