Given some of the headlines you see in the news, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the second you go online thieves will be lining up to steal your data. That’s not quite true, obviously, but the online threat is very real.
In the UK for example, the inclusion of cybercrime figures for the first time in official crime statistics resulted in the number of recorded offenses nearly doubling. Figures from Symantec suggest that over 300 million new pieces of malware were created and released over the last year or so. Symantec’s report also indicated that ransomware attacks – where cyber criminals demand payment for releasing data or systems they have targeted – rose 113% during 2014.
There are ways you can protect yourself online. Most of the basic steps you can take are already well known, so there’s not much point in going into them in great detail here. These basic safety tips include:
- Use antivirus software and make sure it’s always up to date
- Keep all software such as applications up to date – the best way to do this is with automatic updates
- Never use the same password for more than one site
- Make sure you password is a non-dictionary word and contains letters, numbers, symbols and upper and lower case letters
- Be careful about clicking links in emails or on social media sites – make sure you’re taken to the right website, and if you’re not sure simply type the address in manually
- Be careful doing anything involving sensitive or financial information over unsecured, public Wi-Fi – this includes online shopping or online banking.
Right, so that’s some of the easier stuff out of the way. If you’re doing all of the above, there’s a good chance you’re pretty secure online already. But there is always more you can do.
Here’s a selection of ways you can improve your online security:
Use two-factor authentication
2FA is a simple but effective way of adding another security layer to your online accounts. Most big online services offer it these days, ranging from Google to Twitter to Facebook and, most recently, Amazon. 2FA means that whenever you log-in to your account, a one-time code is sent to your mobile device. Without it, you won’t be able to access your account. That means if anyone has your username and password combination, they won’t be able to get any further than the log-in page.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a must when using public Wi-Fi. Free public Wi-Fi is notoriously insecure and anyone with a little bit of tech know-how can intercept your data while you’re working at your favourite coffee shop or bar. Using a VPN means all traffic will be encrypted, making it much more difficult for anyone to access your data. There are plenty of free and low-cost VPNs out there, and many offer mobile options as well. That’s handy if you want to connect an iPad or smartphone to a public Wi-Fi network.
Protect your home Wi-Fi network
You may think your home connection is a safe refuge from the world of cyber criminals but that’s not the case. Many people don’t ever change the default settings that are enabled when the wireless network is set up. It’s important to change these settings, as the default settings for routers can often be found via a simple Google search.
Fear not! Some of the steps you can take at home include changing the network ID password, adding encryption (WPA2 is the best to go for), changing the name of the router and updating the firmware. Another key step is to check what devices are connected to your home Wi-Fi network. That way you can make sure there are no unauthorised devices on the network. There are plenty of guides online that will help you make the changes. And it’s important to note that the changes are much easier to make than it may appear.
Other security features worth considering include using a password manager. These are great from an ease-of-use perspective as they will automatically generate a unique, strong password for each website you use. That means you won’t have to think of a password yourself, which rules out re-using the same password or having to write down the new one. The drawback, of course, it that you’re trusting all your passwords to a single service.
You can also think about making sure websites don’t store your payment information when you buy something. It may seem like a drag to have to type in your card information every time you want to buy something but it does mean that, if the retailer suffers a data breach, your financial information will remain secure.
Ultimately, there is no way to completely secure your online activities but following these steps will certainly help. One thing I haven’t mentioned: common sense. Be careful about the links you click, the website you visit, and the personal information you give out online and you will be able to sleep a little easier.