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The price of privacy: What does it take to stay safe online?

The price of privacy: What does it take to stay safe online?

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Privacy is becoming an increasingly precious commodity as we delve deeper into the digital age. Of course, there are clear-cut benefits to being as globally connected as we are, but heightened visibility must also come with its fair share of risks.

And with hundreds of thousands of Aussie web users falling victim to scammers over the past two years, in particular, more and more of us are seeking to experience true privacy when jumping online.

So how exactly can we create and maintain our own personal privacy when using digital technologies? And what are we forced to lose in the pursuit of privacy? We'll be exploring the answers to these two questions today by taking a closer look at methods for making our own privacy online.

Investing in cybersecurity tools and technologies

Investing in your personal privacy online naturally means investing in a solid cybersecurity strategy. Generally speaking, a good cybersecurity strategy is made up of multiple different security measures.

The most commonly used cybersecurity measures include using firewalls, VPNs, and antivirus software. But what are firewalls, and what is a VPN?

VPNs (or 'virtual private networks') are a service that allows internet users to access the web through an encrypted network connection. VPNs basically hide a user's IP address from being observed by site administrators or any malevolent third parties who may be observing a user's connection.

By obscuring your IP address, VPNs are a key component of minimising another user's ability to see your geographical location or other personal information like your home network info or your network provider.

Contrastingly, firewalls are less about helping you reach out and more about monitoring what enters your home network. VPNs and firewalls are just some of the cybersecurity tools available to Aussie device users that can help keep both themselves, their devices, and their private Wi-Fi networks secure whenever they access the web.

As you can see, an investment in cybersecurity entails so much more than just purchasing security tools. Digital citizenship also comes with the responsibility of understanding the tools and technologies that you're using daily.

Aussie device users who hope to keep themselves safe online must also invest their own time into learning the ins and outs of their purchased cybersecurity tools. Knowing the limitations of each of your cybersecurity measures can help you better identify gaps in your security strategy and allow you a greater likelihood of maintaining privacy when you may need it most.

Practicing caution on social media platforms

Social media platforms tend to be spaces where we're likely to overshare, providing our virtual friends or followers with a surprisingly large amount of personal information from the day we set up our profile and all the way through to the present.

Even seemingly innocuous posts sharing family photos with your loved ones tagged or celebrating special occasions like birthdays or graduations, can provide malicious third parties with a fair amount of information that can potentially be used against you.

Even if third parties don't use your personal data for their own means, there is a global community of blackhat hackers that use their technical expertise to mine personal data that can then be sold on the dark web for profit.

Whilst big companies or governmental organisations have also been known to conduct data mining for their own systematic purposes, this same practice can easily be managed by savvy hackers who do their homework or are able to take advantage of data breaches.

Malicious data miners can then provide other unknown parties across the globe with total access to all the gathered personal data that can be attributed to you and your identity. This can then be used to commit identity theft that may result in you losing control over your social media profiles, and perhaps even your financial accounts.

Although maintaining private accounts or restricting public access to your social media profiles isn't a total solution to maintaining privacy online, it can drastically reduce the likelihood of you being targeted by cybercriminals. After all, who's going to waste time trying to access a private account when there are billions of public accounts that are a lot easier to explore?

Sacrificing convenience for privacy

It's no secret that you do sacrifice a fair amount when setting your social media profiles to private. After all, the past decade has seen social media transform into a commodity in its own right, with businesses using social media platforms to interact with consumers on an individual level.

By setting your accounts to private, you may be limiting your exposure to opportunities, whether it be as a consumer, or even as a human being who's seeking to connect with others.

Investing in cybersecurity tools and staying private on social media can help Aussie device users find privacy, but doing so will always come with a sacrifice.

We sacrifice money and social enrichment for the privilege of privacy online. In a similar sense, we may even find ourselves sacrificing convenience by trying to keep our homes and home life as private as possible too. That's why many cautious Aussie consumers are hesitant to invest in smart home technologies.

The primary argument against smart home or IoT (or 'internet of things') technologies is that they are fitted with the ability to access the internet, which means that they're vulnerable to being hijacked by hackers, just like our computers and mobile phones.

Using malicious software to enter into private home networks, hackers can gain remote access to tech like smart cameras and remotely monitor video feeds into and around your home.

Despite these dangers, smart home technologies are still becoming commonplace in homes across the globe, and as such, these technologies are developing to offer device users with more and more convenience.

Nowadays, smart home tech can control entire homes with minimal fuss. Homes without IoT devices may find themselves falling 'behind the times', and enjoying their privacy at the expense of their convenience. It's simply up to individual households to weigh up how great this expense may be for themselves personally.

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All things considered, the price of privacy can't be prescribed a number, but it is a hefty price indeed. Living in the digital age naturally means that maintaining privacy online will always be achieved at a cost, whether that cost be financial or experiential.

And although it can be argued that there's no way to truly ensure you stay private online, following the methods outlined above, practicing critical thinking when engaging with unfamiliar content, and maintaining a strong awareness of the dangers that are lurking online, can help keep you and your wider household safe and secure under the ever-looming threat of cyberattacks.