I have been freelancing for a while now and in some of the work I do I am required to visit a lot of different websites. This isn't an issue, but I worry about my safety online. I have Webroot, but that is it. Should I invest in another security program? I was researching and I came across a lot of different information. I came across this when researching how to maintain my privacy: https://securethoughts.com/3-best-vpns-privacy/. Is this necessary, or is it overkill? Thanks!
Relying on software to be secure for you is the absolute wrong mentality to have when it come to internet security. Firewalls and anti-virus software are helpful, but are much better suited as a last line of defence.
"So why are anti-virus programs and firewalls a bad thing?" you might ask. They're not, I myself and most security-conscious users of computers use anti-virus and firewalls. No one in the right mind would suggest you remove them, and neither would I. I am simply suggesting that you, or any user, don't rely on these to keep them safe. Relying on software to keep you safe provides a dangerous mentality of ignorance, and a false impression of "I'm 100% safe online".
To protect yourself against threats online, you should simply follow good practices and be aware of the risks.
Firstly, a VPN is complete overkill for purely freelancing / work related tasks. as fiprojects rightly states, an IP essentially holds the same privacy standards as a phone number; you probably don't want to it broadcast for the world to see, but people need it to contact you, and you give it everyone that you contact. Now to each their own, but would I set up a phone system to obscure my own phone number, like a proxy or relay? probably not, maybe if I was expecting to do something incriminating then maybe, but then I'd also go through other methods as well to fully ensure anonymity.
My suggestion for staying safe online would be to read up on proper practices. There are a number of sites that offer this information, many seem to target children due to the notion of teaching them sooner rather than later, but there are a number that focus more on adult safety and provide some logic behind practices. As well as these sites, https://security.stackexchange.com/ hosts a few questions regarding online safety.
These practices are simple, like not downloading from untrustworthy sources, or signing up to insecure / untrustworthy sites.
Secondly, keep a calm, judgemental and sceptical frame of mind when browsing the web. This may sound obvious or simple, but a large number of users get caught out by attacks where they're redirected and are immediately confronted with 5 or 6 pop-ups and notifications telling them their PC is infected and they need to 'download this and that' or 'call so and so tech support'
Finally, I'd suggest learning more about networking and the behind the scenes of online communications if you're serious about keeping yourself secure. Now I'm in no way an expert of the subject, but a little knowledge goes a long way. It can be scary reading about all the horror stories online, reading up on the latest hack and doubting your security online; in a way that hearing about a disastrous plane crash before flying and not knowing the reasons can be scary. Once you start to look into it and understand the reasons behind why, it becomes less so, as it was most likely pilot error.
With all the abovementioned valuable advices.. I strongly recommend you using a virtual machine -like vmware- to access unknown websites. Installing all security software there to. You will be able to visit them..without affecting your system. You can also use deepfreeze-like software that deletes all unwanted adware or malware everytime you reboot the system.. Without the need to reinstall a new virtual machine if you suspect something wrong happened with some sites
Do you know what Caller ID is? Well when you visit a website, your IP address which is akin to a phone number is logged on every server you visit. It's the way the internet works, you cannot avoid it. The VPN brings a layer of security in play whereby your "call" (web browser visit) goes via a middle man and their IP address is reported on the target server. Your IP address is recorded and kept on the server with the VPN. In either case, the law would need a search warrant to examine the server (and the VPN could prove complicated if it's in another country).
Unlike your phone number, your IP address is likely to change often as most ISPs charge it if you get a fixed IP. In addition, an IP address will not identify your home address but instead possibly identify your neighbourhood.
VPNs also encrypt the data over the wire - but if you are doing normal surfing then this is an extra layer that won't add any value.
Use a good web browser (I use Firefox but Chrome, Safari, Opera or even IE are also fine). Make sure you are not signed in as an Administrator or "root" user - you should only use those accounts when adding/removing software. A virus, if you get hit, gets the same access that you have, so if you are using a master user, then the master user has access to your entire machine (and recovery is more painful). If you are using an ordinary user (or Limited user in Windows) then the virus will be contained to that user only, and it's a lot easier to clean up.
Never open any document without first scanning it (thus do a right mouse button and "Scan..." (assuming you have an anti-virus program installed).
Make sure you have a firewall or router between you and the outside world (true in most cases).
If any website says you need to install something - don't. If your website can view a well known branded website like CNN, NYTimes, BBC and you can view video there, then anything that supposedly does not work on another site is likely something you don't want to install.