How to Keep Yourself Safe When Using the Internet
The internet is a wonderful place packed with information and entertainment, but it is also where unscrupulous people lurk. These criminals lay in wait, hoping for an opportunity to hack your device, steal your data or identification, and trick you into parting company with your hard-earned cash. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to help protect yourself from hackers and scammers and from having your device infected with malware.
Invest in a Well-Known VPN
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, may sound like something you need a degree in information technology to understand, but they are simple to use despite their complexity. In layperson’s terms, a VPN acts as a middleman between your machine and the website you are visiting. Data passes from your device to the VPN’s servers, then to the target website; it follows the opposite route back. It is the passing through the VPN’s servers where a little bit of magic occurs- well, not magic as such, but it may as well be.
The VPN encrypts all of the data, rendering it impossible to hack. Most VPNs use 256-bit encryption, which would take a quantum computer longer than the universe has existed to break without the encryption key. VPNs can also make it appear your device is in a different location, including country, from where it physically is. Such location spoofing means you can check the latest sportsbook reviews from anywhere in the world, you can watch Netflix shows that are not currently available where you live, and gain access to websites that may only be available within a country’s borders.
The best VPNs allow you to use them on your computers, smartphones, and even video game consoles. They are worthwhile checking out, especially as they do not cost the Earth to buy.
You Probably Do Not Need Third-Party Anti-Virus Protection
Companies like Norton, McAfee, and Kaspersky make vast sums of money based on computer users’ fears. All three companies produce superb anti-virus and firewall software that promises to make your device like Fort Knox, but in reality, you can get by with the built-in Microsoft Defender.
There was a time when dedicated third-party protection was needed because Microsoft’s product was not up to the task, but those days are long gone. This writer has not used any anti-virus or firewall protection other than Microsoft’s free-to-use Defender for the past ten years and has not had a single piece of malware cause them havoc.
Most internet users, provided they do not start delving into websites they should not be looking at in the first place, will probably never get a virus directly from using the internet. You are far better off taking the money saved on not buying these resource-intensive anti-virus products and investing it in a VPN.
Keep Your Wits and Common Sense About You
Criminals and hackers use every trick to gain access to your machine or personal data. Phishing is the most common way they attempt this, and we bet every person reading this article will, at some point, have experienced a phishing attempt against them.
Phishing is pretending to be a legitimate company or person, often offering you a deal, claiming strange transactions on your credit card, claiming you owe postage on a delivery, etc. They hope you click on a link in the email or text message, which either installs a virus onto your device or sends you to a webpage where you enter some personal and financial information. Once they have this information, the criminals empty your bank accounts by making purchases that look valid to your financial institution, leaving you with a stressful mess to clean up.
What is the best defense against phishing and similar attacks? Your diligence and common sense is the correct answer. Many phishing attempts come from emails with addresses that look nothing like the official company’s email address. Furthermore, they are often full of spelling and obvious grammatical errors that a professional entity would not send.
You will also see a common theme of these dodgy emails and text messages never addressing you by your title and surname. They address you as “Dear User” or “Dear Your Email Address.” Banks and similar will address you by your name 100% of the time. In addition, legitimate companies will never ask you to reveal your full account number, passcodes, or similar.
The better phishing attempts look legitimate and convincing, even going as far as making it look like the email originated from a proper source. If you are ever in doubt that an SMS, email, or telephone call is legitimate, do not click links or answer any further questions, and contact the company directly from a number you know is theirs. The company will understand if they did contact you legitimately and you took extra precautions to ensure they are who they claim to be.
Keep Your Apps and Operating Systems Up to Date
While it can be frustrating to turn on your computer only for it to spend what seems like an eternity downloading an update, installing that update, and resetting and rebooting half a dozen times in the process, you must keep your devices up-to-date.
Software developers do not update their products just for the sake of doing so. Often, they find weaknesses and vulnerabilities in their software, which then updates patches. Without up-to-date software, a knowledgeable cyber-criminal aware of those vulnerabilities could use them to their advantage.
Not only individuals need to keep things updated, but organizations, too. In June 2023, it became clear that the Russian-linked ransomware group, Clop, had discovered and taken advantage of a vulnerability in the file-sharing software MOVEit. Hundreds of established brands, including British Airways, Shell, the U.S. Department of Energy, cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, and, ironically, the United Kingdom’s communication regulator Ofcom all fell victim to a hack caused by a zero-day vulnerability.
Thousands upon thousands of customers and employees’ personal and financial information is now in the hacker group’s possession, with nobody but them knowing what the plans are for it. Cyber security experts estimate the hack will earn Clop in the region of $100 million. At the same time, tens of thousands of people have a stressful time monitoring their credit files for unknown transactions. Keep your devices, software, and app up to date!