Stop Your ISP From Selling Your Data

How to Stop Your ISP From Selling Your Data

On March 29th, 2017 U.S. Congress voted to repeal broadband privacy regulations that were put into place in 2016, which regulated what your Internet Service Provider (ISP) was allowed to collect and sell.  This information included:

  • Precise geo-location
  • Financial information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Web browsing history
  • Children’s information
  • Health information
  • App usage history
  • The content of communication

Since the repeal, your ISP will now be able to freely collect and sell this information, without your consent.  Today I want to discuss what you can do, to mitigate the amount of information your ISP can collect and ultimately sell from you.

All this means is we must protect ourselves from our ISP’s. Here are a few steps you can take so that your sensitive information is kept secure.

We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security. –Dwight D. Eisenhower

Visit Only HTTPS Websites

At the begging of any formal website address you see the letters HTTP, which stand for Hypertext Transfer Protocol.  This is just a protocol computers use when they are sending and receiving website data.  Sometimes, you’ll see an added “S” after HTTP which stands for “Secure.”

This “S” is extremely important because it signifies that the connection between your internet browser and the server the website lives on is secure and encrypted. Some internet browsers will turn the HTTPS green and show an icon of a padlock, just so users have a visual cue as well when they are connected to a secure website.

What does this actually mean though?

Here is an example, say you fill out a contact form on an HTTP website.  Say the fields on the form ask for your name, birthday, address and phone number. When you fill the form out and hit submit, this is what anyone who is monitoring your internet connect (third-party snooper) would see fly by:

{“name”:”Cory”,”birthday”:”01/01/1980″,”address”:”1234 Fake Street”,”phone”:”4075551234″}

It doesn’t take a computer scientist to figure out what all this means.  A program could easily be written to “grab” this information en route, and store it in a database, to sell later on.

However, if your browser and the server you were connected to had a secure connection (HTTPS), this is what a third party snooper would see for the same exact information:

flu3h!f93@hre9gfh34f$H@*hg967YGgtgTGgygFfgfMjbvcF*F8

A little bit harder to understand, right? As a matter of fact, it would take a computer years, even centuries, to break this encrypted message.

Before you fill out any online forms, make sure the website owner took the necessary steps to secure your internet connection (HTTPS), or else, anyone could obtain your private information.

HTTPS Limitations

However, there are limitations. Your ISP can see where on the internet you go even if you are using a website that has the HTTPS encryption.  For example, if you go to Google.com which uses HTTPS security, your ISP can see you went to Google.com, but they can’t see exactly what you are searching for.  To go a step farther so your ISP can’t see anything, you would need to use a VPN.

Okay… What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network or a VPN is a secured (encrypted) connection that could be made within a non-secure connection.  For example, if you work for a company who needs to keep their data private and you let your employees take home laptops to do work, chances are you would have your employees connect to your business servers through a VPN.

Think of a VPN as a tunnel of encryption within a non-secure connection.

How a VPN Can Work for You Though?

So now you want to block your internet traffic so your ISP can’t see your information. How it works is you connect to a remote server the VPN company owns from your computer, through a secured VPN connection.

As you surf the internet, you appear to be surfing from this remote server instead of your computer.  Your ISP just sees encrypted data go by, which is close to impossible to read.

VPN Limitations

Your ISP however can see how much data you use and when you are using it. Also, your VPN service provider can also see what you are doing and where you are going, so someone may still be watching your internet activity!

Some VPN services limit Peer-2-Peer (P2P) file sharing as well as some types of streaming (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.).  Also, your VPN service provider can also collect and share your data as well.

Which VPN is Good for Me?

There are many VPN services available either for free or for purchase. As I look at internet reviews for many of them, the consensus is generally you get what you pay for.  Here is a good article from PC Magazine that lists, “The Best VPN Services of 2017.”

Let us know in the comments below about any good or bad VPN services you have found, to help others who are looking to keep their information safe.

Do You Run a Website?

If you run a website, now is the time to obtain an SSL Certificate and update your site to an HTTPS secure connection.  Once this law comes in effect, people may not be sending you information through your website if it doesn’t have a secure connection.

If you need help installing the certificate, contact my company here (and yes, it’s secure!) and I can install one for you. As a matter of fact, just by reading (and mentioning) this blog article, I will install it for half the cost of my normal installation rate (which is $39) and set it up for you for only $19 (this does not include the cost of the SSL Certificate which generally costs between $39 – $79 per year, depending on your hosting provider).

Oh, the Complexity!

I know trying to understand everything about the internet is truly mind boggling, but I believe consumers need to know where their information is going, and how secure it is. I hope this helps you or your family or friends, and let me know if you have additional questions.

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