Illustration by Sylvia Jun.

Illustration by Sylvia Jun.

I’m sure you’ve heard about online security before, like in terms of reading privacy policies, data encryption, passwords, the internet being a big scary place, et cetera. But should you actually pay attention to this stuff?

The short answer: Yes. Online security is important because you, Rookie readers, should be in control of how people can access your personal information, your texts, your email, even information about your physical whereabouts—because all of that stuff is yours.

Think about it this way: It would suck to have the door to your room open all the time, even if you weren’t doing anything in there besides your math homework, because you’d never know when someone might walk by and start watching you. People shouldn’t necessarily see everything you do. The same thing is true on the internet and social media. Without online security, anyone—including your mom, your second cousin, your lab partner in chemistry, and your weird neighbor—could potentially see what you’re up to, even if you intended it JUST for yourself or your friends.

You can’t stop someone from trying to get to your private info, but you can make it much, much harder for them to have any sort of success. Here are a few ways to do that:

Lock down your phone.

If your phone is ever confiscated, for whatever reason, a code or a fingerprint touch ID will make it very hard for anyone to open it. Sure, it can be kind of annoying to unlock it every time you want to text, but better safe than sorry. Your texts, emails, and photos are yours and shouldn’t be accessible to anyone else without your knowledge.

Change up your passwords.

Have a different password for everything. Ev-er-y-thing. I know, that means a lot of passwords! But it’s the best way to keep your accounts secure. (You wouldn’t want someone to be able to open your house and your bike and your diary with the same key, right? Same principle.) When you’re making passwords, experts recommend that you use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, and spaces. Real words are easy to guess, but you can swap in numbers for letters (like “q66n4Lif3” instead of “queen4Life”), which is harder even for a computer to crack. Write your passwords down and keep them somewhere safe and that you won’t forget :)

Use two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to password-protected accounts. Let’s say someone tries to log in to your email account—aaaaand they get your password right. With two-factor authentication, any time you or someone else uses your password, your phone will, for example, also get a text message with a code. Even with your password, no one is getting to your email without that code. Gmail has two-step verification. Facebook calls it login approvals. PayPal has security keys. Twitter has login verification. If you have an account you want to keep extra-secure, check to see if it has two-factor verification, too.

Turn off location settings.

Or at least think about it. If location settings are enabled on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any other app on your phone, tablet, or computer, you’re telling everyone on the internet (including your parents/guardians) where you are any and every time you post.

Use Google Chrome’s “incognito mode.”

Do your parents/guardians/teachers/siblings check your browser history? I used to search for anime fan fiction and articles about exploring bisexuality, but I hid those things from my parents—and Google Chrome’s incognito mode is a way to do that. Incognito mode makes it harder for someone to see what you’ve been reading online because it keeps Chrome from saving your search history. After you close ALL your incognito tabs, they can’t be found in your browser’s history or cookies. (It’s important to note that incognito mode can’t hide your browser history from your internet provider or, in a lot of cases, your employer because they often have more sophisticated ways to monitor activity.)

Encrypt your email, calls, and texts.

Feeling like all of this is easy peasy and ready for something bigger? Try encryption, which is a way of scrambling private email and text messages, calls, and other information to everyone but the intended recipients. Ambar wrote this easy guide to encrypting email by using the Mailvelope app. You can also encrypt smartphone calls and texts through apps like Signal.

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This all may sound like a lot, but once these things are set up (and the set-up is mostly very easy and quick), you won’t have to think or worry about it again. By taking steps like these, you’re taking control. ♦