Today, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't use the internet at least once per day. It's the primaryway that most people communicate, shop, and learn. Most people even rely on the internet to do their jobs, either through the use of cloud software or as a medium to facilitate telework. As a result, the internet has become a major target for identity thieves and other criminals looking for ways to exploit the data of users around the world. Those malicious actors are making the internet quite dangerous, indeed. Each passing day seems to bring fresh news of another major data breach, each one putting millions of users' data at risk. Large companies, though, aren't the only target. In fact, individuals are the most common target of hackers. Through various means, criminals try to gain access to countless individual online accounts in an attempt to breach user privacy. But there are some ways that users can defend themselves. Here are five of the most useful ways to protect your online privacy: 1. Choose a Reputable ISP. The first step in protecting your online privacy is to choose a reputable ISP for your home or office. The reason this is so important is the fact that an ISP is in a position to observe and collect a large amount of data regarding your use of the internet. In some cases, ISPs have a legal responsibility to do just that. That means whatever ISP you use is all but guaranteed to store data that could compromise your online privacy if they were to use it improperly or fall victim to data theft. Choosing an ISP with a long history of secure operations, as well as a reputation for reliability and excellent customer service, will help guard against that possibility. 2. Secure Your Devices. One of the ways that hackers gain access to internet user data is by attacking the devices thoseusers rely on to get online. To stay safe, it's necessary to take steps to secure those devices from external threats. The first step is to make sure that all relevant software and operating system security patches get installed as soon as they're available. By cutting down on the number of vulnerabilities your device has, the less you'll have to worry about defending yourself. Since there's always a delay between the discovery of a vulnerability, and a patch becoming available though, you should also install and maintain a subscription to a high-quality antivirus solution. 3. Switch Search Engines. Your ISP isn't the only one who's collecting data about your online activity. Many of the websites you visit every day are doing the same thing. Of particular concern are search engines like Google, who capture user search behaviour and other identifying information and use it to deliver targeted advertising all over the internet. To avoid this, consider using a privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo. While it may not be as feature-rich as its' bigger search rivals, it does offer one thing they do not – an ironclad guarantee not to collect data about you or to share any information with any third parties. 4. Learn to Avoid Common Scams. Sometimes, the biggest threat to an internet user's privacy is their own inability to spot a threat. It's a big problem in Australia, as scammers (online and otherwise), cost residentsaround $100 million every year. Using all manner of trickery, malicious actors attempt to deceive users into handing over passwords, account information, and other personal data. That information is then used to steal from them. Right now, there are a variety of major scams making the rounds here, and users would do well to learn how they work and what to look out for. Then there's far less of a chance that they'll fall prey to the scammers, and will be able to better maintain their privacy online. 5. Leverage Encryption. On the internet, it's difficult to control who has access to your data as it travels from your device to its destination and back. All along the way, it passes through various networks where it's impossible to know who may be listening in. There is, however, a way to make sure that nobodycan do that: encryption. By encrypting your internet traffic, it will stay safe from prying eyes. Start by making sure to use SSL-secured websites whenever possible. Reputable internet sites will always appear with a padlock next to their name in your browser's address bar, signifying that they use end-to-end encryption. For an extra measure of security, you should also opt for a subscription to an Australia-based VPN service, which will encrypt all of your internet traffic at all times. That way, you can browse without fear that someone could be watching what you're doing online. Be Careful, Stay Safe. By taking these steps to enhance your online privacy, you'll be able to shift the balance in your favour against determined hackers and other data thieves. Of course, that doesn't mean you should let your guard down. On the contrary, the single best way to protect your online privacy isto remain vigilant. Always stay on the lookout for anything suspicious you may encounter. If a website seems odd, don't just blindly enter your information into it. If your device is acting strangely, take it to an authorised repair shop to get it fixed. And most of all, treat any requests for personal data both online and offline with great scepticism. Don't ever assume that an email or phone call you receive is legitimate. Contact whichever entity is making the request to find out if they're trying to contact you. The bottom line is this: the five steps covered here are only tools to help you protect your online privacy – but how you use them will determine how effective they ultimately are.