How to protect your personal information.

Views expressed in this cybersecurity-intelligence update are those of the reporters and correspondents.

Accessed on 26 October 2021, 1447 UTC.

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PCMag SecurityWatch
Don’t Let Big Tech Get Rich Off Your Info
It’s the final week of Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Over the past few weeks, we’ve offered you tips on how to talk to your kids about cybersecurity, told you what to do when your personal information shows up in a breach, and even given you ways to disappear from the internet altogether. So this week, I want to show you who stands to gain from knowing the most about you.

No, it’s not that nosy high school acquaintance who always Likes your saddest-sounding posts on social media. It’s not even the shadowy figure snooping around your accounts for money or clout. Instead, the entities who get the most from your lax cybersecurity habits are the most prominent players in the field—the major tech companies.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter collect tons of data about their users. Website Security Baron put together a visual representation of the types of information each company admits to collecting in their privacy policies. Not surprisingly, Facebook is the most aggressive in collecting and storing user information: It gathers information about your work, income level, race, religion, political views, and the ads you click.

Why do big tech companies do this? As my colleague Senior Security Analyst Max Eddy writes, it’s because our personal information is a form of currency online. It pays the bills for many of the free services and apps we use every day. If that makes you a little uncomfortable, there’s help online. Plenty of services can help you lock down your presence and take control of your most valuable property: your personal information.

Start cleaning up your online presence with a data deletion service like Abine’s DeleteMe. It scrubs your information from the data broker websites that are in the business of buying and selling your info. Next, delete your accounts for services you don’t use.

Your following actions should be preventative. First, use a password manager to check for breached accounts and create strong, unique passwords for every site in the future. Second, use multi-factor authentication on all your accounts.

You can also explore alternative ways of browsing online by using apps and sites whose business models don’t rely on farming your user profiles for valuable information. For example, instead of Google, try DuckDuckGo. Likewise, instead of Apple Maps or Google Maps, use OpenStreetMap.

There are many ways to reduce your digital footprint and strengthen your cybersecurity, from using masked email addresses to limiting the use of your phone number online. Have you tried anything to reduce your online presence and foil the big data collectors? Let us know in the comments.

Stay safe,

Kim Key
PCMag Security Analyst

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What Is a VPN, and Why You Need One
Your ISP is probably interested in the content of this email. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission released a staff report detailing the privacy practices of AT&T, Charter, Comcast, Google Fiber, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The report states that broadband providers look for ways to target their customers for ads and promotions by analyzing their web traffic.

Want a private browsing experience? Use a VPN. A VPN hides your IP address and encrypts your data over a network, which keeps your ISP and anyone else from accessing your information. However, even the best VPNs aren’t necessarily the best security tools. As PCMag Senior Security Analyst Max Eddy writes, VPNs are still vulnerable to malware on your devices. In addition, cookies still allow companies to track your internet usage, and so browsing the web in a truly anonymous manner can be achieved with Tor or by using Do Not Track systems. You can also block browser fingerprinting to keep from leaving traces of your activity online.

VPNs also have to pay the bills, and for some, that means monetizing specific user data. Therefore, it’s essential to read the privacy policy for the VPN you choose and find out as much as you can about the VPN company before you commit to using its services.

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For the latest cybersecurity news and information, please visit the blog sidebar, links, and twitter posts.  Thanks for joining us today.

Russ Roberts