The Internet can be a great source of knowledge, creativity, and social interactions.
But it can also be a Wild West-like environment where everyone is out to steal your data.
Luckily, there are ways to stay safe online – here are five of them:
1. Avoid Unsecured WiFi like the Plague
Unsecured WiFi is a network that doesn’t use any passwords.
It sounds convenient, but it’s also very dangerous to use.
This is because there’s no encryption to protect your traffic from eavesdropping hackers. A cybercriminal could monitor your online communications, intercept both your data packets and connection requests, and steal info like:
- Your IP address (which reveals what country and city you live in, who your ISP is, and what your ZIP code is)
- Credit card numbers
- Bank account details
- Login credentials
Actually, scratch the “unsecured” part. Even secured networks aren’t 100% reliable. Most of them use WPA2 right now, which you’d think would be safe enough, but you’d be dead wrong.
WPA2 is actually vulnerable to what is known as the KRACK attack. Long story short, there actually is a way to break the encryption protocol, and view “encrypted” data.
WPA3 should fix that problem, but it’s gonna take a while until it sees wide-scale deployment. Also, don’t get too excited – WPA3 apparently has vulnerabilities too.
So yeah, public WiFi just isn’t a good option if you want to stay safe online.
Of course, sometimes you just need to use the web on the go, and not all of us can afford an unlimited or large mobile data plan.
Thankfully, the next tip will help you through this.
2. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
If you don’t want to or can’t use your mobile data all the time, getting a VPN will let you use public WiFi securely.
A VPN is an online service that encrypts your Internet traffic, making it indecipherable to anyone who tries to spy on it.
Even if you use a network with no encryption, a VPN will secure your traffic to stop hackers from stealing your data and stay safe online.
That’s not all, though – VPN encryption also provides you better online security by:
- Preventing government surveillance agencies from keeping tabs on what you do on the Internet
- Making sure your ISP can’t monitor your online browsing – what websites you look up, how much time you spend on them, what files you download, what you type on unencrypted platforms, etc
- Stops ISPs from selling your browsing history to advertisers
- Protects your freedom of speech, allowing you to speak your mind on the web in countries with oppressive regimes, without being in constant fear that the secret police will track you down
Not only that, but VPNs also hide your IP address, so you won’t have to worry about creepy hackers learning personal stuff about you by looking it up.
What’s more, a VPN will stop advertisers from using your IP address to spam you with annoying personalized ads. Sometimes, they can even become dangerous if hackers manage to hijack the ads or the advertising system.
Just make sure you pick the right VPN. Doing that can be hard, though, since there are so many things to consider, research, and compare.
To make things significantly easier, here’s ProPrivacy’s top list of VPNs. The guide has all the info you need to make an informed decision, while cutting through the thick of it.
3. Use Antivirus/Antimalware Protection
We all say we won’t be the kind of person who clicks on malicious links and downloads virus-infected files, but we can only exercise so much caution.
Hackers are getting craftier and craftier at hiding their malware – like using Slack, using stenography to hide malware in WAV audio files, or just hiding malware behind CAPTCHAs. And that’s only scratching the surface – cybercriminal tactics evolve each day, and so does the malware they use.
Just make sure to run regular scans and always keep the software up-to-date.
If you don’t do that, the security program can’t update its library. Without those updates, newer types of malware can slip under the radar. With almost 360,000 malware samples getting released each day, those updates are mandatory if you want to stay safe online.
4. Use a Password Manager
Passwords are one of your data’s main lines of defense against hackers.
Sadly, we don’t seem to take them seriously enough. According to research, 86% of passwords are just garbage.
People are using stuff like “abc123” and “qwerty” to protect sensitive data, when – in reality – their passwords should:
- Alternate lowercase and uppercase letters
- Mix numbers and symbols
- Use space characters if allowed
- Not contain any dictionary words
- Be at least 15 characters long
- Ideally be an acronym for a long phrase
So, you’d end up with something like “Yu$tgt#Sbi20&04.”
Remembering such a password can be hard – plus you’ll need a different one for each and every account.
That’s where password managers come into play. They are software that let you safely store all your passwords in one secure digital vault.
You’ll only need to know one password – a strong master password that you will use to access the software housing the other ones.
Best of all – they have auto-fill features that automatically fill the login fields. That’s great protection from phishing web pages and keylogger malware.
5. Don’t Browse HTTP Websites
Simply put, HTTP websites don’t have the encrypted browser-server connection HTTPS sites do. That means anyone can monitor your sessions, and spy on requests and responses to see exactly what you’re doing.
You also become vulnerable to dangers like MITM attacks and script injections.
So always make sure the website starts with “https” – not “http.” To make things easier, use HTTPS Everywhere. It forces HTTP websites to use HTTPS if possible. If it’s not, HTTPS Everywhere can block the HTTP requests.
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