difference between security and privacy

Security vs Privacy. How to keep yourself and your data safe online and offline

12 min read

It is often said that money keeps the world turning. But while money does help circulate the economical climate of the planet, there is something else that enables society to progress faster than ever before and develop at an incredibly fast pace. Companies and businesses constantly use it to further evolve their systems and their suppliers are normal everyday people, who are truly unaware how much of it they are giving away completely for free. Bu, what is that ultimate driving force? The answer is simple - information. 

We are all currently living in the information age of the 21st century. With the constant evolution of technology and the inevitable development of Web 3.0, nothing is more valuable today than data. Regardless of whether it is a website, application on your phone or computer or even the different types of smart devices at your disposal or at home - invaluable information about you is constantly being collected that allows companies to not only improve their user experience but also their products, advertising strategies, overall marketing, recommendation systems and better general audience targeting. However, while your information can be used for the aforementioned customer behavior analyses, you could also be exposing yourself to potential hackers, criminals and other individuals with malicious intentions. Due to this, it is of the utmost importance to be aware of both the concepts of security and privacy as improper data management and information illiteracy on your behalf can leave you vulnerable to potential issues such as identity theft and credit or debit card fraud among others, which is also a perfect example of why protecting your security and privacy online is essential to maintaining them offline.

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But with the ever-increasing amount of information that is both tracked and stored by social media platforms and other applications in relation to your name, address, location, previous purchases, interests and social status it is becoming increasingly more difficult to successfully manage your security and privacy and if not utilized correctly, these notorious information heaps can end up harming you. However, people nowadays often confuse security and privacy with the majority of individuals even using them interchangeably. But while they can sometimes be synonymous or even correlate with each other, security and privacy are two separate concepts and it is extremely important to distinguish between them as they are not fully reliant or dependable on each other to exist and be in working condition, meaning that you can be secure while having your privacy exposed and vice versa.

What is security and how can you be safe?

Security can be described in many divergent ways. However, in relation to information, it refers to the actual utilizations and software that you choose to implement in order to protect both yourself and your data simultaneously. Numerous different options exist that can allow you to increase your security both offline and online. 

Firstly, leading experts in this field strongly recommend creating an incredibly secure password for your accounts, applications and platforms, with most agreeing that a password created by a truly random password generator can benefit from not only the capital letters and the numbers, but also from the divergent foreign characters and symbols at the software’s disposal. This, consequently, results in a near-impossible password to decipher or will at the very least result in making a hacker’s job exponentially difficult.

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Secondly, an increasing number of online applications and websites are starting to offer their clients and users to utilize a special two-factor authentication system in order to improve their security. What this system does is that it generates a random letter or digit code of a predetermined length, which is then dispatched to another device or email. Therefore, upon a login from a user, both their password and their authentication code are required, increasing the security measures. Even though this might be seen as quite the hassle, it is important to keep your data safe. Furthermore, this exact security method is also progressively becoming popular amongst transaction-making entities and institutions such as banks and online ecommerce stores, where they refer to this authentication code as a 3D password. Lately, social media platforms have also begun offering two-factor authentication after the infamous account breaches that have happened in recent years.

Thirdly, in order to further protect yourself, you should consider utilizing an antivirus in order to stop potential malicious software from entering, attacking or spreading onto your devices. The main function of an antivirus is to scan your system in order to locate or discover potentially dangerous software or files, after which it proceeds to either immediately dispose of them or quarantine them until a manual action is performed on your behalf. This is especially useful in cases where you would be required to download files or install a piece of software on your device from an untrusted source on the Web. In terms of antivirus types, it is crucial to have one regardless of whether it is a paid premium product or the plain operating system included software.

What is privacy and how to maintain it?

In comparison to security, privacy can be defined as data or information, which can either be related to or traced back towards your personal identity. Examples of such privacy-based information include your name, address, phone number, social security number and credit or debit card information amongst others. Furthemore, data that you consciously or unwillingly share on social media can also be considered private including, but not limited to: your friends or social connections, your geographical location at divergent times throughout the day, your route to work along with the types of transport that you take, information about your family and relatives along with their names, addresses and other information. It is also scary to think that this abundance of information is situated before the fingertips of potential stalkers and individuals with malicious intents, waiting to conduct crimes like identity theft, which we mentioned previously. 

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Even though you can stop publicly sharing most of this information through social media, social media platforms, however, will never stop collecting your data. There have been many instances where personal data has been either willingly sold for both marketing and targeting purposes, with the most infamous cases being those of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, covered by the Guardian, or unintentionally leaked as was the case with Twitter. But what happens to the more sensitive information that we mentioned before such as your identity and address? 

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There are a number of ways that you can protect yourself. For example, when browsing the web you can use a data encryption software in order to avoid middle-man attacks and eavesdroppers if you are using a public WiFi or untrusted networks or even at home as some internet service providers also keep track of your online activity for extended periods of time, meaning that a leak on their behalf could potentially result in a breach of your privacy. In terms of software you can use either Tor or a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to encrypt your connection or change your location.

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Furthemore, when browsing online, ensure that the given website has an active and valid SSL certificate, which can be determined by the lock located on the left of the website URL. This certificate is primarily used for secure data, information and transaction encryption.

Moreover, if you are using a location tracking or monitoring device, such as a smartwatch, or smartphone application, ensure that the data is safely transferred and stored into your personal system, perhaps even consider locking that directory or file using a password. Additionally, you can also disable location tracking -  it was not that long ago when the Strava scandal, mentioned by the BBC, occurred, where secret military bases were discovered using the publicly available heatmap that is generated by the device’s users. 

Security vs Privacy

Having defined and examined both security and privacy, it is obvious that the two terms are quite different from each other, even though they are often used interchangeably. While in some cases they can slightly overlap and correlate, either one of them can exist as a separate independent entity without the other, meaning that you can be secure without keeping your data private and vice versa. Let’s use some examples to more clearly illustrate this. 

Imagine going to a sports game. Initially you present your ticket and once approved, you need to pass through security. The whole point of having the security check is to evaluate whether you are carrying or sneaking in potentially dangerous items or equipment into the game. The security workers are not interested in knowing your identity, be it your name, address or any other personal information, as their primary obligations are to perform the security checks. 

Another appropriate example, which is applicable, is in the case of international travel from an airport. First, you must go through security and then pass through the passport check. Security is interested in ensuring that you are not carrying suspicious items, while the staff at the passport check booth evaluates your identity, making sure that your passport information matches that inside of the system. The same applies when you are online - being secure does not entail that other people and companies are not capable of collecting your personal information. There have been numerous scandals involving antivirus softwares that have secretly been collecting and selling people’s information in spite of keeping them protected. On the other hand, there have also been occurrences, where softwares that have been claiming to protect people’s data privacy have been subjected to major security breaches, resulting in data leaks.

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Overall, security and privacy are both of significant importance, especially now - in the information age. Security refers to keeping both yourself and your data safe, whereas privacy can be defined as the data that is personally linked to you. While in some cases, these concepts can be intertwined it is important to remember that they are different - you can be simultaneously secure and privacy-vulnerable as well as having privacy but be lacking in security. However, in order to be safe both online and offline, you need to make sure that you cover both concepts.

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