From smartphones to smart TVs, desktop computers to portable tablets, the internet is an almost constant part of our everyday lives. Even our jewellery can now be ‘smart’, constantly uploading and downloading data about our activities. With so many connections at play and a desire for instant information, it’s easy to forget the risks that hyperconnectivity can pose.
When you log into your bank account from a mobile device or exchange personal information via email, it’s all browsing activity that needs to be – but isn’t always – secure. High profile security breaches are becoming increasingly common in recent years, with everyone from the NHS to Google themselves falling foul of attack. If these huge organisations can’t protect themselves, how can ordinary individuals?
Luckily, most of the security fails we read about in the news are things that could have been easily prevented – and as such, it’s easy enough to prevent third parties from getting into your information in the same way. Effective security is much simpler than it might seem at first, and these are a few ways to stay protected.
1. Be aware of the latest threats
It might seem obvious, but you can’t be confident that you have thorough defences for your online data unless you’re aware of what the threats to that data’s security are.
Most of us are now familiar with the concept of phishing scams, but knowledge of botnets and Man-In-The-Middle attacks is less commonplace. Did you know that your smart home devices are likely to be far more hackable your PC or smartphone? Or that every one of those devices could be hooked up to a malicious network without your even realising it?
You don’t have to spend hours a day reading up on the latest niche issues in order to keep everyday data safe, but it’s worth checking up on the headlines once in a while to ensure you know what the major threats are. Even if the technical details of things like SSL stripping seem a little complex, you’ll always be able to find advice for tightening up your defences when there are risks that could apply to you.
2.Protect your emails
One of the most likely places for data to be exposed or for your device to end up being accessed by a third party is via your email inbox. More than 14 billion spam emails are sent every single day, accounting for almost half of all emails sent globally. Among barrages of irritating junk mail, most people often receive phishing emails on a regular basis – some obvious, some highly convincing.
Whether the aim is to have you click a corrupt link, download a malicious file or simply hand over personal information, there are a host of email scams and virus attacks that you should be aware of. Alongside this, there are several easy ways to protect your email accounts.
From an external perspective, using a complex password is crucial. The harder your password is to guess or crack, the less likely someone is to gain outright entry to your username and thus, the ability to send out spam mail from your address or read your private exchanges.
At a higher level, you need to defend yourself against incoming threats as well. Not all scams are easy to spot, and in some instances, it may not be until you’ve downloaded a seemingly innocuous file that you realise ransomware or other malware has infected your device.
Using a good antivirus program will help to mitigate these risks, but make sure to choose one that includes an email virus scanner as well as scanning your device itself. Your email account should offer different automatic filtering levels for spam, but it’s not unusual for something to slip through the net.
An automatic scanner and filter will do the hard work so you don’t have to, flagging and removing suspicious messages so that they can’t infect your device or steal your data.
3. Secure public Wi-Fi connections
Though public Wi-Fi connections can be a lifesaver when you’re out of data or just can’t get a good signal, they should be approached with extreme caution. Often, free public networks provide little or no encryption – which in essence means that any data you send and receive over them is vulnerable.
Generic names like ‘Free Airport Wifi’ and ‘Hotel wifi’ are sometimes spoof accounts, set up to look like the real deal but with the sole aim of viewing and reusing personal information. Even in the case of legitimate networks, the lack of encryption makes it easy for hackers to access whatever is being shared within.
If you’re going to use public internet connections that could leave your data exposed, install a VPN app on your device so that when you connect to the web, you do so through a Virtual Private Network. These add a layer of heavy-duty, end-to-end encryption to your web traffic so that if a hacker does try to intercept your connection they’ll see nothing but nonsensical letters and numbers rather than comprehendible information.
Though antivirus is sometimes thought to be more of a concern for Android users than Apple device owners, using a VPN is worthwhile on both. Even if your device itself is secured against intrusion, without the extra security of a VPN you’re just as likely to inadvertently share personal ID or banking details from an iPhone or iPad as you are from anything else.
4. Keep software up-to-date
When a pop-up appears on your device to say a software update is available, how often does it get ignored for a while before being installed? In the case of some smartphones and computers, people may actively ignore software updates out of fear that they will slow down a device.
The problem with this is that software updates are designed to rectify things like known security vulnerabilities. Equifax’s data breach, which exposed the credit card and ID information of more than 140 million people, happened because of one web server with out of date software.
Keeping your software up to date costs nothing and takes minimal time, but is a really important part of ensuring that your data and details stay secure. Cybercriminals will often note the purpose that new patches serve, and seek to exploit weaknesses in devices where security isn’t up to date.
News of large-scale hacks and data breaches can leave us feeling pessimistic as if data theft is an inevitability to sit around and wait for. But while it may not be possible to 100% guarantee that nothing ever goes wrong, by using tools like antivirus and VPNs, and maintaining up-to-date software on all devices, you can feel confident that your cyber defences are providing a high level of protection.