The internet has quickly become a valuable tool for our professional and social lives. We have nearly become completely reliant upon it to perform well at home and at the office. However, while the internet is a fantastic tool for communication, it comes with risks. Anytime you visit a website you can leave digital footprints that can be used against you and used to track what you’re doing. If one takes the time to think about it, it becomes quite disturbing.

Here are five creepy things the Internet does when you are online:

It Robs You of Your Privacy

Anytime you go online, the ISP will log your traffic. Your ISP collects information including the types of files you download, websites you visit and the browser you use. As you also have an IP address assigned to you, you can expect authorities and companies to be able to track your location should they choose so. While for the most part you may not have anything to worry about your ISP having your online browsing habits, things may change when the government gets involved. The current guidelines and laws regarding the government’s authority to snoop on you are murky at best, and you simply can’t trust your privacy.

It Sells Your Data to Corporation and Advertisers

Your personal life is of great value to corporations and advertisers. Many websites (nearly all of the major ones) sell your personal data to advertisers. As an example, Gmail scans your emails for keywords that will enable them to target certain advertisements to you. Search engines and other websites will also collect information about your browsing behavior which they will then proceed to trade or sell without your consent. While you can take precautions to counter this, it would be nearly impossible to negate it entirely.

It Exposes You to Cybercriminals and Hackers

Cybercriminals and hackers live to steal your financial information and other private data. Whenever you are online, there is a chance that someone is looking to steal your private information or identity that they can use to defraud you. If you use web services for anything, you may be a target for identity theft. You need to be wary of public WiFi that makes it easy for cybercriminals to steal your private information. Moreover, sniffer programs and keyloggers have been developed to make things even easier for cybercriminals to get to your data.

It Exposes You to Malicious Apps

Many web services may require you to download programs to enhance your browsing experience. While most applications and software tools that you download will be safe, there are many malicious programs that you can encounter if you aren’t careful. Worms and viruses can self-replicate and spread very fast, resulting in irredeemable destruction. On the other hand, if you get infected by a trojan program, your files may be subject to surveillance or loss.

It Expose You to Spam, Spoofing, and Phishing

If you have an email, you are undoubtedly familiar with spam email that you have to delete and filter regularly. What you might not necessarily be aware of is how closely spam is related to spoofing and phishing.

Spoofing and phishing are also an unfortunately but common part of online life. You will be a potential target for fake pages. You may get an email with a link to an official-looking website. Clicking on such links or downloading attachments and entering your authentication data will probably result in identity or information theft. Cybercriminals are always creating spoof websites and changing phishing strategies that target the uninformed, so users need to be aware of the dangers targeting them.

What you can do to protect yourself

Install a Security Suite

An online security suite is your most effective defense against worms, spyware and viruses. A standard option can scan your device, delete problematic apps and perform regular sweeps of your computer for any malware.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Secure your communications and networks connections through a powerful VPN whenever you’re travelling or on an unsafe network. A VPN is effective in protecting your privacy as it creates a secure virtual tunnel between your device and a secure offsite server. This makes sure that no hackers can intercept the private and sensitive information that you send on a network.

Be Careful What You Share Online

Some websites, especially social media platforms, frequently change their privacy policies. As such, you have to be vigilant in ensuring that your settings allow for the minimum sharing and collection of your information.

Exercise Caution with Unsolicited Emails

Do not click on any links or download attachments from suspicious looking emails. You may just download malicious software. To be safe, delete suspicious emails and use encrypted email clients such as VaultleMail or Hushmail.

Shop Only on Secure Sites

You need to protect your data when shopping online. Whenever you are performing any online financial transactions, check the website URL for HTTPS protection. This will confirm that the website encrypts your data with SSL protocols making them impossible to hack.

Use Strong Passwords

Do not use easily identifiable personal information such as your phone number or birthday as your password. Make sure they do not contain words found in the dictionary and are at least ten characters. If you have trouble memorizing your passwords, use password managers to store all your passwords conveniently.

Clear or Delete Tracking Cookies

Tracking cookies are pieces of code that uniquely identify, record and track your online activity. Blocking, removing or deleting any unwanted cookies on your computer regularly will ensure your information remains private.

What strategies are you employing to protect yourself from online threats? Is there anything else online that you feel is an affront to your privacy? Share your thoughts and experiences with other readers below or send us your comment in Twitter to @Intersog.

Also, check out Key Cybersecurity Challenges of 2016!

Cassie is an online security nut and a blogger for SecureThoughts

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