5 Ways You Put Yourself at Risk Online Every Day (And How to Prevent It)
You often hear in the news about the latest cybersecurity threats. There’s no shortage of online bad actors that prey on vulnerable users. Thankfully, there are a number of services dedicated to ensuring the online security of businesses and individuals. Some online threats are easily detectable whereas other attacks are far more subtle and therefore require security measures that are equally sophisticated. In this article, we look at five security practices that will drastically reduce the chances of you becoming the next victim of a cybersecurity attack.
Improve the Security of Your Smart Home Devices
A smart device is any device that can connect to the Internet. Every smart device you introduce into your home is a potential point of breach for a cyber attack. So before you buy a smart device, ask yourself whether the value you get from it outweighs the risk to which it exposes you. A hacker or government intelligence agency can eavesdrop on your conversation using the microphone on your smart speaker or watch you using the camera on your smart TV. Any smart gadget in your home can potentially be used to spy on you.
Some risks are hidden. For example, installing security cameras throughout your property can make you feel safe. However, if hackers hijack those cameras, they can know the best time to break in to your home because they’ll know when nobody’s around. As for the government, your suspicions that the NSA might be eavesdropping on your conversations are not ridiculous. As great advancements continue to be made in the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), such breaches of privacy government intelligence agencies are becoming increasingly common.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve the security of the smart devices in your home. To begin with, make sure you carefully research smart devices before purchasing them. Consider how useful the device will be. For example, smart heating devices and their accompanying apps help reduce your energy costs by only heating up your home when you’re there. However, what happens when the Internet connection is suddenly down. Moreover, give preference to smart devices that have reliable security features even if they cost a bit more, and buy smart devices only from well-established and trustworthy brands that roll out regular security updates.
Make sure you change the default passwords for the IoT devices in your home because hackers often use these login details to access such devices and break into home networks. In addition to that, it’s advisable to set up a separate network for your smart home devices. Many wireless routers typically let you create separate guest networks to reduce the chances of a hacker or government intelligence agency accessing your regular home network. Check your router’s manual and set up at least one separate network for all the smart devices in your home.
Protecting Your Login Details
In most cases, protecting your logins means protecting your passwords. To do that, you need to consider all the ways that an attacker can get your password. These include:
- Guessing it
- Seeing it on an unencrypted site
- Resetting it using a password recovery
- Stealing a file that has your password
- Tricking you into sharing it with them
Preventing all these potential breaches of your password security is imperative for protecting your logins.
The first way of mitigating these risks is by checking the address bar for a lock icon whenever you visit a website. If the lock icon is absent, it means the website is not encrypted so you shouldn’t type your password into it because anyone on the network can see it. Major browsers typically warn you whenever you open an unencrypted website by displaying a lock icon crossed out with a red line. To keep you safe from phishing, major browsers display a full-screen warning when you open a phishing website. In contrast, the browser will usually display the identities of websites that have provided proof of their legal identity.
The other effective way of protecting your logins is by introducing a ‘second factor’ to the login process. The second factor is typically linked to your phone, meaning that even if an unauthorized party gets a hold of your password, they still need your phone to access your account. Likewise, even if they get your phone, they still need your password to access your account. Two-factor authentication, as it is called, is set up by linking your account to your phone on the website. Once the setup is complete, an access code will be sent to your phone whenever you input your password to log into your account.
Compared to simply using a password alone, two-factor authentication improves the security of your login process. A list of websites that have adopted two-factor authentication is available at https://twofactorauth.org. The website also has a list of websites that haven’t adopted two-factor authentication and the methods that users can use to ask those websites to introduce the feature.
Improving the Security and Privacy of Your Social Media Accounts
Start by unfriending all accounts that have been abandoned because they’re highly susceptible to hijacking by spammers who can use them to obtain details of the former account owner and their family, friends, employers, and colleagues. These details include birthdates and physical addresses among other information. If a previously neglected account suddenly reemerges, be careful with it and verify who’s running the account.
Securing Your Facebook Account
Facebook has added a number of security and privacy features over the years. Nonetheless, never lose sight of the fact that Facebook is free, which means that you’re the product. It’s worth taking time to visit the Security and Login and Privacy settings of your Facebook account to make sure everything is in order. Here’s a complete guide to Facebook privacy in 2018 by Wired. Some of the measures suggested include logging out of all your sessions every so often to eliminate the likelihood of someone taking complete control of your account because you forgot to log out from a certain device.
Securing Your Twitter Account
The risk of getting scammed or hacked on Twitter is just as real as it is on Facebook. To prevent these, you need to make sure that you secure your Twitter account. One of the main ways of doing this is by maintaining tight control of the apps that can access your account. A single malicious app from a dubious developer is enough to lock you out of your Twitter account. So make sure you disable apps that are no longer in use.
Securing Your Instagram Account
Instagram is another major social media account that you should secure. Sharing photos can be risky because a lot of information can be obtained from a photo. Such information includes your previous locations, current location and the people you’re currently with. All these are things you don’t want malicious parties knowing. Many people, including tech-savvy users, have been scammed on Instagram and the trend doesn’t seem to be declining. In addition to using a strong password and two-factor authentication, it’s a good idea to make your account private so that only your follower can view your photos.
Secure Your Devices with an Antivirus and Antimalware
Unfortunately, the viruses and malware that try to take over our devices aren’t going anywhere. That means ensuring your PC, tablet and phone have the most powerful security software possible is still a top priority in 2018. In fact, it is becoming increasingly important as we store more information on the cloud than we do on our devices. As a result, we’re no longer limited to the home computer to access and manage our important information. We also do it on our phones and tablets. For that reason, it is important to use powerful security software that covers all our devices.
Hackers are always developing new methods of accessing your devices. These methods include hardware exploits (such as Spectre and Meltdown), ransomware, and phishing scams that give hackers complete control over your device. It is therefore imperative to have a powerful antivirus and the antivirus on your devices.
It is important that you get antivirus and antimalware that has a complete set of security features. If you’re interested in getting all-round protection against the most current online threats, then you have to invest in the best antivirus and antimalware on the market. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to fork out a huge amount of money.
When comparing various antivirus and antimalware software on the market, go for security software that offers all-inclusive protection. Ideally, your antivirus should protect against viruses, Trojans, worms, spyware, rootkits, ransomware, adware, and network attacks among other threats. Moreover, make sure that the software is reliable, meaning it should be able to protect your device without causing conflicts, safeguard its processes from unwanted termination, provide up-to-date protection, and automate security scans. Give preference to antiviruses that do not have a marked impact on the performance of your device. The impact of your security software on boot timings should be minimal and it should scan your device relatively quickly.
Our list of recommended antiviruses include:
- BitDefender Antivirus Plus
- Norton AntiVirus Basic
- Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus
- ESET NOD32 Antivirus
- F-Secure Antivirus SAFE
- Panda Antivirus Pro
- Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security
Secure Your Internet Connection with a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an online service that lets you do the following:
- Bypass Geo-restrictions of content and other forms of censorship
- Hide your online activity from others
- Use public Wi-Fi securely
- Easily download and share files
- Disguise your location
In simple terms, a VPN offers you online privacy and security. To use a VPN service, you need to purchase a subscription from a VPN provider. VPN services rely on a global network of servers located in various countries. You access and manage the service using a VPN app (client) that you download and install on your device. When you open the app and click Connect, a connection is made between your device and a VPN server at a location that is automatically selected by the client or you.
There are three ways in which a VPN provides online privacy and security through encrypting your online data and by disguising your location. Encryption makes it impossible for other parties—such as your ISP, government intelligence agencies and hackers—to see your data. Moreover, it prevents your ISP from seeing which websites you’ve visited. A VPN disguises your location by assigning you the IP address of the VPN server through which you connect to the Internet.
Thanks to VPNs, you can also get around censorship and access content that is otherwise only available in certain regions. By simply connecting to a server in a location at which the content is available, you can trick streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime among others into thinking you’re accessing the website from a country where the content is available. As a result, you can catch watch your favorite TV shows or sports events no matter where you are in the world.
Finally, a VPN offers privacy and security while filesharing by hiding your actual IP address from the network of peers that are downloading the same files (torrents). It also hides the fact that you’re torrenting and which files you’re downloading from your ISP and other interested parties such as law enforcement agencies and unscrupulous law firms that extort file sharers by threatening them with legal action.