Big Data—it means that everyone from the government to the average website can follow your every movement on the internet. Go to a website to look at a possible new car and the next thing you know, when you go to Facebook, car dealer ads are appearing on your page. Make an internet phone call, send an email—somebody’s watching, and profiting, from your activities. Send a G-Mail, and reader algorithms detect the content in order to send you ads. And then there’s the NSA, which seems to have its eyes everywhere.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You CAN regain your privacy. This weekend we detail some of the things you can do to regain what, just a few years ago, we regarded as an inalienable right—our privacy.

First, you need to know just how secure your computer is right now. How much are you telling the websites you visit? To find out, go to GibsonResearch.com and run their Shields Up Plug’n Play exposure test. If you get an ‘exposed’ result, your router is making your computer visible to hackers. Fix this by disabling universal plug ‘n play on your router.

Next, download Gibson’s free LeakTest and run it. If it detects your computer, you have open ports on your system and you are not running a good firewall. Symantec, Norton and Zone Alarm are among the firewalls that offer protection of this kind.

Even if your computer is invisible online and has passed leak test, that doesn’t mean that websites can’t track you. They can, and in great detail. You can prevent any record of your online activities from being stored on your computer by running your browser in private mode, but this will not prevent sites from detecting your presence and storing information about your activities in their own databases.

The best form of protection is to create a virtual private network on your computer. This will create an encrypted ‘tunnel’ between your computer and the internet. Not even your service provider will know where you’re going, and websites won’t be able to track you back and identify you. Your passwords will still work, and when you log in to a site, it will place a cookie, but not on your computer, on the visible end of you VPN. You won’t be able to save logins. Every time you return, you’ll need to log in again.

One free VPN is Tor, which offers up to 1 GB of data transfer a month for no cost.(NOTE: TOR RECOMMENDATION WITHDRAWN 8/6/13) Anonymizer costs $80.00 per year. For this you get a secure VPN and, unlike some, its terms of use specifically state that it does not retain any of your browsing history. It does not allow you to choose a preferred country for your VPN gateway, which Privacy Internet Access, $3.33 a Month) does allow. Like Anonymizer, it doesn’t retain browsing history. Privacy io and iPredator are among many other secure VPNs. Neither keeps logs. But read the Terms of Use of any others carefully to be certain that they do not retain your history. Accessing the internet through a VPN somewhat lowers your convenience level, but it also returns you to a state of genuine personal privacy.
Cloud storage is another area which is highly insecure. You have only a company’s word that they will keep your data secure. One service that offers significant security is DataOak. Customer files are encrypted and it doesn’t have access to passwords, meaning that all it can offer a third party is the encryption itself, not access to the unencrypted data. Some will offer you a choice of OpenVPN or PPTP protocols. Choose OpenVPN. It is the most secure.

Password protection is an essential feature that most of us overlook. We use the same password on site after site which is, to say the least, extremely insecure. Dashlane is an extremely convenient and secure system, and its basic service is free. RoboForm, 1Password and LastPass will also offer you the ability to generate different passwords for every website while keeping a single master password safely on your computer.

A search engine that doesn’t retain any of your search history is DuckDuckGo. It can be installed as a browser addon to most browsers, and used when you don’t want your searches to be remembered by programs like Google. Use it with browser privacy and your history won’t be remembered on your computer or in the search engine’s records.

On the DuckDuckGo website, you will also find free addons like Do Not Track Me which prevents tracking engines from working, and MaskMe that creates a virtual email address when a website asks for your email. If later you start to get spam from that address, you can simply turn it off. It also offers phone number and credit card masking for $5.00 a month.

Notice: None of the services discussed here have any financial affiliation with Unknowncountry.com or Whitley Strieber. They have been chosen as representative samples in a very large field, and there are others that may offer similar services.

This article is free for retransmission and reposting as long is nothing in it is changed and it’s origin on Unknowncountry.com is acknowledged.