The rise in popularity of computing and internet use have been universally hailed as signs of great progress. Computers and the Internet are now used extensively in both our personal and work lives and have served to both increase our productivity, and expand our capacity for innovation in multiple sectors. However, there is also a dark side to computers and internet use that must be recognized and dealt with. For as with most human developments, if it can be used for good, it can most certainly be used for evil as well.
Computer and internet users today face a plethora of threats such as viruses, identity theft, and phishing attacks, among others. However, the fact remains that most of these threats can be mitigated easily as long as the correct safety procedures are taken. Here a few:
The first line of security should always be the physical security of your device, whether it be a computer or smartphone. There are ways to recover from the loss of data by a software attack but the physical loss of your device may spell the complete loss of any data you may have had on it with little chance of recovery.
Pass-Lock Your Device
To protect your device when its not under your direct supervision you should always lock your device screen with a pass-code. This will serve to prevent people from accessing your device when you’re not present and making any unwanted changes or viewing documents they should not access. It’s well worth the hassle of having to enter the code each time you use your device for the benefit of knowing it cannot be accessed without your permission.
In case your device is ever lost or stolen you may have need of tracking software to locate your device. Such software is available for both smartphones and laptops. Tracking software for PCs such as GadgetTrak, Cerberus for Android devices, and FindMyiPhone for iOS devices, can all help you to track or remotely lock down your software on a stolen or missing device. Setting up these tools is quite simple and may prove the difference in helping you retrieve a missing device.
The vast majority of the security challenges that you will face will come from malicious software designed to compromise your system or your data.
Of Viruses and Worms
At this stage almost everyone using a computer has learned of the dangers of malicious software such as viruses and worms, either first-hand or from the experiences of others. It is good that most people today will seek to install some manner of anti-virus (AV) software on any new machine. Alongside the improvement of some pre-installed options such as Windows Defender PC users today are seemingly well protected.
Most people are already plainly knowledgeable about this but a few admonitions. Keep your AV software and Operating System up-to-date to combat new threats. Scan any new file that is added to your machine from any source (whether the internet or ‘pendrive’) and you should remain safe.
Most of our time on computers today is online and considering the wealth of personal information that we keep there, security should be a topmost consideration. There are many tried and tested strategies that people can and should use to maintain their online security.
Pretty much every online service you sign-up to will ask you to secure your site with a password. For many of these sites, your password is the ONLY layer of protection you have to prevent others from accessing your account. It is thus important to create a strong/complex password that is hard for others to figure out and break.
Why? Well to understand this a short explanation of how some password cracking is done is necessary. One of the simplest tools that a cracker may use to try and figure out your password and break into your account is a dictionary attack. Simply put, a dictionary attack will try to compromise your account by successively trying all the words in a list (e.g. a dictionary) to see if your password matches any. This kind of attack is often successful because many people use basic words for their password. That is why most sites would encourage you to make a strong password that consists of letters, numbers, and symbols that are far harder to crack.
Another admonition is NOT to use the same password for multiple online accounts. The reason for this is simple. You want to ensure that if one of your accounts is breached for some reason it does not threaten the security of your other online accounts. Many people are breached in this way, where an attacker figures out one of their passwords and guesses that the person uses the same password for other accounts. It is advisable to keep different passwords for separate accounts online. Many users use programs such as Last Pass to generate strong passwords and store those passwords for a range of accounts.
This method of security gives you an extra layer of protection by combining a simple SMS to a user upon login to ensure that they are indeed the one logging in to an account. This extra layer of security utilizes the fact that most people have mobile phones and those mobile phones are usually with them. This security system then sends a unique code to the user’s mobile phone which they must enter online to complete the login process. It is a simple system to use and gives you the added benefit of extra security knowing that a hacker would need more than just your password to enter your online account.
Two-Step verification is not available for all web services (GMail is a notable exception). However, I would encourage everyone to enable it and use it wherever possible.
Unfortunately cracking your password is not the only method malicious individuals may use to compromise your online account. It is often the case that when you browse over a public WiFi connection in a place like an internet cafe you may be exposing your data to others on that network if you are not browsing over an HTTPS connection. Standard HTTP does not encrypt your data as it it being transferred over a network so others who are on the same network and who have the necessary knowledge may be able to intercept and read data shared in that manner.
It is actually extremely easy to see whether you are browsing your website over a standard HTTP or an HTTPS connection. Simply look at the URL in the address bar of the website you are on. The address of the website should show either ‘http://’…. or ‘https://…..’. When browsing over an HTTPS connection you may also see a padlock sign in the address bar. Which will confirm you are on a secure connection.
You will not always be using an HTTPS connection when browsing but it is imperative that if you are accessing your e-mail or browsing a social site such as Facebook or Twitter, you are using an HTTPS connection for your own security. Unfortunately many web services do not enforce HTTPS connections as the default so you may have to enter the settings of whatever app it is to enforce HTTPS connections. This is especially true for GMail and YahooMail since neither of those services enforce HTTPS connections. This can be corrected by entering the ‘Settings’ for either of those and selecting the option ‘Use HTTPS Always’.
Finally, one of the more common attacks on the web today are known as ‘phishing’ attacks. These attacks simply consist of scammers setting up fake versions of real websites and services in order to entice you to enter your login information and password (or even bank account number) on that site which they can then record and use for themselves.
Most modern web browsers have in-built protections that will help warn you if you are on an untrusted website. If not you can install browser add-ons such as WOT (Web of Trust) which may help you identify fake websites. However, it is best not to rely on any third-party tool. Your main defense should be your own eyes and wits. Carefully examine the URL of any website you are sent to and do not input any sensitive data unless you are sure you are on the right website. Phishing attacks have been performed on all types of websites, from banking websites to social media pages. There may be no guaranteed method of protection here but your best option will always be to look before you type.
Your online data increases in value each day, and as Ghana and Ghanaians move deeper into the digital age it is important to recognize the dangers of this new digital world and protect yourself accordingly.
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