Online security is a subject that just won’t seem to go away. Most people are aware of it, and many are broadly aware of some the steps they can take to protect themselves online. But when connectivity is such an important part of everyday life, how many of us can honestly say we take to changing passwords, downloading and updating our antivirus software and thinking before we click with the same vigour as we do googling, tweeting, liking and friending?
A recent global ZoneAlarm survey of 1,245 participants* showed that 29 percent of Australians said they were ‘very concerned’ about security and privacy’ and 57 percent said they had experienced security issues in the past two years. Yet less than a quarter (24 percent) used paid for antivirus software.
In choosing not to protect ourselves online, we leave not only ourselves, but also anyone we communicate with, wide-open and vulnerable to online attacks. And with the growth of cybercrime in our over connected, always-on society, it’s more important than ever to stay one-step ahead in the security game.
Staying protected is really easy and what’s more, it doesn’t need to cost a thing. It just takes a few simple steps and heightened vigilance. To show you just how easy it is, we’ve compiled seven simple steps to keep you protected and ensure you stay safe online:
1. Get back to the basics. Regularly updating your computer’s operating system and all of its software is one of the simplest, yet most important, ways to protect your computer. You can do this by configuring your computer to receive automatic updates for the latest security patches. Just be sure to apply the latest settings by restarting your computer after the updates occur.
Remember, the newest software versions help your system run more smoothly in addition to the security updates. For example, regularly updating Skype actually improves voice and video quality and prolongs battery life.
2. Don’t be click-happy. Did you know that more than 9,500 malicious websites are detected by Google every single day? This statistic includes legitimate sites that have been hijacked and those that are designed to spread malware. Stay safe by being wary of the links you click. And remember to hover over links so that you can review the full address before you click. You should also take the warning messages from Google to heart. And, always keep your 2-way firewall and antivirus up-to-date and active.
3. Pay attention to the latest social changes. For example, Facebook changed your default email to @facebook.com. This means that a whole new group of marketers and spammers will be able to contact you much more easily than ever before. Whether you Like this (or not), adjust your privacy protection settings and watch out for spam and phishing scams now that Facebook’s messaging system is open.
4. Passwords, passwords, passwords. Always create strong passwords for online accounts, and include letters, numbers, and symbols. Longer passwords (at least 8-10 characters) are more secure and prevent brute force attacks. Choose different and unique passwords for important sites, such as your primary email and financial accounts. Try not to use the same password for multiple sites. If a password gets compromised on one site, it may allow hackers to log into other accounts with the same credentials.
If you’re having trouble remembering all your passwords, try using an online password manager, such as RoboForm. Alternatively, you can also keep track by setting up a simple spreadsheet, and instead of recording the actual password, type out a hint. Just be sure to password protect this document and encrypt your hard drive.
5. Beware of social engineering attacks. Cybercriminals are scouring social media sites every day to learn all they can about you. They’ll use the information they gather to send you highly targeted emails, pretending to be from your boss, friend, or family member. Did you post some information on Facebook recently about your favourite vacation spot only to receive an email from a co-worker about the best summer getaways, complete with a request to link to a recent article? Stay on guard. And always watch what you say online – revealing too much information like middle names or pet names could be just enough to tip off a cybercriminal.
6. Take Care When Downloading Videos. Online video has really taken off, but it’s really important to be careful when downloading videos, as this activity could be a hotbed for viruses. If you don’t have the most up-to-date video player, download it directly from a trustworthy source. Never install software from file-sharing sites when trying to view a video, and keep in mind downloading a video by itself should never require running an executable (.exe) file.
7. Be Cautious When Using Wi-Fi Hotspots. Most people love to get themselves set up on a free Wi-Fi hotspot. But before you connect, verify that the Wi-Fi network name (SSID) is from a legitimate service. Do not connect to random, unsecured Wi-Fi networks. It increases your security risks. And if you can then it’s always best to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN allows you to route all your activity through a separate, secure, private network, even if you’re on a public one. Several services are available, or you can even go with an app like Hotspot Shield, which sets a VPN up for you automatically.
Cybercriminals are becoming craftier by the day, and online attacks are never ending so it’s important to stay vigilant and take basic precautions such as ensuring you have antivirus software and a 2-way firewall on your computer as a bare minimum.
Remember this. While sorting out your online security may seem dull compared to catching up with what the rest of the world is doing on twitter or Facebook, it’s much more exciting than trying to pick up the pieces of an online attack. Never be lulled into a false sense of security. There is always someone waiting to access your personal information. If you stay alert and follow our simple precautions you will not only avoid becoming another statistic, you’ll also do your part to keep the Internet safe for your online community.
*In the report, Geographical differences in computer security: a global security use survey, published on June 2012, 17 percent of the 1,245 respondents were Australian.
About the Author: Scott McKinnel, managing director Australia and New Zealand, Check Point Software Technologies, provider of ZoneAlarm FREE Antivirus + Firewall 2013 - the world’s No.1 firewall combined with award-winning antivirus to protect consumers against hackers, viruses, spyware, and other evil malware. Download a free copy here.