While the Internet may be the biggest boon to mankind today, it is not without its share of significant drawbacks and hazards. More and more businesses may be signing up for cloud server hosting but the data continues to be at risk from malicious companies and individuals. Personal privacy is very much threatened and this is why it is important for Internet users to understand ways to keep their data exposure to a minimum.

The truth is that whatever we as Internet surfers do on the Internet will always leave a trace behind. This digital trail is something that is closely followed not simply by big businesses but also government-owned security agencies. However, not many people are actually aware of this phenomenon. The Snowden leaks in the recent past have brought this kind of surveillance to our notice. Even those signing up for email hosting would think that their communications would be secure when they were encrypted. They thought that only the non-encrypted data was vulnerable. But the reality tells a different story and now no electronic communication is secure completely. While communications may be traveling through apparently secure networks which are equipped with encryption, they can still be hacked. Since there is no definite way to stop monitoring of the digital trail you can undertake some easy steps to make the communications safer and the trail harder to pursue.

One of the first things which you can do is to reconsider your email architecture. You should consciously stay away from all free email hosting services. It is always better to pay a fee for a premium service as such services will typically deploy stringent anti-virus and anti-spam filters to keep malicious emails away from your inboxes. They will also ensure that emails sent and received by you cannot be read by unauthorized parties even if they are intercepted.

Another effective way to keep your online data safe from snoopers is to use services which can guarantee encryption. Encryption is now readily available and offered even as open-source plugins for Apple Mail programs. So, it is easier to encrypt, decrypt, verify and sign emails. As far as file protection is concerned there are recent versions of the Apple OS which has File Vault which can encrypt a computer’s hard drive. Companies running Windows can also benefit from similar programs and these will scramble the data.

Web browsing is what you are likely to engage in more often than not and this is why you need to attach more value to web security or privacy. When you know that the log of websites which you have visited can be viewed by anybody you can use free tools like Tor Browser for hiding the clickstream.

Another effective tip to protect online data is to steer clear of cloud server hosting solutions which are based in the UK or US or France that encourage NSA-style snooping. When you store data in such systems, you can be certain it is going to be accessed by others; so, before storing, you need to encrypt your data.

People are now storing and archiving files using many cloud solutions which offer features similar to Dropbox. However, if you decide to carry confidential information on USB sticks, you should ensure that it is encrypted.

Social networking sites are the biggest threats to online data safety. The best way is to deactivate your accounts on these sites. If at all you must keep them, you should remove your birth date details from the profile. No matter how well you have organized your privacy settings on Facebook, you really have no control over what your “Friends” may be posting.

Something similar to giving away personal information on sites like Facebook is sharing your location details on sites like Foursquare which demand such data. You can also make it a habit to switch the Bluetooth off on any mobile device you may be using and activate it only when you must use it. Using a public Wi-Fi network is also rather risky and you should make sure that the URLs you visit are the HTTPS ones and not the non-encrypted HTTP ones. All reputed search engines will always be searching your search history and they will create custom profiles to offer you better results depending on what you had searched for earlier. When you wish to stay away from such a “filter bubble” it is best to switch to search engines that will never track your searches.

Finally, you need to consider the passphrase option which is really a meaningless sentence that you are not likely to forget ever. You can tweak this every now and then to generate better passwords. Whenever you find a service asking for multiple authentications, you must use them.