Computers / Tips and Solutions

General Tips for Online Security and Privacy

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We spend a lot of our time online browsing Facebook, tweeting Tweets, snapping Snaps, and posting selfies on Instagram. And that’s not all. We also rely on emails, online shopping, banking, and plenty of other services and websites. What this means is that your information is hardly yours anymore. Sure, the sites you visit can claim they’re safe and protected, but how much trust do you place in them? Even massive multi-million dollar companies have been breached and had data stolen, so what makes you think yours is safe? The truth is, none of it is safe. I’m not telling you to set up shop in the woods and live off the grid, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your best to limit what gets out there. Instead, here are a few tips to keep your private stuff private.

Common Sense is Not So Common

Watch where and what you type in public. See that creepy man peering over your shoulder? He’s watching you enter your password. Sometimes the train might not be the best place to log into your bank account. Pick a better place and time to access sensitive information, and if you must, consider getting a privacy filter.

3M Privacy Filter Screen for MacBook Pro 15" with Retina Display

Watch what you install. Most viruses and malware enter your system via downloaded software from sketchy sites. You know the ones that have like five “Download” buttons on the page so you can’t tell which one is the right one? Yeah, stay away from those. Get your software from the developer’s site or from more trusted sources.

Be wary of attachments and links. Just like the way you wouldn’t open the door for a stranger, don’t open attachments and links carelessly, some of which might even come from close friends, family, and coworkers. Use your best to judgement here because A) it might be from a fake account or B) they might have been infected with malware.

Don’t visit phishy sites. If you happened to click a suspicious link you might be redirected to a website that looks familiar, say Facebook. Everything looks to be in place, all aside from that extra “o” in “Faceboook.” While some people may miss it at first, fake websites and email accounts are everywhere. Next time, put your cursor over a link to see where it really goes. (Please note that this method is not foolproof and there are ways of circumventing it.) Also, be extra cautious of shortened links e.g. https://goo.gl/vRMOZ5 (It’s safe, trust me!)

Lock it up. Lock your smartphone, laptop, desktop, and other devices you have with whatever security system is built in. Fingerprint reader, facial recognition, eyeball scan, password, you name it. If it has some form of security, use it so others can’t access your devices easily.

Don’t plug that in. Have you ever found a flash drive on the floor and plugged it into your computer to see what’s on there? Don’t do that. You don’t know what’s in it, and you don’t want your system to be the lab rat for whatever is. Compromising your system isn’t worth someone’s homework or vacation photos.

Browse Safely

Private Browsing Browsing in Private/Incognito mode won’t store your browser history, cookies, or search history after closing all the tabs and windows; however, it won’t hide your browsing from your employer, Internet service provider, or the websites you visit. If you share a computer with others, private browsing can come in handy when you’re trying to plan a surprise or buy a gift.

HTTPS HTTPS is a protocol for secure communications. Hit F6 on your browser right now and check if the start of the website has the letters “https.” If it does, good, and if it doesn’t, your browser should have automatically warned you that you’re at an unsafe page before it even loads.

Social Network Sharing Social media platforms are everywhere, everyone uses them, and almost every website has sharing features built in. Clicking on the share button will bring you to a login page, where you’ll be asked to allow access to your information or for permission to post things on your behalf. Tread carefully and be sure to read what you’re accepting. Decline or uncheck anything necessary. Or you know, just copy and paste to share the url.

VPN VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. With a VPN, your data will more secure. For instance, your IP address can be replaced with another one, meaning you can live in New York, but appear to be in Amsterdam, San Francisco, and so on. Next up, it provides advanced encryption protocols so all traffic is protected, and your data secure. There are plenty of VPN providers so you’ll have to do some research.

Adblocker Hate ads? Well, then, you should install an adblocker plug-in for your browser. Not only does it remove annoying popups and embedded ads, but it also reduces loading times by preventing ads and trackers from even loading.

Disable Microsoft Silverlight, Java, and Flash These three common browser plug-ins have been the targets for malicious attacks. Some websites will attempt to install an exploit kit onto people’s devices to look for software vulnerabilities within. Remove the door and they won’t be able to enter (to some degree, at least). Certain sites will require these plug-ins to function, such as Hulu and Pandora, so use your best judgement here.

Stop Being Lazy

Password Management If you’re on your fifth attempt at entering your password and it’s still wrong, I feel your pain. Password requirements are ridiculous, demanding at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, a number, a symbol, an element from the periodic table, a type of cheese, and whatever. Obviously, you don’t want to use similar or easily memorable passwords. Consider using a password management software or app, or keep it old school with a leather-bound journal.

Active Monitoring Everyone’s a bit lazy and forgetful sometimes. Stay on the ball and you’ll do just fine. Check your credit card statements, bills, and everything. Don’t let carelessness rob you of private information and hard-earned money. Since everything can be linked nowadays, your bank can even text you when your credit card is used.

2-Factor Authentication If the website or service you’re using has 2-factor authentication, enable it. With it on, you’ll have to enter in a secondary code after your password when logging in. This code is usually sent to the phone number of your choice. Chances are whoever is trying to log into your Gmail account in Croatia won’t have your phone, too (I hope).

Update and Back Up Software updates are important to keep everything up to date. Whether it be new features or security enhancements, there’s usually some reason why a new version is being pushed. On top of that, back up your drives and info so you’ll have an extra copy around in case things happen.

Encryption You can encrypt many things from emails to files, folders, and even your wireless network. This extra layer of security makes it much harder for people to access your data. Never leave your wireless network open. Also, if you’re encrypting files in Windows, make sure to back up your encryption key so you don’t lose access to the them.

Antivirus Antivirus exists for a reason and you should use it. Most Windows systems are already protected by Windows Defender, which might be good enough. Otherwise, you can consider third-party software both free and paid, such as McAfee, Bitdefender, ESET NOD32, and so on.

Multiple Emails Most of you might already do this, but if you don’t, you should. Make multiple email accounts for different things. One might be for serious stuff like online banking and such, while others can be used for your daily subscription to cat facts. Don’t carry all your eggs in one basket, regardless of how organized you can be because if it’s breached, everything is game.

Permissions How many apps do you have on your phone? When installing them, did you read over what permissions you granted them? There’s no reason why “Cat Facts Daily” needs access to your camera, microphone, and location. If it looks strange to you, then disable it or uninstall the app.

Additional Tips

Avoid Public Wi-Fi A lot of free public Wi-Fi hotspots are sprouting up around town, and while it may be tempting, you should reconsider using them. These networks are often unprotected and an experienced hacker can easily access your phone, tablet, or laptop. If you must, then go for it, but remember to leave and forget the network once you’re done so your device won’t automatically connect to it when it’s within reach.

Security Locks As opposed to software locks, security locks are made to protect your device from theft and accidental damage. Some laptops will have built-in lock slots, or you can just as easily store your devices in a bag and lock that. Whatever the method is, just make sure there’s some sort of protection for your stuff.

Tape Your Webcam As ridiculous as this sounds, even Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and James Comey the Director of the FBI, are doing it. Hackers can turn on a camera without switching on its light so you won’t even know you’re being watched. Maybe you can disable the camera within the system, but that doesn’t stop hackers from re-enabling it. So, your best line of defense? Tape. (Applies to SmartTVs, as well.)

2 Comments

Google "Host Blocking Files". The files redirect maliciaos web sites and spammers from accessing their website. Modifying the host file in recommended for the technically savvy and the later versions of Windows (7 and up) make it extremely difficult to update.

Great tips. When it comes to VPNs, people should avoid free ones at all costs. Paid VPN services like ExpressVPN, Pure and Private Internet offer stronger security settings and typically faster servers.

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