Security vs Privacy on the Internet

Update: The next article in this series is now published.

Confused about what privacy versus security means in the context of the internet? Haven’t heard these terms before, but are intrigued nonetheless? Not interested in any of this, but are inexplicably still reading? Whatever your deal is, welcome—you’ve found the laypersons guide to all this crap!

But first, a big, pink cat.

A big pink Cat
Image credit: Ania Stypulkowski

What is Internet security?

First, let’s start with security. We all have a decent grasp of what security means in the physical world—keeping bad folks out of your stuff—but what does it mean online?

The basic principles are the same; security means defense against unwanted—and usually criminal—intrusion. In the physical world, that would mean access to your house or apartment (or pockets), to steal your cash, jewelry, credit cards, or vintage My Little Pony collection. On the Internet, it would mean access to your various online accounts, to pilfer your emails, photos, banking information, or your really embarrassing emails, photos, and banking information, like the time you bought that vintage My Little Pony collection.

In a nutshell, Internet security are measures to prevent unwarranted access to your digital life.

What is Internet privacy?

Okay, so we know what Internet security is (as long as I did an okay job of explaining above), but what about privacy? How is that different?

Internet privacy is the defense against unwanted—and usually legal— intrusion by trusted entities.

Wait, what?

Behind that jargon is this simple explanation: companies profit from your personal information, the depth and breadth of which you might not realize is being collected. This usually comes in the form of trackers hidden on most sites which aggregate personal information about you. This information will usually be re-sold any number of times.

In the physical world, this would be like if General Motors hired a private investigator to trail you everywhere you went, and report back every piece of information about you that they could. And that private eye had a personal cloaking device. And then sold that data to Comcast, the federal government, and that Free Home Loan guy. And then everyone else.

Privacy concerns are arguably more important than security concerns, simply because they are more invisible to the general public.

What are they after?

In both cases, for security and privacy concerns, the answer is the same: they are after data. This is the information age; data is the most valuable commodity on the Internet (and everywhere else, for that matter).

Anyone who can get a piece of your data can make a profit, and lots of times that payout can be immense. This gives both legitimate, legally-operating corporations, as well as criminals, the same powerful incentive: collect as much of your data as possible.

Is data collection always a bad thing?

No, not necessarily, but it depends on your comfort level. Criminal activity is obviously always a bad thing, but you may be okay with certain uses of your private information by corporations or others. Whatever you decide, choosing to share you data should be just that: your choice.

Can my security and privacy be improved?


Over the next few days, I will be publishing two new articles, each dealing with simple but effective ways to improve your online security and privacy, respectively.

These articles also will get into why security and privacy are important, although hopefully this is already self-evident. In addition, they will cover in more detail the types of attacks, schemes and dangers that effect the common person, especially as the Trump administration ramps up.

I will update this article with the new links as they are published, so if you’re reading this in the future, you can click them now! Otherwise, just chill.

Update: It is the future—the next article in this series is published.

I have a question!

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