The Web is a wild place, with more than the NSA potentially out to get you. With the so-called six strikes antipiracy initiative in full effect, you never know if Hollywood is monitoring your peer-to-peer activity. Then there are the malicious hackers trying to reset email, Facebook, and Twitter passwords.
No security regimen short of complete hermitage can keep you 100 percent secure. Nevertheless, you can take a few simple precautions to maintain your privacy online and deter all but the most determined bad guys.
1. Secure the line
One of the worst online security mistakes you can make is to connect to an email, bank, or other sensitive account over public Wi-Fi. If that's unavoidable -- because you spend a lot of time in cafés, hotels, or airports, for example -- paying for access to a virtual private network can significantly improve your privacy on public networks.
VPNs serve as an encrypted tunnel that prevents bad guys from getting between you and the Internet in order to steal your login credentials or other sensitive information.
That's a great reason to use a VPN, but it's not the only one. Maybe you don't want your Internet service provider to monitor your online activity at home. Normally when you connect online, your ISP can observe all of your activity. Over a VPN, however, your ISP can see only your connection to the VPN. As a bonus, many VPNs can help you bypass region blocks for sites like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and BBC's iPlayer.
Not all service providers are created equal, however. Some VPN services log all of your browsing activity, thereby negating the point of using a VPN for privacy.
One solid VPN choice is Sweden-based IPredator, an $8/month service with ties to the infamous torrent-tracking site The Pirate Bay. That association may give you pause, but anonymity is clearly top-of-mind for the service. IPredator claims never to log any user traffic data, and you can even use PGP encryption when emailing IPredator support.
Another popular choice in privacy-enthusiast circles is Private Internet Access, which similarly claims not to log any of your traffic. PIA is priced at $7 per month, or you can buy an entire year's subscription for $40. PIA can help you beat region blocking in the United States, Canada, the U.K., and several countries in continental Europe.
Though VPNs are great for privacy, the ones I recommend here won't prevent the companies behind destination websites like Facebook and Google from logging your browsing activity. Using your browser's incognito mode won't keep you completely anonymous, either, but it will block websites from reading the cookies and history stored in your browser to learn more about you.