Living in the city, we learn to tread cautiously in dodgy neighborhoods, ask hard questions of fast-talking salesmen and look both ways before crossing the street.
But we increasingly live online. Most of humanity is just now trying to figure out what a dodgy online neighborhood looks like, how to judge a sales pitch without seeing a salesman’s shifty eyes, and why the heck traffic can be dangerous even when it’s digital.
Since October is now officially recognized as Cybersecurity Awareness Month, for users and companies alike, let’s start figuring this out, beginning with a few simple rules to guide everyone to safety.
Internet users should be, first and foremost, proactive toward their safety. People need to think about security before they have problems, not just after crisis hits. A few steps can prevent many issues, leading to a safer cyber life.
We always hear about online services leaking user names and passwords, or websites and devices getting hacked. As users, we tend to think we can only wait helplessly to be targeted. But, the truth is, a little prevention goes a long way toward securing our devices and personal data.
All these tips are accessible to everyone, not just to a select few power users who understand how an operating system works. And remember, all data has value, even if people don’t think so. If users’ data were genuinely worthless, there wouldn’t be so many hackers trying to steal it.
1. Avoid public Wi-Fi networks as much as possible. The allure of free Internet, especially on phones with restrictive data plans, is hard to resist sometimes. One solution would be to connect to a public Wi-Fi, but that comes with risks. Most of the time, these types of networks have poor security, and they can be used to spy on people using the Wi-Fi.
2. Use a VPN service whenever possible. If you need to use a public Wi-Fi, chose a trustworthy VPN service. This way, the user’s data is anonymized and secured in a way that makes spying very difficult.
3. Be careful what you share online. Social networks survive because people like sharing all kinds of information — photos, articles, or text. But that data might have value in a way that’s not always obvious. For example, some users will share that they are away on vacation or checking into their favorite restaurant. That data also reveals that their house or apartment is currently empty. It doesn’t take a hacker to obtain valuable information.
4. Get an antivirus before getting infected. People tend to install an antivirus after they suffer problems, but it should be a preventative measure. So many issues can be avoided, such as viruses, malware, adware, or even phishing attempts.
Users don’t need to worry about what type of antivirus they should use. A solution such as Bitdefender Total Security covers all security needs, including malware protection, a secure VPN for complete online privacy, ransomware protection and parental controls.
5. Use complex, unique passwords for each service. A password is the gateway to users’ data, so it makes sense to use strong ones. Year after year, the most common passwords in users’ inventory include 123456, qwerty and even the word “password.”
A robust password should be at least eight characters long, and include capitalized letters, numbers and symbols. The more complex the password, the less likely it is a brute-force or dictionary attack will guess it.
It’s also a good idea to use different passwords for each service. Use a password manager if there are too many credentials to track and remember.
6. Keep all devices up to date. Some people will postpone updating their phone or PC, for various reasons. Many of these updates contain patches for vulnerabilities and exploits, and not applying them leaves devices opened to attacks.
7. Emails are a common way to spread malware and viruses. People can’t control what is sent to their email address, but they should control what’s coming in. The first step is to avoid opening emails from unknown senders, but that’s not always possible. At the very least, email clients shouldn’t be set to preview emails automatically.
8. Emails are also used to snatch people’s data via phishing scams. It’s good practice to know that online and banking services never ask for usernames, passwords or financial information. As long as you remember that, you should be able to avoid most phishing attempts.
9. Bluetooth and NFC on mobile devices seem innocuous enough, and people usually leave them on. To remain safe, turn them off. Several vulnerabilities have been found and fixed in the Bluetooth protocol, but other vulnerabilities may remain undiscovered.
On the other hand, NFC has quite a few uses, and that includes paying with the phone or smartwatch instead of a credit card. While the protocol and apps are reasonably secure, they are not invulnerable and, in the right conditions, the financial information can be intercepted.
10. Last on the list is the location services (GPS) on your phone. While people might be willing to share their location with Google or Apple, the same data is available to other apps as well. Third-party apps have been found to leak the user’s geolocation data. Turn location services off if you’re not using it.
Staying safe online is not all that difficult, and users can employ these proactive measures to make sure that they don’t become victims. With a little luck, it’s possible to prevent most problems that could arise, and it’s much better to deal with issues before they do damage.