In this age where cyber frauds and attacks are getting increasingly common, we could all use these tips to stay hack-proof.
It’s worth taking a brief pause in your frenetic day to consider something you might not think about too often – your online security.
By 2020, it’s estimated that there will be up to 200 billion connected devices in the world – and yes, that’s including your own personal orbit within the Internet of Things: your smart phone, your smart watch, your smart TV, your smart speakers, your connected car… the list goes on.
Imagine all these devices as access points into your personal data, and you might feel a little less complacent. According to a recent study carried out by the University of Maryland, a hacker attack is carried out every 39 seconds – affecting one in every three people in the US every year – and the non-secure usernames and passwords we use give attackers that much more chance of success.
Short of building a Faraday cage, here are some easy changes you can initiate in your digital life to up the level of security for yourself.
1. Beware of public WiFi connections
It’s oh-so-tempting – connecting to free WiFi while you’re idling at the airport or a coffee shop. Public WiFi might seem harmless, but it’s not – most users do not realise the extent to which their personal information, passwords, logins and other sensitive data are left exposed when connecting to an unsafe public WiFi network. Such unsecured networks generally don’t encrypt their data traffic – so plain text, unscrambled images, and sound flying over the network are all there for enterprising hackers to intercept or collect. Sure, it’s fine for some light browsing and reading, but never try to shop or access your financial accounts via an unsecured network, unless you’re using a VPN (virtual private network). You’re generally safer sticking to 3G or 4G.
2. Log out of Facebook remotely
We’ve all done this – logged into Facebook from someone else’s device to check our notifications, and then neglected to log out. Simply clicking the Close button on the browser, for example, does not necessarily mean that you’ve logged off Facebook and the session may remain active. A session remains active unless you specifically log off Facebook on that device. However, active sessions doesn’t mean that someone has access to your Facebook account – but it is still generally good practise to close Active Sessions, especially ones you don’t remember logging into, or recognise as your own. How to do this? On Facebook on your desktop, navigate to “settings” using the drop-down in the right hand corner of your screen, then “security”, then “where you’re logged in”. From this screen, you will be able to close an open session, on whichever device it’s still running on.
3. Use two browsers instead of one
Contrary to what most people think, “incognito” mode on your browser isn’t anything to be ashamed of – it’s not for looking at explicit or otherwise embarrassing content (embarrassing if anyone else found out). It’s a handy private browsing mode which means your previous activity will not be logged and stored in your browser’s history. All very useful if you want to keep your tracks clean, for example, if you’re browsing around for a secret birthday gift for your other half, but not so useful if you think it prevents the websites you go to (eg. Amazon, Facebook, Google) from tracking your activity using cookies or location and device logging. The easiest workaround is to use two browsers: one for accessing your social media, banks and shopping sites; and another for randomly browsing the internet. By splitting up your web activity between free-roaming and private, it will help maintain your anonymity out in the digital wild west.
4. Set up two-factor authentication
Is this painful – yes; but is this necessary – most definitely. It instantly adds an extra layer of security to your personal accounts, making it much harder for nefarious elements to access your information. What does it mean? You sacrifice the convenience of immediately accessing your online accounts (eg. social media like Facebook, or personal accounts like Gmail), but you gain the security of an added identity check, usually in the form of an OTP (one-time PIN number) being sent to your mobile phone via text message. Alternatively, you can download a secure authenticator app to generate time-specific OTPs. If it’s someone who isn’t you trying to gain access by figuring out your credentials, you will receive a notification informing you of an unrecognised machine or someone asking to reset your password. Thankfully, this cannot be authorised without your special code.
5. Keep your software up-to-date
We know, random software updates pop up at the most inconvenient times, and they can sometimes take ages – but that’s no excuse to skip an update. Why is it important? Updates are essential for plugging the security loopholes hackers will find and try to expose in an attempt to perform a malicious action. Updating your system in a timely manner helps protects your computer against threats. Keep all your software updated so you have the latest security patches. Turn on automatic updates so you don’t have to think about it, and make sure that your security software is set to run regular scans.