In many cyberattacks the thing that’s stolen isn’t digital currency or money through ransomware, it’s simply information. Most people think of social security and credit card numbers when they think of sensitive information, but a hacker can steal basic things like full names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers and still have a successful haul. Why is something like your full name and email address valuable? Because it gives scammers and cybercriminals the edge they need to contact you and seem legitimate enough to trick you. That’s why coCongressoting a few months ago in favor of allowing internet service providers to sell consumers web browsing history and app history is bad news.
One of the last things the Obama administration did was introduce new rules that forced browsing data to be considered with the same rules and regulations as “sensitive data.” However, just this week both houses of congress voted to prevent those new rules from taking effect, which means your internet service provider (ISP) will be able to sell your browsing history and app usage without your permission. Why would someone want you browsing history? Because just like how a hacker uses basic private information to tailor scams to fit you, advertisers will use it to tailor their ads how they present their services to you. At least, that’s what supporters of the repeal say. You can find your own reason to be concerned by the vote, there are plenty.
But there’s a lesson in online privacy to be learnt here. Our government essentially just legalized what some hackers have been doing for years, which means that the same protections people used against hackers can also keep your browsing history out of the hands of your ISP and whoever they choose to sell it to. If you look for a way to protect your browsing history, one of the first things you’ll find are VPNs. VPNs are virtual private networks that route all browsing through their service instead your ISP. VPNs are popular among security experts because they allow for someone to work in a remote location without being on an insecure network. For example, if an employee is working from a coffee shop and they’re on a VPN their company doesn’t have to worry about them being hacked through a public network, at least if the VPN is secure. Unfortunately, the same caveat applies to VPNs with your privacy. The truth is VPN providers have the same ability to sell their user’s browsing history just as much as a regular ISP and they can make the same financial gains from selling them as a ISP.
What you need to know is that if online privacy was an animal, its natural habitat is being destroyed. It seems like every week there’s a new breach or device that threatens everyone’s personal privacy and now the government is getting in on the game too. Even VPNs aren’t sure bets to protect your privacy any longer, so what can you do if you want to keep your browsing history to yourself? Unfortunately, not much. With how advanced software, hardware, and regulations have become today, if you’re just an average joe you won’t be able to protect your privacy unless you invest some serious time and money into yourself and your personal network. Fortunately, there are IT security professionals whose job it is to help people just like you protect themselves from cybercriminals. Want to find a reputable VPN? An IT security professional can tell you which ones you can trust and which ones are just scam artists. Want to make sure that the people who can now access your browsing history can’t trick you with targeted ads? Turn to an IT professional to find out how.