Internet Security is a topic on everyone’s lips. And yes, it ought to. According to the statistics released in mid-2015 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN’s specialized agency for ICT’s, more than 3.2 billion individuals’ worldwide use the internet. With more than half of the world’s population online, the internet has become central to our daily life. We can send messages instantly, purchase and pay for goods and services by the simple touch of a button as well as work and earn online.
However, the Internet poses significant challenges for the online community among them being the increase in cybercrime.
Criminals exploit with ease, the speed, anonymity, and convenience that comes with the internet to devise ways of using the computer both as a target and as a tool of cyber warfare. Some of the leading internet security breaches include attacks on computer systems, email spam, and phishing, identity theft, online scams, and frauds.
This guide aims at equipping you with the necessary internet security advice and techniques to help you dramatically improve your online safety.
Protecting yourself from malware
Malware is known to sneak harmful Trojan horse programs onto unsecured computers. Unsuspecting users are duped into downloading Trojans mistaking them for a legitimate music player, movies, games, greeting card signs and much more.
Malware can also get its way to your computer through peer-to-peer file sharing. Attackers take advantage of the P2P networking by incorporating viruses, spyware, worms, and Trojan Horses into their free downloads thereby compromising your internet security.
Other culprits are emails infected with worms and viruses, and also browser drive where the harmful program downloads in the background as you surf a rigged website.
To protect yourself from harmful malware, take the following 10 steps:
- Install strong internet security software and also set up and maintain firewall security
It is advisable to subscribe to a strong anti-virus software service. Viruses are discovered in their hundreds every month. Therefore, an anti-virus service will ensure you get continuously updated protection. A powerful firewall is important as it scans both inbound and outbound communications. Excellent internet security software provides integrated anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, anti-phishing, and firewall to efficiently protect against advanced multi-faceted attacks.
Only use a security – conscious ISP
The best Internet Service Provider (ISP) is one that implements robust anti-phishing and anti-spam procedures. Proactive steps like blocking known phishing sites to prevent them from reaching clients are vital.
Enable automatic windows update
To keep your system patched against vulnerabilities, it is advisable to enable automatic windows update. Downloading Microsoft updates and also installing patches from other software manufacturers as soon as they become available.
Take extreme care when engaging peer – to – peer (P2P) file sharing
Peer-to-peer file sharing is increasingly becoming the domain of Trojans. Take internet security precautions like the ones you take when downloading emails anytime you download shared files. Some file extensions such as .exe, Ink, .scr, .bat, .vbs, .cmd, .bin and lso .dll should be avoided altogether.
Be careful when opening attachments
Your anti-virus software should be configured in such a way that it runs an automatic scan on email and instant message attachments. Your email program must be set in a way that it doesn’t automatically open attachments or automatically render graphics. The preview pane must always be turned off to prevent macros from executing. Finally, never open unsolicited business emails or attachments as they can compromise your internet security.
Always update your browser
Make it a habit of downloading the latest version of your browser. That way, you will be protected as newer versions utilize the latest innovation and technologies to identify and filter out harmful phishing sites.
Ensure your instant messaging applications are configured correctly
To protect yourself from internet security breaches, you should configure your instant messaging applications the right way so that it doesn’t open automatically you fire up your computer. It is also advisable to disconnect your DSL or Modem whenever you are not using them.
Take internet security precautions for cellphone, PDA, and Wi-Fi devices
Smartphone security is a topic in its entirety. In brief, Smartphones have revolutionized the way we access information and also the way we buy. While more and more people have opted to transact online, and specifically through smartphones, hackers have turned their focus on mobile devices.
Organizations that allow workers to access the organization’s systems and data through mobile devices have become a target for cybercriminals. Good news is that there are anti-virus software solutions available for cell phones, PDAs and Wi-Fi devices that work to improve internet security for your handheld devices.
Check the legitimacy of every site before you log on it
The SSL certificates have made it easier to identify a secure website. You can easily check out whether the website you intend to go to is secure by the use of SSL HTTPS cues such as a padlock icon or a green address bar. Softwares such as eBaysAccountGuard or ScamBlocker from Earthlink can automatically check a sites’ legitimacy before you visit.
Regularly back up your site to improve your internet security
Finally, you should always make sure to back up your important data so that in the event you suffer an attack; you can easily recover your all-important data.
Importance of good passwords
Strong Passwords play a significant role in any meaningful internet security strategy. They help in securing our online accounts such as email accounts, credit card accounts, online forum accounts, social media accounts and much more. Many online users have very poor passwords; they are prone to using easy passwords that they can easily remember across several platforms.
Online users consider passwords to be a nuisance and so when requested to come up with Passwords for their account, they forget that the password is the first line of their internet security and so they get over it quickly by using their maiden names, dates of birth, and names of their spouses or even kids.
Such approach to password internet security makes online users susceptible to having their information hacked because hackers can easily guess their passwords, gain access to their accounts and wreak all kinds of havoc. Before we give you some sound password advice, we’d better let you in on how a hacker can figure out your password.
How can Hackers Break Your Password?
In this method, the attacker attempts to gain access to a user’s account by guessing repeatedly possible password phrases that are likely to go through such as the name of the user’s kids, former schools, girlfriend, and date of birth and so on.
Here, the attacker attempts to beat the authentication mechanism by trying to determine the passphrase by entering every word in the dictionary until they can figure out the one that was used.
Someone at home or work can gain access to your password by seeing it attached on the keyboard or monitor of your computer. They can, later on, use the password to gain access to your data.
Brute force attacks
Brute force is where the attackers try every key combination until they get the correct password. A brute force attack usually takes a long time depending on the level of encryption used. Many internet security systems are programmed to allow the user to make only 3 to four attempts after which they are either locked out of the system or denied any further attempts for a set amount of time.
Enhance your internet security with an excellent password
- A strong password should be easy to remember so that you are not tempted to write it down
- A strong password should consist a minimum of 8 characters but the longer, the better
- Should contain a mixture of characters. You can use a combination of uppercase letters, lower case letters, one number or two and at least one or more special characters such as 1, @, &,$,#
Avoid the Following while Creating Passwords
- Names of any kind. Desist from using your maiden name, your spouse’s name, a pets name or any proper number.
- Use of personal information such as your phone numbers, license plate numbers, birthdays. All information that attackers can easily guess should be avoided. You should also not use your sensitive information such as your social security number, credit card number or ATM PIN numbers.
- Words found in the dictionary should also be avoided. The same goes for words found in a foreign language dictionary.
- Sequences, as well as repeated characters such as 12345 or 33333, should be avoided as they are easy to guess.
Other excellent password internet security practices
- Some users believe that a good password is one that is difficult to remember. The problem is that they end up breaking the first law on safety of passwords – not writing the password down. Avoid writing your passwords on sticky and put it on your keyboard or monitor.
- Don’t share your password with anyone
- Avoid using the same password across several sites
- Make sure to change your password periodically. The more the password is important, the more you should change it
- It is a good safety practice to always change the default system password immediately at your first time login.
- Having a second layered password
Many systems and online portals have come up with an added layer of internet security in the name of Two-Step Verification also referred to as Two-Factor Authentication whereby after you enter your password, a one-time code is sent to your mobile device. You must key in the code to log in.
Diceware is a methodology of providing passwords and other cryptographic variables with the use of ordinary dice as a random number generator. The dice are used to select words at random from a special list called the Diceware Word List.
How to generate strong internet security passwords using Diceware
The use of Diceware requires you to have one or more dice.
Start by downloading the complete Diceware list and save it on your computer
Decide how many words you want in your passphrase. We recommend a minimum of six words passphrase for file encryption and wireless security and between seven and nine-word paraphrase for operations such as disk encryption.
Roll the dice and write the results on paper. It is advisable to write the number in groups of five. You can roll several dice at a time but in such a case, read the dice from left to right.
You should look up each five digit number from the list and find the word next to it.
After you complete, the words that you found become your new passphrase. You can memorize it and destroy the piece of paper or keep it in a safe.
Preventing identity theft and fraud boosts your internet security
What Is identity theft?
Identity theft involves the fraudulent obtaining and use of a person’s identifying information with the purpose of pretending to be them for financial gain. An Identity thief can use your private information to file taxes, apply for credit or even get medical services.
The actions of an identity thief can hurt your internet security including the loss of money, being prosecuted for crimes that you didn’t commit, getting hounded for debts you never incurred, receiving improper medical care as a result of your medical records getting distorted among other awful consequences.
Identity thieves and how they operate
Identity thieves steal a victim’s information and use it in fraudulent ways that include:
- Gaining access to the victim’s bank accounts, credit card accounts, or brokerage accounts
- Opening new bank accounts in the name of the victim
- Using the victim’s name to open new credit card accounts
- Using the victim’s credit card to pay for utilities such as electricity bills
- Taking out loans such as car loans in a victim’s name
- Obtaining medical services using the victim’s health insurance which resultsto the corrupting of the victim’s medical records
- Committing crimes while impersonating the victim which may lead to the criminal prosecution of the victim
- Purchasing or renting property in a victim’s name
- Buying of smartphones as well as smartphone plans in a victim’s name
- And more!
7 Ways to avoid identity theft and enhance your internet security
Use strong security software for your computer and smartphone. Also, make sure to install updates for your operating system.
Use strong passwords. Weak passwords give identity thieves an easy time. It is advisable to come up with a password of more than eight characters consisting of lower and upper case letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid the use of your personal information when creating a password as well as the use of one password across several platforms.
Learn how to identify spams and scams. One of the ways to avoid phishing is to never click on links that are sent to you. Even if the link seems legit and has the logos of your bank and knows your name, it may still be mocked up. The best way is to avoid the link and search the website yourself.
Review your credit scores. A credit score can help you to find out whether there are new loans, new credit cards or any other transactions that you are not aware. Should you discover unauthorized transactions, you should take immediate steps to terminate them and have the same investigated.
Credit card Freezing. When you freeze your credit, criminals will not be able to use your identity to open new lines of credit as they will be required to give additional information. You can temporarily lift the credit freeze when you seek credit.
Use trusted websites when making a purchase. It is a requirement of the PCI (Payment Card Industry) for all sites that require sensitive information from visitors to use proper encryption such as SSL certificates. An SSL certificate secures the user’s information by encrypting the connection. An SSL secured website is easily identifiable by a lock icon or green address bar. You can also conduct background internet security checks and customer reviews to establish whether a particular site is legit.
Stay vigilant. Look out for common signs of identity theft such as:
i.) Missing bills. An identity thief may hijack your bills or change your mailing address to conceal a crime
ii.) Receiving new credit cards that you never applied for
iii.) Being subjected to high-interest rates or the denial of credit approval
iv.) Receiving notices and calls about due bills that you are not aware of
v.) Credit report with false information such as your name, social security number, an address of employer.
Risks associated with wireless networks and hotspots
Wireless networks and hot spots have revolutionized the way we do things. We can read and send messages from anywhere provided there is a 3G or 4G network coverage. However, using the public Wi-Fi network to carry out sensitive transactions such as online banking might be dangerous to your internet security. The open nature of the network makes it a major target for snoopers. The network may be compromised, and in the worst case scenario, the hotspot itself may be malicious.
Internet security risks associated with Wi-Fi
If your wireless router is not secure, unauthorized persons within the range can access it and do the following:
- Consume your bandwidth thus affecting the speed of your internet connection
- Take up you’re paid for download allowance from your ISP
- Use your connection to download inappropriate material traceable to your computer but not theirs
- Access all your sensitive information that you send as well as receive while online
Safe use of wireless networks
- Use a secure VPN service to encrypt your data while on public Wi-Fi
- Use only renowned commercial hotspot providers
- Avoid the sending or receiving of private information over public Wi-Fi especially when visiting unsecured websites
- Always make sure that a strong anti-virus/ antispyware and firewall is running before the use of public Wi-Fi
- Select “public network” Wi-Fi option in windows. The selection is vital for purposes of locking down the connection to ensure Windows does not share any sensitive data with other devices on the local network
- Use encrypted websites when accessing information on public Wi-Fi. The HTTPS Everywhere browser extension can be helpful in directing you to encrypted pages to improve your internet security.
Use the Best VPN service to safeguard your internet security
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are excellent anonymity tools for providing security and protecting your privacy while online.
A VPN will among other things:
Guarantee you security by hiding your online activity from snoopers
Enable you to access geo-restricted content by “geo-spoofing” your location
Help you evade censorship
Protect your valuable data from hackers while on unsecured public Wi-Fi
However, not every other VPN service will give you the above benefits. And so, we’ve decided to list for you the 5 Best VPN Services.