Compartmentalization is the key to taking back your online identity, protecting your online privacy, and keeping your private data safe, it is the single most effective and efficient way that you can use to keep your private stuff private, it gives you control over your personal data — It’s all about not putting all your eggs in one basket.
Compartmentalization stems from the assumption that any system no matter how secure will eventually get breached, nothing is perfectly secure and time is always on the side of the attacker.
You are probably already doing some sort of compartmentalization in the real world, you organize our closets (winter clothes in one drawer, summer one in another, different compartments for socks, shoes, gym clothes, etc), banking (separate accounts for everyday expenses, savings and emergencies), and so on.
It’s basically the same idea but in your digital lives — The basic idea is of Privacy, Security, and Anonymity by Data Compartmentalization is to take control who gets access to what data, so that no one entity has access to all of your personal information, but only to the information that is necessary to do a particular task.
Without compartmentalization, whenever you visit a website, create an account, install an app, you are giving up all of your data from past into the future. You can build compartments by using separate service providers and identities, so that adversaries don’t get access to the whole package.
The Big Tech Giants & Data brokers like Facebook and Google employs lots and lots of tricks to track you around the web, including things like cookies, location data, device logging, fingerprinting, and even those innocent looking share buttons that you must have seen on many websites.
These tactics and tracking across many sites and services allow them to collect lots of personal data points that can be used to determine your identity online, by correlating data points to determine the full set of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) about you.
Alright, enough of this meta talk, lets see how you can do compartmentalization in your digital life.
How to do Data Compartmentalization Online?
Compartmentalization is an excellent security and privacy practice that works by separating access to sensitive information from open information. You do compartmentalization by creating “compartments”, where each compartment has its own separate entry, and is completely independent of all other compartments.
Compartmentalization of your personal data online can be done at basically two levels:
Compartmentalization of Your Digital Identity
Compartmentalization of your digital identity means creating separate containers for different aspects of your digital life, here’s an example of how you can do just that:
- Professional / Work Compartment
- Social Media Compartment
- Personal / Private Compartment
This is just to give you a basic idea on doing compartmentalization, you can go ahead and create other compartments for different scenarios, based on your requirements. Compartmentalization of your digital identity makes sure that if adversaries gets access to your professional identity, they won’t be able to find your personal identity, and vice-versa.
Compartmentalization of Service Providers
Compartmentalization of Service providers means using different service providers for different services — Stop living in an “Ecosystem”. Your email provider should not be your search engine, cloud storage provider and vice-versa.
The goal of using different service providers is to minimize the possibility of linking one pool of data to another, so that no one entity has access to your search history, your email, your private files, etc. This diversifying of personal data across different providers using different providers in different compartments of your digital life makes it much harder for adversaries to tie all the data back to you.
Based on both compartmentalization of digital identity and service providers, you can make compartments with different stockpiles of data. Here’s how you can make such compartments:
How to Create Compartments?
You can start compartmentalization of your digital life by using different browsers for different digital identities, i would recommend using a hardened version of Firefox, Brave Browser and Tor Browser. Both Firefox & Brave lets users create separate user profiles so that no two trackers are loaded at multiple browser sessions at once.
There is a really cool operating system called Qubes OS that implements security by isolation approach, and lets you create user environments that can be based on Fedora, Debian, Whonix, or even Windows.
If doing all of this is a bit tiresome for you, you can just use a Firefox add-on called Multi-Account Containers that lets you create different compartments in your Firefox browser.
Alright, now that you have created compartments based on your digital identity, here are a few tips to get the most out of this compartmentalization of your virtual life:
- Switch to Firefox, Brave, and Tor Browser or any of these secure browsers that respect your privacy.
- Switch to DuckDuckGo, Qwant, SearX or any of these private search engines that don’t snoop on you.
- Install privacy add-ons like uBlock Origin, HTTPS Everywhere, Decentraleyes, NoScript to block trackers.
- Switch to Tutanota, ProtonMail or any of these private email providers that always encrypt your data.
- Use separate email accounts in separate identities — one for work, one for social media, one for personal use, etc.
- You can also use email cloaking services like AnonAddy or SimpleLogin.
- Use encrypted messaging apps for communication instead of emails because the latter doesn’t encrypt metadata.
- Use a burner phone if required to create accounts, so that it can’t be traced back to you.
- Never use Single Sign-On (SSO) aka those “Sign in with Google” or “Sign in with Facebook” buttons.
- Use a secure password manager like Bitwarden or KeepassXC.
- Turn on two-factor authentication everywhere, and use Aegis Authenticator, andOTP or any of these 2FA apps.
- Use a privacy-respecting cloud storage provider like NextCloud, Tresorit, etc.
- Prevent fingerprinting of your browser and device using these tips to prevent adversaries from tracking you online.
- Use Progressive Web Apps or PWA instead of regular native apps — You can install a PWA of any website like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Uber, etc by opening the website on the browser and then tap on “Add to Home screen”. These PWA works on both desktops and phones, use a separate browser to install social media PWAs.
Separating your Search History, Browsing Data, Online Communications, and Emails using the tips mentioned above, you have almost blocked the big five from cross-tracking across your different online activities. Here are a few more tips that you can use to build up on the things you have learned already:
- Use a Firewall like NetGuard on your phone to block internet access to apps that don’t need it.
- Always encrypt your data, use VeraCrypt, Cryptomator or any of these encryption tools to protect your data.
- Remove Metdata from files before uploading or sharing them with anyone, use these metadata removal tools.
- Install privacy focussed operating systems like Ubuntu, Whonix, Qubes, etc on Desktop & Graphene OS, Calyx OS or Lineage OS on your phone.
- Switch to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) alternatives like LibreOffice, NewPipe, OsmAnd, etc — check out F-droid or alternativeto.net to find these apps.
Compartmentalization is all about not putting all your eggs in one basket, use different privacy-respecting apps and services for online search, web browsing, email, online communications, cloud storage, etc to get hold of your personal data, and prevent adversaries from getting all of your private information.
That’s all Folks!
I will be updating this page frequently with more tips and tools to compartmentalize your digital life. I have written about all kinds of privacy and security topics on this site, check out this privacy and security tools page to get started.