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The Layman’s Guide to Online Security

Online security does not have to be complicated

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It’s tempting to ignore online security on the grounds that it’s too difficult to learn. If you’re not naturally comfortable with technology, getting the skills you need to protect yourself properly can seem like an uphill battle.

But this is not the case. These days good online security can be achieved by adjusting your daily habits and knowing which tools to use.

The truth is, the increased attention on hacking, privacy issues, and ransomware means online security is a growth industry. That means consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to cybersecurity tools. You just need to know where to look.

According to Pew Research Center study, Americans don’t trust tech companies, government agencies, or corporations to keep their data safe. And for good reason: 64% of American have personally experienced a large data breach.

However, the same study found that few people take basic precautions to adequately protect their accounts and devices.

If you are concerned about online security, but don’t know where to start, this guide is for you. With just a few simple steps, you can rest easy knowing your financial information and personal data is safe.

Everyday Risks and Simple Solutions

  • Keep your Devices Updated

Your tablet, computer, and smartphone store staggering amounts of personal information about you. If you lose your device or it’s hacked, you risk identity theft, financial loss, and even blackmail.

Outdated smartphones, tablets, and computers are more vulnerable to malware, viruses, and other security flaws. When you get a notification that an update is available to your phone or operating system, it’s best to install it as soon as possible.

How does it protect you?

Software vulnerabilities, including security flaws, are fixed in each new update. Updating your smartphone or operating system every time an update is made available is one of the simplest steps you can take your protect your device.

  • Use a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) is an application you can download on your smartphone, tablet or computer.  Long-favoured by the privacy conscious, VPNs are getting mainstream appeal for their ability to keep you safe from common hacking tactics and spying.

For example, public wi-fi networks are beloved by hackers because they are easy to infiltrate. If a criminal is on the same wifi network as you, they can view your online activity, browsing history, account passwords, or even take control of your device. A VPN is the best way to protect yourself from these types of hacking attacks.

How does it protect you?

VPNs redirect your internet traffic through a private server. Your internet traffic includes everything you send and receive online including messages, files, and financial information. When this happens your traffic is encrypted and you get a new IP address, which means your location and identity stay anonymous. Leading VPNs also often built-in antivirus and malware protection as well.

  • Use an Antivirus

One of the most established, and most common forms of cybercrime happens as a result of viruses and malware. In 2018, there were twice as many malware attacks on mobile devices in comparison to 2017. Viruses and Malware are software created for criminal purposes. You can get infected by accidentally clicking on a infected link or by visiting an unsecured website. Malware can also hide in applications and other software you download on your phone or computer.

Malware and viruses can slow your device, steal your information, or spy on you. Ransomware can lock your account or devices until you pay criminals for access. Malware can also take control of your device without you knowing and use it to infect other devices.

How does it protect you?

An antivirus runs in the background and continually scans your system for malicious script. If it notices something out of the ordinary, an antivirus will alert you and run a program to remove the virus from your device.

  • Think twice about app permissions

Mobile applications make life easier but some of the apps we use daily actually leave us open to some pretty scary vulnerabilities. Most mobile applications ask for a set of permissions upon installation. These permissions can be transparent and necessary (for example, a call app needs access to your contact list).

However, use your common sense. If there is no obvious reason why your messaging app needs your geolocation data and access to your gallery – don’t accept the permissions. Get into the habit of checking the ratings and reviews of every app you download. If the app is not recommended by thousands of verified happy customers, maybe think twice about downloading it.

How does it protect you?

This simple change in thinking and behavior can help keep you safe from unscrupulous or incompetent app builders. With just a few minutes you can do your own research and take control of the safety of your devices and accounts.

  • Use a Password Manager

Choosing a good password is an easy, free, and effective way to keep hackers out of your accounts and devices. Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of committing the biggest password mistakes: using the same password for multiple accounts and using a common word, phrase or sequence, such as “Qwerty.

To keep your accounts safe and secure, you should use a unique, complex password or phrase for each one of your accounts. Your passwords should be stored somewhere safely; changing your password frequently leaves you more vulnerable to hacking attacks.

The problem is, most of us have 10s or even 100s of different accounts. It’s almost impossible to keep track of a big list of secure passwords without a password manager.

How does it protect you?

A password manager is an application that generates and stores a complex password each time you need to create a new account. Your password list is stored in an encrypted database. When you need to log in, just click the password manager icon and your password will be entered. If you prefer, you can also refer to the database.

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Online security does not have to be complicated, or the domain of the IT professional. In fact, the best cyber security tools require no existing technical knowledge and can be used cheaply and easily by everyone.

With just the few tips and tweaks above you can keep your accounts and devices away from hackers, prying eyes, and online criminals. Afterall, everyone deserves privacy and safety online.

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