Today, when disruptive digital innovations are directly linked with your life, your privacy is continuously at stake. Hence, it is inevitable to gear up yourself with the best internet privacy tools.
Although, given the rise in digital evolution, digital privacy has become a mainstream topic. From average internet users to governments, people are concerned about staying safe online. That’s why almost every country globally has some digital privacy legislation in place to protect its citizens.
As a user, you can’t do anything against such predatory firms or practices because they are all over the internet world. (Indeed, you can’t lead an offline life today, can you?)
But you can alleviate such issues to the least extent by using the right internet privacy tools. That’s what this article guides you about.
Best Internet Privacy Tools You Should Use – Quick List
If you’re in a rush to secure your digital presence, here we quickly list the web privacy tools you need.
- Privacy-friendly browser – Brave, Tor
- Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – The likes of NordVPN, ExpressVPN
- Ad and Script blockers – Ghostery, AdGuard
- Password managers – NordPass, Keeper
- Secure messaging – Signal, Wire
- Private search engines – DuckDuckGo, MetaGer
- Private email – ProtonMail, Tutanota
- Operating systems – Linux
- Antivirus suites – Kaspersky, Norton
- Private file storage – Cryptomator, Tresorit
- Privacy and security hardware – Bitdefender, Yubico
Why is My Online Privacy at Risk?
Companies aren’t alone in their interests to disrupt your privacy. Instead, some of the world’s governments are working hard to track you online, not to mention hackers or ISPs.
Specifically, plenty of actors are investing tremendous efforts and resources into monitoring and recording your activities for various reasons, such as,
- Advertisers want to serve you with the best-targeted ads possible. That increases their chances of persuading you to buy something you don’t need. Figuring out the best ads for you includes studying your web browsing history, location data, contacts, and other personal information.
- The last few years have been rare because we’ve lived through a pandemic, and lockdowns have become common. Many governments want to know where you are in this environment because of public health issues.
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also like to know what you do online. Hence, they do their best to monitor your activities. Then, they share their findings with advertisers or the government. It’s not that they’re evil; it’s the law of the land in many places such as the United States, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
- Many countries implement content censorship. China is the most notorious actor in this arena. Besides, Germany and many other Western European countries are doing their best to block the content they don’t want available for their citizens.
Indeed, privacy protection laws do exist today. But they have not matured enough to become reliable.
Therefore, the onus of protecting your privacy is on you. But, unfortunately, it’s like a war you will have to fight alone against all those powerful actors.
While it might sound hopeless, don’t worry. The growing privacy awareness among users has triggered new alternative technologies to emerge. Consequently, there is at least one good, reliable solution letting you enjoy your digital life peacefully for every problem mentioned above.
How to Select the Best Privacy Tools
Before moving ahead, take a minute to think about your own personal “threat model.” Nobody knows your unique situation better than you.
How much security do you require, given the job you do? How much privacy do you need, given your digital lifestyle? Do you have to worry about any specific potential adversaries?
The average user needs protection against the advertising networks trying to track their activities. But an investigative journalist or a political activist working against the powers may use sensitive information on all their devices all the time. Therefore, they need additional protection because their security issues have more significant consequences.
You need to understand two things about digital security. First, there are no 100% guarantees. So, you can try your best to be reasonably close to perfect protection, but that’s all. Secondly, every case is different. There is no generalized security solution for every internet user.
Thus, you must carefully consider your own environment and decide which tools are more relevant to your needs.
Now that you have figured out your threat model let’s move on to the best internet privacy and security tools you should have in 2022.
1. Privacy-friendly Browsers
Browsing around web pages indeed is where most users spend more of their online time. Since this is your main window to the internet, it’s crucial that it’s safe and protects your privacy. And you must choose a privacy-friendly option because of three reasons:
- Compromising a browser is too easy for hackers because there are many ways to do it.
- Most browsers collect and keep a lot of information about you. Browsing history, passwords, usernames, autofill information, your legal name, address, etc. It’s all there, and it’s available to those who know how to ask the right questions.
- A browser can tell the world a lot about you. Enough to create a unique identity unrelated to your name. The operating system, the browser you use, physical location, and many other technical details are so unique to each user on the internet that a knowledgeable observer needs nothing more to pinpoint you in a crowd.
So, you need a safe browser, one with a developing team aware of all the dangers for privacy that simple web browsing implies. And that’s doing something about it so that their browser is a better option regarding privacy.
Here are the best secure browsers you can use as your internet privacy protection tools.
This project is based on Chromium. But then, there is a significant emphasis on privacy from the browser’s inception. It blocks trackers and ads, is customizable, and is among the fastest in the industry. Most importantly, it’s designed to prevent browser fingerprinting from external observers.
The Firefox web browser has a high degree of versatility. Hence, it can be your worst privacy nightmare or one of your best privacy friends, depending on how you use it.
Indeed, Mozilla Firefox is an excellent option for privacy protection if you take the time to tweak it a little. So it’s not a superb out-of-the-box option like Brave, but it will still do the trick if you take the time.
It is a Mozilla Firefox browser altered by the TOR project to browse through the Tor network only. It means that all your traffic goes through a couple of nodes in the network, and it’s encrypted. But it also means that you should be ready to bear the slow speeds.
Beware: Once you get your Tor browser, it looks and feels precisely like Firefox. That’s because it is! But do not install any browser extensions or try to customize the Tor Browser in any way. That interferes with the security features.
The standard Chromium web browser offers some great features, except that it doesn’t connect automatically to a Google account (which is good for privacy).
This Chromium-based web browser is available for Android platforms only. (No desktop version, sorry). It’s 100% geared towards privacy protection.
You probably noticed that we didn’t include Safari, Opera, Chrome, or Vivaldi here. This is because while these browsers offer great features and superb performance, we’re focused on privacy issues. In this regard, the biggest names in the industry are awful options.
2. Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
All tools listed here are vital to preserving your internet privacy. However, none is as versatile, powerful, effective, and simple as a good Virtual Private Network (VPN). While there is no silver bullet in the war for privacy, VPNs are as close as you can get, especially when your ISP spies on you.
Reasons Why You Need a VPN
- ISP surveillance: Some ISPs like to keep an eye on your activities because they sell the information to the government or advertisers. Some prefer to throttle the users that spend too much bandwidth in some activities such as video streaming. If you use a VPN, your ISP will think you’re connected at all times to a single server on the internet. Your traffic will be encrypted, so your ISP won’t be able to tell what you’re doing at all.
- Blocked content: There is censorship and blocked websites in every country. A VPN will let you bypass those restrictions. All you will need to do is choose a server in your VPN network from a country where the content in question is not censored.
- IP addresses and location tracking: The IP address you get from your ISP serves as your digital identity when online. It can reveal a lot of information about you, including your physical location. Many advertisers and websites keep track of you using this piece of data. But, when connected to a VPN server, nobody finds your actual IP address. Instead, they see the one that the VPN gives you. So the standard efforts of any website to use your IP to track you down become useless.
- Copyright issues. Streaming videos from free websites or downloading media from the BitTorrent network can have legal implications regarding copyrights. A VPN will make you anonymous while you perform these activities.
As privacy concerns have grown exponentially since Edward Snowden’s revelations hit the mainstream, awareness and demand for VPNs have increased exponentially. The VPN market is overflowing with options, and it’s hard to figure out which vendor can deliver the goods.
NordVPN is the most potent, advanced, and versatile VPN out there.
The first thing to know about NordVPN is that it hails from Panama, a jurisdiction with privacy-friendly laws in which the government isn’t sniffing out all its online population.
Then, it offers lightning-fast speeds, reliable connections, and a vast server network. The encryption is military-grade AES-256, and it includes an ad and malware blocker (CyberSec).
In the privacy department, NordVPN keeps no logs on user activity, which is crucial for a VPN to protect you. (Remember that security and privacy are different things, and internet privacy protection is more a matter of policy than technology).
In short, NordVPN performs every task an excellent VPN should perform at the highest level in the business. Also, it offers many additional features on the side. So, you can’t go wrong with this one.
ExpressVPN has been around for a very long period in the VPN world. So, it has had time to accrue one of the best reputations in the industry.
ExpressVPN is also among the most versatile and advanced VPNs, offering many features besides encryption and IP masking. It also sticks to a zero-log policy, the critical issue in privacy, and it’s also based in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction (British Virgin Islands).
3. Blockers: Advertisements, Trackers, and Malware
Adequate privacy and security protection need a good adblocker. Ads are not there just to let you know about cool merchandise and low prices. Ads also track you on the web and record your online activities. That allows the ad’s owner to profile you with the utmost detail. Worse even, some ads distribute malware, trojans, and other unwanted software via phishing sites.
So how can you know which ads to block? Our advice in this regard is to play it safe: block everything. Let us share with you our best options about ad blocking:
- Browser adblocker extensions: Many browser extensions will block ads for you, like uBlock Origin. But they have their tradeoffs. In some cases, the ads and their tracking activity can still use your system’s resources even if you can’t see them. Whereas, some others collect your data for profit (Ghostery, AdblockPlus), some others still show you “approved” (non-malicious) ads.
- Adblocker apps: Dedicated apps will generally do a better job than browser extensions. AdGuard is both popular and reputed.
- VPN adblocker: While using a VPN is ideal, it’s better to pick one with an adblocker. Such VPNs offer reliable security and privacy.
- Router adblocking: You can block those nasty ads from your router! You can achieve this goal in several ways, like using an adblocking DNS to loading custom filters to your router.
- Pi-hole: It is a network that works as a DNS server that you can deploy in several ways. It’s popular on Raspberry Pi implementations, connected to a home router.
4. Password Managers
Passwords are an extensive topic in today’s digital lore. There are books dealing with password management, storage, management, and every possible issue. Of course, we will not go into every issue, but we will tell you this: a good password manager will take care of all those issues for you without too much hassle.
Most users are happy with storing passwords in their web browsers. Usually, users prefer Google Chrome here. That’s because it is linked to your Google account, and the browser remembers and manages all your usernames and passwords. It stores them locally in your browser’s directory and your Google password account. Of course, if you prefer Mozilla Firefox, then the link to Google is not automatic. But the big picture remains the same for the most part: you keep the keys to your digital kingdom in a box that anybody can open and steal.
Good password management goes hand in hand with a dedicated password manager application. Many of the best ones have browser extensions. So you don’t need to sacrifice any of the convenience you enjoyed as an average Chrome and Google user.
As with VPNs, we’ve tried many password managers; here are some of them we prefer:
- NordPass: From the developers that brought us the NordVPN service and NordLocker, we have NordPass, a secure and friendly password manager that has passed external audits.
- Keeper: A robust password solution that also offers dark web monitoring. While it’s prices are slightly higher, Keeper‘s biggest strength is its 30-day free trial offer.
- Dashlane: A big name in this market, Dashlane offers many features and strong security standards like end-to-end encryption.
5. Secure Messaging Apps
We’ve mentioned above how privacy and security are different. The messaging app arena gives us an even better explanation of the concept.
For instance, consider WhatsApp. This popular messaging app is end-to-end encrypted. So yes, it’s as safe as any messaging service can get regarding technology. But the question is, is it suitable for your privacy?
Of course, WhatsApp is commonly used today, but many good alternative online messengers also provide robust security similar to WhatsApp. In addition, they also protect your privacy instead of selling it to Meta and alike.
Here are some of the best secure messaging apps you can try.
It is an open-source messenger with a rapidly growing fan base. It’s probably the most technologically advanced app, designed to protect users’ privacy at all costs.
The app’s performance is excellent in most regards. But it lacks many additional features that most WhatsApp users are already familiar with. Nonetheless, following the surge in its customer base, Signal has introduced numerous helpful changes improving the app’s performance.
It’s also free, like Signal, and it offers some unique privacy and security features.
Hailing from Switzerland, this is an excellent messenger that is very secure, friendly, and fully featured. It’s free for personal use — but you may struggle to find and activate that option.
It costs 3 USD for a lifetime license, a rare feature in open-source projects. But it remains a good option.
It started in Russia, then moved to the UK. It now works from the Middle East. As WhatsApp replacements go, Telegram is probably the most popular. But beware: encryption is not the default, so you have to activate it manually for each user in your contact list.
Many users globally became upset about WhatsApp’s updated terms of service. Yes, they were more honest than the previous versions. But that was because they admitted some intrusion that only the most paranoid users had imagined before. The result has been a veritable exodus of users moving to other apps, Telegram and Signal mainly. Hence now, you may likely keep in touch with your WhatsApp contacts via other apps too.
What About SMS Text Messages?
SMS messages don’t get much attention because most users consider them too fundamental. But, for completeness, let us tell you this: they are not secure and private. Your mobile provider can read them, and they are the critical factor in man-in-the-middle attacks. Also, they’re susceptible to surveillance with Stingray devices. If you need a piece of information to remain private over your mobile network, use an encrypted messaging app always.
6. Private Search Engines
Your favorite search engines (like Google, Yahoo, and Bing) are undoubtedly handy. But since they are free to use, they are likely making money off you.
Briefly, when they’re in business to make a buck, they have a business model in which you can perform the searches you want while they can monetize your activity. Usually, they do that by tracking and recording your searches to build your digital profile. They then share your profiles with their advertising partners that hence target you.
But, don’t worry. You can live without such search engines if you care about your privacy. You can try one of the following privacy-friendly search engines instead:
- DuckDuckGo: is probably the most popular private-friendly search engine on the internet.
- MetaGer: A German open-source metasearch engine with exciting features.
- Searx: It’s privacy-friendly, versatile, based on metadata search, and it’s also open-source.
- SwissCows: Zero-tracking search engine from a secure Swiss complex.
- Qwant: A French private search engine.
- Mojeek: This one is a real search engine (not a meta searcher) from the UK with its own index and crawler.
- YaCy: A Peer-to-peer search engine.
Nonetheless, be careful in choosing a private search engine. That’s because some advertising companies are moving forward to buy some of them.
7. Private Email
The email was the internet’s killer app when the network moved into the mainstream from being an academic curiosity. The emergence of messaging apps and the integration of smartphones into the world’s internet hasn’t diminished the relevance of emails and email addresses. Your email is the cornerstone around which you can build a digital identity. If you’re new to the internet, it’s the first thing you need to get.
The email service is dominated by giants like Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft. They provide email services with great functionality, but they’re poor choices if privacy is a concern. For instance, your emails are the commercial product in Gmail’s business model. It grants third parties full access to emails, and it reads every receipt arriving into your inbox to profile you. Likewise, Yahoo and AOL allow their commercial partners to scan accounts to pick up “contextual buying signals.” Yahoo used to monitor emails in real-time for the US surveillance agencies.
Gmail is the most significant email provider on today’s internet. However, it doesn’t charge a fee for the service because it counts on monetizing your activities. In other words: you pay for your Gmail account with your privacy.
However, as more users become aware of digital privacy, numerous good alternatives to Gmail have emerged. These include,
8. Operating System
Your operating system is crucial for security and privacy. Unfortunately, the most widespread options (Windows and macOS) are terrible security-wise. Windows is useless without an antivirus. The newest Windows versions include security enhancements meant to be out-of-the-box antivirus. Nevertheless, the new measures are like band-aids instead of surgery, and a full antivirus suite is needed anyway.
Apple’s situation is the same, but with better PR. Mac computers have never had the terrible reputation that Windows computers have endured regarding security because Apple is much better at press management. But the fact is that macOS is every bit as unsafe as Windows, even much worse during some periods. (Do you remember why flash had to disappear from Apple hardware?)
Issues with Windows
Windows 10 is an automated platform for complete user surveillance. It can grant corporations and governments all the information about your online activities. And that’s the operating system itself, without considering how vulnerable it’s always been to malware.
Issues with macOS
Apple’s approach to user privacy is better than Microsoft’s, but not that much. That’s because Apple’s operating systems (macOS and iOS) are built to collect large amounts of your data, including browsing history, connection data, location, and much more.
So what is the operating system you should use to ensure that your privacy and your security are protected? We hear you ask.
BSD and Linux – Great Privacy Friendly Alternatives
The best OS regarding security is BSD, by far. But despite the prolonged efforts from the BSD community to develop a desktop BSD distribution to substitute Windows or Mac, nothing workable has appeared. So BSD remains the operating system of choice to run servers securely and efficiently. But, unfortunately, these advantages will take years to reach end-users, if they ever do.
However, there’s no need to despair. You have another operating system (also a Unix-based one) almost as secure as BSD. It’s free, efficient, and has managed to come up with versions that can substitute a Windows or a Mac system: it’s called Linux!
Linux is a free and open-source operating system initially written by the legendary Linux Torvalds (regarded as the best computer programmer on the planet by many). It’s safe, efficient, and has managed to produce several distributions offering similar functionalities as your good old Windows computer. For instance, Elementary OS will provide you with a user experience closest to Windows or Mac. But distros like Ubuntu, Mint, and Debian will give you the best functionality and software variety.
Are you an Android user? In that case, you are already using Linux! Android is Google’s Linux version, tailored for mobile devices (tablets and phones). So if you feared that Linux was still a geek toy too hard to use and understand, look at your phone! You could make your computer that safe if you install Linux.
9. Antivirus Suites
Having good antivirus software in your device is not a “privacy tool” in itself but a necessary security measure.
But there are problems with the antivirus solutions themselves. They can be a great help to keep your equipment safe, but many of them take over the ownership of your system. Then, some abuse your privacy and can become invasive and do unwanted things.
Let’s take a moment to talk about free antivirus suites; avoid them. Just as free VPNs will create more problems for your privacy than they will prevent, free antivirus solutions can be highly problematic, annoying, and harmful. So, stay away from free VPNs and free antivirus tools at all costs!
The bottom line is: you do need to have a good antivirus. But as it happens with VPNs, password managers, and other privacy tools, you must choose wisely.
10. Private File Storage
Cloud storage services are superb because they keep your files handy at all times. So, Google Drive, Dropbox, and other great cloud services have become popular because they are helpful, but they are not safe to use.
If you want to keep your private files private when stored online, they must be encrypted. Hence, we recommend two services here that will do that for you.
Cryptomator is a free client-side encryption program for those files you want to upload to a cloud. It’s open-source. This software allows you to encrypt the files you want to upload to your Dropbox (or similar service) when they’re still on your computer. Then you upload them, but now they’re safe because you need to decrypt them to read the contents.
Tresorit is an encryption tool that lets you simultaneously share and sync files on several devices. The encryption is zero-knowledge (Tresorit has no idea what it’s encrypting). In addition, this program has significantly advanced security features within a friendly user interface. With this software, you barely notice you’re doing things differently –more securely, of course.
11. Privacy and Security Hardware
Apart from the specified internet privacy tools listed above, you can also use generalized security suites that protect your entire infrastructure privacy. Some of these include,
- Apricorn: This company makes computer storage products. It has external storage hardware with 256-bit encryption specifically for organizations requiring secured data storage.
- Bitdefender: Bitdefender is known for its antivirus suite. But it also sells a network security hardware piece for devices in the Internet of Things.
- Purism: This company produces a variety of hardware solutions like smartphones, laptops, and USB security tokens. They are all designed with privacy as the priority.
- Helm: A secure personal server that helps you protect your emails and other online data.
- Kingston Technology: You probably already own several USB flash memories from Kingston Technology. The company brings encryption along to improve the security in its devices so that they comply with AES-256, FIPS 197, and FIPS 140-2 security standards.
- SecureDrive: It is an option for encrypted storage. The company started in the data recovery business, gradually shifting to hardware storage and encryption. They offer products akin to those by Kingston’s and Apricorn’s.
- Winston Privacy: It is a relatively new company. They manufacture a hardware device that works in tandem with your router to protect every device connected to your WiFi. It’s like a local mini-VPN.
- Yubico: It sells hardware-based encryption and authentication devices and solutions, most notably, the YubiKey. They look like any USB flash drive, but they act like digital security keys.
Take Action Now to You Take Your Privacy Back
If you found this article online, you already had an idea about how much privacy you have been losing online over the years or months.
As noted in the beginning, maintaining online privacy is a war against the world’s most influential actors, including big companies and governments.
The privacy laws that could help you are still far from being effective. Therefore, you can’t rely on everybody else to fight for your privacy. Instead, the bitter truth is, keeping your privacy safe is your own responsibility.
But there’s no reason to be alarmed or pessimistic. All you need to do is analyze your digital lifestyle and find the right internet privacy tools to help you best protect it.
We hope that the information provided in this article will empower you to recover your privacy from the hands of hackers, governments, ISP, advertisers, and other corporations. Yes, they are bigger, richer, more powerful. But you can be more innovative. So go for it!
Stay private and stay safe!