Privacy, remember that? It seems like with all the social media outlets and web sites that monitor everything we do online that privacy is a thing of the past. Fortunately there are some ways to strengthen your online privacy and prevent your online moves from being monitored.
Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Siri. You can give Cortana commands and tell it perform tasks such as schedule events, set reminders, research topics online, keep track of flights, and virtually anything you can do yourself on a PC. Some of the data that you reveal when Cortana is enabled is your contacts, your calendar events, your location, your voice, and much more. Cortana is a useful feature to have but it comes with the risk of revealing too much sensitive information about you and your system. If you’re concerned about protecting your sensitive data online then disabling Cortana will add another layer of privacy to what you do on your PC. Microsoft has tried to make it harder to disable the Cortana feature but it’s still possible, we just need to take some additional steps.
Steps to turn off Cortana
1. Open up the Settings app
2. Go to Cortana
3. Uncheck all of the boxes that populate that allow Cortana access to any part of your device.
4. On the left side of this window go to Permissions and History
5. Click on Manage the information Cortana can access on my device.
5. Uncheck all of the boxes here also
NOTE: The prior steps will only stop Cortana from responding to your voice and monitoring what you do but if you want to completely turn the Cortana search function off follow the steps below.
In Windows 10 Home Edition
1. Hit the Start key, search for Edit group policy, and open it.
3. Navigate to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Search.
3. Find Allow Cortana, and double-click to open it.
4. Click Disabled, and then hit OK.
Let’s take it a step further and stop Microsoft from collecting any data about us
Let’s also stop Microsoft from collecting data on how we type. Go to Start > Settings > Privacy. In the General section, uncheck all of the boxes that populate.
Increase Your Online Privacy By Using a VPN
A VPN is a virtual private network. VPNs are excellent for enhancing your online privacy because they tunnel your web traffic through a private network so that your browsing activities can’t be seen by your ISP. Using a VPN can also make it harder for criminals to capture your sensitive data. Without going in too much detail, here are the VPNs that I recommend;
Mullvad takes the #1 spot on my list for two reasons, privacy and simplicity. Mullvad is a very easy to use VPN with a minimalist GUI. It’s 5 EUR per month and you can pay for it in Bitcoin, which adds another layer of privacy. Mullvad doesn’t keep logs of what you do while you’re connected to their VPN (this is important).
NordVPN is a European based company that also provides a great VPN. Their GUI is not as minimal as Mullvad but it’s still very user friendly and simple to configure. They have plans as low as $3.29/ month but you have to pay for the whole year at once. One thing I like about NordVPN is that they offer many different ways to use their application. For example if you have Chrome, NordVPN has a browser extension that you can install directly into your browser instead of installing a program on your hard drive. They also have a plugin for Firefox and mobile apps for iOS and Android so you can browse the internet privately on your phones and tablets.
IPVanish is a US based VPN service provider. They have over 1000 servers located in over 60 countries and they offer a 7 day trial allowing you to try before you buy. They offer unlimited bandwidth (good for streaming videos and downloading large files.) and have a no logs policy. IPVanish is bit more pricier with their lowest plan being $8.49/month.
Ultimately any one of these VPNs would be a great choice. Our goal here is to enhance our online privacy so almost any VPN will work just make sure the VPN you choose doesn’t keep logs of what you do and also allows you to pay in Bitcoin for complete anonymity.
Optimizing Your Browser For Online Privacy
How you have your browser configured plays an important role in maintaining online privacy. Using the default browser settings in most cases is fine but there are some changes we can make in order to enhance our online security.
Let’s start with Chrome.
In your Chrome browser click the three dots on the top right. Go to Settings.
Scroll down and click on Advanced
Click on Content Settings
Click on Cookies
Toggle the on switch next to Keep local data until you quit your browser(This will clear your cache upon exiting out of Chrome)
Go back and look for Notifications
Make sure this is set to Ask before sending
Go back and go to Locations
Set this to Do not allow any sites to track your physical location (add any sites to the exceptions list that are needed
Enhancing Security With Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware Programs
If you have Windows 8 or newer then it comes with a default anti-malware program called Windows Defender. For the most part it gets the job done but for increased security and privacy I also like to use third party software to elevate my security and privacy measures.
Enhance Your Online Privacy Using Malwarebytes
Malwarebytes is an anti-malware software that I personally use to keep my system secure and free from malware and viruses. It is available for both PC and mobile devices. They have a free version and two paid versions. To download the free version:
Go to the Malwarebytes website.
Click on Products
Click on download
The free version should not be used by itself, instead you need to use it along side a solid anti-virus program like Bitdefender which we will discuss next. Once you have the program installed open it up and do a system scan. It’s usually a very fast process.
Enhance Your Online Security Using Bitdefender
Bitdefender is an antivirus software available for Windows, MacOS and Android operating systems. It has a paid version and a free version. You can download the free version. Using this alongside Malwarebytes is an excellent defense strategy for keeping your device free from malicious softwarehere.
I want to end this post by saying privacy is our own responsibility at the end of the day. The settings and configurations that I shared above will definitely help but ultimately you need to be aware of what you do online and how you interact with the programs you use.