What You Can Do Right Now to Make Yourself Safer Online
Posted 02 May at 6:58 pm in Security
[9 min read]
No one is safe in today’s online environment. No matter how secure you think you browse, how well you erase your digital footprint, there is no number of privacy and online safety settings you can toggle on to hide from the internet’s scope.
Now, as the world ushers deeper into the digital revolution, we grow increasingly reliant on maintaining our digital presence. For many of us, wider digital footprints breed convenience and accessibility. However, we seem to display our entire lives on the web, and not every user is well-intentioned.
With the prevalence of digital information, it can be hard to ensure you are in control of your data and are practicing appropriate online behaviors, ensuring you prevent data breaches and leaks. Cyber-criminals and scammers run rampant in an online world where they twist and manipulate the rules in their favor. As consumers, business owners, and internet users, a few passwords are often the only thing that stands between us and our most valuable information. Here are some ways to ensure that your information stays yours.
Use and update antivirus software
Ransomware, which encrypts and locks your files behind exorbitant paywalls, trojan horses, which emulate real programs but actually mine your device for information, bots, which can seize control of your computers, and hackers, who can make turn your life upside down with just a few keystrokes. Whether we like it or not, innumerable threats are lurking behind deceptive links and within the shadows of pop-up ads.
Fortunately, antivirus software can greatly reduce the number of shady links we click on and viruses we expose ourselves to online. When configured correctly, you can set and forget your antivirus software. It can continually run in the background and silently protect you from harmful malware.
It’s best practice to periodically open the software and run scans, check for updates, and quarantine any security threats the software may find. A good rule of thumb when browsing services, files, and websites online, is that if it seems too good to be true, it is.
Your device may have “internet security,” “VPNs,” or “antivirus software” built into it. However, third-party utilities are almost always better. The tools that come with your device are likely lightweight, underpowered, or simply not as effective as other tools out there.
Some antivirus softwares come with companion apps, browser safeguard extensions, and more. We recommend utilizing software like Malwarebytes, Avast, or Bitdefender to take your online protection up a notch.
Use unique passwords
Many people underestimate how vulnerable they are if hackers compromise one or two of their passwords. You may think, “I have a complicated password, hackers could never guess it.”
Hackers, scammers, and even bots have advanced tools and algorithms that can run through millions of password combinations in just hours. On top of brute-force cracking passwords, most scammers steal passwords much more methodically.
Some cybercriminals will pose as company support lines and ask you to say your password to verify your identity. Some scammers use fake websites or clone popular banking, travel, and email websites to prompt you to enter your password, which they cross-reference with accounts you have anywhere on the entire internet. If you reuse a password even once, hackers have the opportunity to scale their information scandal up until your entire life is in their hands.
Use unique passwords that are combinations of sentences, special characters, dates, and special identifiers to help you know which password to input. This simple practice increases your security tenfold. This is how to protect sensitive information.
Sometimes keeping track of dozens of passwords can be disorienting, so we recommend using premium password trackers that do not sell user information, conduct password compromisation tests, and suites of other security features. Managers like Dashlane, BitWarden, and LastPass are highly rated and loved in the cybersecurity community.
Consider using VPNs
Think of how much privacy you think you have online browsing the internet. You can hide behind Tor, incognito windows, DuckDuckGo, and cleared caches, but users have a complete lack of privacy.
If you think you are fooling anyone with your searching information without using a virtual private network (VPN), think again. When connecting to Wi-Fi, especially public networks, do you ever take the time to validate how secure it is?
Someone else may be observing exactly what you’re doing on your computer in real-time right next to you. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic by routing your connections through servers owned by your VPN service provider. This technology makes your internet activity completely anonymous and encrypted.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication, also known as two-factor authentication (MFA/2FA) is one of the best modern security measures. It can sometimes be a nuisance to have several devices with you, but it doubles your password security if you decide to reuse some passwords.
Currently, some solutions are more elegant than others, such as Apple devices in the Apple Ecosystem seamlessly completing 2FA automatically if you’re wearing an Apple Watch, holding your iPhone, near your Macbook, or have your iPad.
Other solutions include authentication apps, one-time passwords (OTPs) sent through texts, phone call verifications, hardware keys, and more. Nearly every major online service will present the option for MFA, and you should take it.
Use private social media accounts
There are dozens of debates about the best way to protect yourself when using social media. However, posting anything online always hosts a degree of risk, and the best way to restrict how well big data companies know you are is to not use social media or to not post anything you wouldn’t want your boss, parents, and your older self to see.
Using private social media accounts wards off stalkers, ill-intentioned users, and disabling trackers and privacy settings go a long way to reduce the amount of data that hackers can access.
Beware of phishing emails
Many internet users may think they can easily recognize and ignore phishing emails and fraud when in reality, phishing scams are growing increasingly believable, and people are more vulnerable than they think. In 2020, The Internet Crime Complaint Center found that over 240,000 people fell victim to harmful phishing scams.
Continually keep yourself up-to-date on recent phishing scams, patterns, and diction to catch scammers in the act. Even clicking on pop-up ads in the wrong place can compromise your device, and scammers can hack into your friends’ and family’s social media accounts, send you links, and gain complete control over your device.
Learning techniques to validate that links indeed direct you where they should, such as hovering over them and checking the status bar that appears on the bottom left of most browsers is a great way to start.
These tips barely scratch the surface of what you can do to secure yourself online because there are countless ways you can damage yourself on the internet. However, with these major bases covered, you will be two, three, or even four times as secure as you are now.