The internet is no longer just a place to read the news and look at cat pictures. It contains many of the most personal, private, and confidential elements of our lives, including our shopping habits, the things we discuss with our friends, and even our health information.
With this increased reliance on computers and the internet, it has become more important than ever for us to take steps to protect our identity, data, and finances. The old (and flawed) phrase of “Well, I have nothing to hide” simply does not wash in 2021; it’s not about “hiding” but ensuring we protect the things that are most precious to us in the digital space to the same degree that we do in the physical world.
Here are some of the most important items in your toolbox for protecting yourself online.
Firewall and Antivirus
One of the first lines of defense in protecting yourself online is ensuring you have adequate security software on your computer. In years gone by, this meant buying a third-party firewall and antivirus application, but Microsoft’s Windows Defender is now built-in to Windows 10 and is actually pretty decent.
If you don’t have Windows 10 or you’d prefer to use something else, just make sure it remains up-to-date, has active protection switched on, and runs regular scans of your computer.
Passwords have been one of the main ways for us to prevent unauthorised access to computer systems for most of the last 60 years or so. However, hardware has become much more powerful, making it easy for hackers to guess your password in a matter of seconds.
That’s why it’s important to use password best practice, which includes having a unique one for each website, making them greater in length, and not using single words.
The number varies, but most people now recommend creating a password that is at least 12-16 characters long and that combines upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Remembering hundreds of unique ones is difficult though, so using a password manager is an invaluable tool in your fight for internet security.
Unfortunately, strong passwords still aren’t enough to keep you protected since a keylogger, phishing attack, or data leak could expose it to someone with unsavoury intentions. This is where two-factor security comes in.
It turns your smartphone or a keyfob into a security key that generates a unique code every time you want to sign in to your account. The codes can only be used once so even if a keylogger recorded what you had entered, it wouldn’t be possible to use it again.
There are several types of two-factor security available, and different companies have chosen different ways to deploy them. For example, PokerStars Casino has opted for the RSA Security Token, while Microsoft has been encouraging its customers to embrace FIDO2 security keys. Many other companies, including Google, Amazon, and Epic Games have embraced the open-source Google Authenticator.
VPNs were once just a tool for large businesses to allow their employees to connect to a corporate network when out and about. However, today, they’re also used as a tool for masking your internet traffic.
If you spend any time on YouTube at the moment, you will almost certainly have seen ads and sponsored segments of videos that talk about some of the leading VPN providers. They promise to encrypt your internet traffic so that others can’t see it, leaving you to browse the net in complete privacy.
This isn’t strictly true as a VPN still has to decrypt your traffic at the end of the “tunnel”. However, it should mean that whenever you’re using someone else’s internet connection (like in an airport or coffee shop), you will be protected from other people trying to intercept your connection and see what you’re doing.
There is no single silver bullet for internet security. Instead, it requires a combination of different tools that add layer upon layer of protection. The more layers you have, the safer you will be.