Protect Yourself Online.
We live in an online world, and with social media and online shopping. Chances are a great deal of your information, preferences, etc are already out there for the world to see, which includes hackers, government, etc. If you think about it, pretty much everything about you is stored on a server somewhere online. From your social security number and credit information, to your shopping preferences on websites and the grocery store (you use those points cards for money off fuel, right?). Please keep in mind that there is NOTHING secure out there, and none of this will guarantee your safety online. Our suggestions merely make you a harder target that hopefully the bad guys will bypass, and move on to the lower hanging fruit. We use all of this on a daily basis in the work that we do at Sentinel Intel Group, and you should as well! So, what can we do to mitigate some of this and become more secure? Let’s take a look at how to protect yourself online.
Hackers depend on our habits…
We will talk about several things in this article, but unless you make them a habit, they will not help you. The one thing in online security that hackers can, and do, depend on is the one element that will ALWAYS break down. The human element. You will have to become vigilant when online, and while it may seem tedious and not necessary at times, it will make you a harder target. Hopefully that will be enough to make the hackers and other bad guys pass you by for the easy targets.
Passwords – This has been drilled into all of us for quite a while, but still we use very easily guessed passwords, often not even alpha-numeric with symbols included. You are going to have to start using harder to guess passwords that are longer, and contain multiple letters, numbers, and symbols. To protect yourself online, you need to get away from the obvious passwords that have to do with birthdays, anniversaries, kids ages, etc.
NOTE: Hackers can scrape your timeline and see things you are interested in, and probably 6 times out of 10 your password will contain something that has to do with what you are passionate about. You need to get away from that. Use password generators or go online and look at the easy ways you can memorize hard passwords.
Turn on 2FA – Two factor authentication, or two step verification. Everywhere that allows it, turn this feature on. It may be a pain, but it is another way to keep prying eyes from gaining access to your information. Many services, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Tumblr and more, let you enable it. As well as a password, you will need to prove you have access to a second trusted device, normally a phone, to log on. How you prove that varies: sometimes a text is sent, sometimes you use a special app, sometimes you just hit a notification on your phone.
Update your software – Most programs and apps have an automatic update feature. Use it. Weaknesses in software are found every single day, and hackers leverage that. Patch those holes so they cannot gain a foothold!
PIN Access – If you phone or computer has a feature that allows you to enable a multi-digit access code before it will work, then utilize that!
Hard drive encryption – Learn about it if you don’t understand it and use it. If you are able to encrypt your hard drives, then do it. I put sensitive information on several external hard drives and encrypt them with VeraCrypt.
Connection encryption – Get a good VPN and start using it! A VPN connection means that people on the same network as you are cannot “sniff” or take a peek at your traffic (between you and the server you are talking to). So, when you are at the coffee shop and you want to logon to social media and check your bank account, or do some online shopping at Amazon, make sure and use a VPN to protect yourself online, and preferably a firewall! Caution: When using a VPN, make sure you get a reputable one, which usually means a paid one. I use NordVPN.
NOTE: Also, be aware that when you are using social media, like Twitter, you need to choose a server that is located in the country where you setup your account. For example, if you setup your account in Chile, you would use a VPN server in Chile, if it was in America, make sure and use an American VPN server. If you do not, Twitter will flag your account, and you will be locked out and have to explain yourself, possibly not getting back in at all. Also, be aware that using a VPN in a different country (especially with TOR) will at times bring back results in the language of the country you are using the VPN in.
TOR – Use the TOR onion browser. While not as fancy as others, it gets the job done, and can protect you while you are doing it. The Tor network is a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tor’s users employ this network by connecting through a series of virtual tunnels rather than making a direct connection, thus allowing both organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy. TOR protects against traffic analysis, like a VPN would, but on a much grander scale.
NOTE: Before using TOR you should really understand how it really works. It is very easy to find on the internet. Incidentally, using a VPN and TOR together is possible (see NordVPN, and you can do it manually) and TOR is also the gateway to the Darkweb.
Check URLS and no clicking – This is ESSENTIAL yet so simple as a step to protect yourself online. Make sure you check the URL or address of the sites you are visiting. It is very easy to fake this, which would put you on a bad guys site rather than the one you were intending to go to. Stop clicking on attachments that you do not recognize and pop-up windows as well! All of these will lead to phishing attempts by bad guy, or to take control of your computer (ransomware), or possibly setup software that would make you part of a BOT network that attacks other computers, etc. Also, stay away from peer-to-peer networks and Adobe Flash player, neither of those are secure.
Antivirus and firewalls – Use a trusted antivirus as well as a good firewall. If you do not understand how a firewall operates, then educate yourself, because you need it! Also, use other scanners out there that look for root kits, etc. on your computer. Check out Malware Bytes, and Comodo firewall for starters.
Browsers – Not all browsers are created equal. Some browsers are more secure than others, and many people have particular preferences in their browser. Take a look at what is out there and make the choice that is right for you. Search google for secure browsers and read up!
WRITTEN BY MARK BUDRO, CEO OF SENTINEL INTEL GROUP.