Digital Security 101
Every year, we hear about major data breaches at companies, individual victims of identity theft, and phishing scams meant to give hackers access to bank accounts and worse. We want and need to be on the Internet these days. From there, we can purchase anything, keep up with what’s going on in the lives of our families and friends, get the latest news, play games together, advertise our businesses, and look up information about almost anything.
However, with the Internet—which really means having our devices connected to other computers on a massive network—comes risk. Hackers know that many people are vulnerable to attack and take advantage of this. They can do anything from steal your World of Warcraft account and play your characters, to completely stealing your identity, making purchases with your money, and more.
The Importance of Cyber Literacy
Because of this, it’s critical for everyone to be literate in cybersecurity, though that’s far from the case.
How important is it to keep your computer and accounts secure? Well, cyber attacks increased during covid, with hackers using scams and phishing, malware, misinformation, and malicious domains to defraud individuals and businesses. The digital environment remains risky.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to learn the basics of cyber literacy, and when you do, you greatly increase your protection. Let’s look at some ways that you can protect yourself.
Update Your Software
Software developers strive to keep their programs safe and free of holes that can allow exploits, but often they aren’t aware of them until someone hacks a program. These holes can allow hackers to gain access to entire computer systems and networks.
When software companies discover these vulnerabilities, they create patches to remove the exploit. This is one of the most important reasons to update your software regularly. It’s also a great reason to enable automatic updates. When you do, you’ll usually get a notification saying it’s time to update your software. You may need to run the program and update it that way, or you may simply need to reboot your computer.
Of course, software updates can include much more than patches, including improvements and new features you’ll want to use.
Protect Information that Protects Your Accounts
When you’ve forgotten a password, as long as you have access to your email or your phone, it’s easy to change your password and log in.
Password recovery pages will often ask for you to answer a question. This could be your mother’s maiden name, the name of your first pet, the street you grew up on, the name of your first teacher, and so on. When you initially provide this information, pick something that won’t be easy for other people to find. For example, on Facebook, it might be easy for someone to find your mother’s maiden name, but harder to determine the name of your third-grade teacher.
Also, avoid sharing these bits of information on social media when possible. One good trick is to set up your Facebook account so that strangers can’t see your friends list.
Don’t Click or Share Unknown Links
Most websites are safe to visit, so it’s unfortunate that some sites are dangerous. How do you know the difference?
Heed your browser’s warnings. Certain browser plugins that come with antivirus software will warn you if you’re going to a dangerous site that could automatically download malware.
Don’t Share Your Password
You’ve undoubtedly heard this advice before. Do not share your password. If a representative at a company asks for it, don’t give it to them. (In fact, if they are, you’re probably not talking to someone at that company and you’re dealing with a scammer.)
When you can, use multifactor authentication. Some companies have apps, available in the various app stores, that will send you a code when you log in. Enter this code and you’ll finish the login process.
Oh yes, and do not share these codes with anyone. They’re usually good for between 5 and 10 minutes, but if someone asks for your current code, they’re trying to hack your account.
Use Strong Passwords
How do you create a strong password? Let’s start with some background.
Server password files often have a list of usernames and an encrypted version of the associated password. Rather than attempt to break the encryption, hackers will run a program that throws dictionary words at each listing, hoping that some of the users have created simple, single-word passwords. When they get one, they have access to that account. They’ll also use common passwords, such as abc123, first names, and surnames.
There are simple tricks that thwart this method. One is to use two or three words. Another is to use multiple words and replace some of the letters with numbers or special characters. Another is to come up with a phrase and to create an abbreviated version of it, with capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
Keep in mind that longer passwords are also better and harder to guess. Your passwords should be at least eight characters.
Be Suspicious of Strangers
No, we don’t mean for you to be unfriendly. What we’re saying is that it’s important to be suspicious of strangers who are trying to gain your confidence out of the blue. This is called social engineering. It’s used in advertising and politics, and we’re all aware of it to a degree. A good advertisement can convince you to purchase something new, though even there, it’s good to be skeptical and separate the message from the glitz.
The same techniques that politicians and advertisers use can be employed by hackers to get you to divulge information, which they can use to steal your identity.
Install Apps from Legit Sources
When you install apps on your tablets and smartphones, do so from the Apple Store, Google Play, Samsung Play, or other legitimate sources. Professional software companies often have downloads on their site. Make sure you are on the right site before you download.
To be on the safe side, make sure your antivirus software is running when you download programs. Your antivirus will scan your downloads to make sure they don’t contain malware.
Check the Domain Name
Be especially careful with email. Hackers like to send phishing emails. These messages can look like they come from a legitimate site you do business with. They may say there’s a problem with your account and that they need you to click on a link to fix it. That link will lead you to a convincing-looking page that will ask for personal information.
When you get an email like this, check the email address it came from. Is it from the actual site? For example, the domain may say @amazon.com. That is Amazon’s actual site, so the email is probably legitimate. However, it may say something like @amazon.public.com. That would not be legitimate. If in doubt, look up the phone number or email address for the actual company on Google, then contact them and inform them about the email.
Use a VPN
One of the best ways to protect yourself and your data, not just from hackers, but even from your Internet service provider (ISP) is to use a virtual private network (VPN). Legitimate VPNS include Express VPN, NordVPN, PureVPN, and IPVanish. Prices are usually very affordable, just dollars a month.
If you use public WiFi, you should definitely use a VPN to prevent hackers on the network from intercepting your information. Rather than your usernames and login credentials, they’ll see useless, encrypted data. Why? The way a VPN works is this. You connect to a third-party server, the VPN, which uses its own IP address. When you send out data, such as a website request or log in, the VPN encrypts the data before sending it over the network. The VPN server then gets your webpage or download and sends it to you in an encrypted form. When it reaches your computer, your software decrypts it. It’s fast, secure, and will look no different to you, but will thwart hackers and even your ISP.
Now, you know enough to greatly increase your online security. We hope this alleviates your worries and that you have a blast online.