How to protect yourself online

Knowing how to be safe online is very important. When you go online with your computer you are part of a world wide network called the internet. A very large amount of information is on the internet. Unfortunately unwanted online ads and websites can track your web activity such as what you search for without you knowing. Your email can be the target of unwanted spam, and you can download a program with a hidden virus or trojan. Anyone who isn’t familiar with internet security can be a much easier target of this.

There are multiple possible security vulnerabilities when using a computer. Virus protection, firewalls, browser settings, and strong passwords are all examples that play a major role in internet security and all must be properly configured and updated to ensure a secure computer.

Virus protection

Virus protection is an important part of internet security. The paid for versions have more features and offer slightly better protection, however, free versions such as avg can also be very effective. They can detect viruses, trojans, adware, spyware, and keyloggers. Good virus protection will rarely fail, however, a new virus, trojan, or some other form of malware has to be reported, inspected, then updated to the virus protection databas, therefore sometimes leaving a period of vulnerability. This is uncommon with good virus protection but it’s still possible. Aside from that possible flaw, virus protection is still a very important online security measure that should be used with every computer.

The Mac and Linux operating systems are both known to be very secure by default without virus protection. This should not be overlooked because a lot of people claim that Linux or Mac can’t be infected by malware. This is not completely true. Even though it is a little harder to infect a Linux or Mac based computer it is still possible. One of the reasons why they are more secure is because criminals and malicious software makers create malware mainly for Windows operating systems. This is because most people use Windows making it an easier target compared to Linux or Mac based computers.

Firewall

A firewall is a internet security device that filters computer information (packets) entering and leaving the network. A secure firewall can prevent malware such as computer worms from infecting a network. It is always recommended to have a firewall in place. A network without a firewall is very dangerous and can infect the computers on the same network easier.

The user of the firewall can ajust the firewall settings to their liking making it more for less secure. You can control who can connect to the internet, what kind of content can be accessed and what kind of connections can be made. You can only allow certain websites to be accessed and only allow certain websites to access your computer, allow devices on the network to use certain protocols, block or disable ports, also edit keywords to block offensive data from flowing in.

A firewall is often installed inside of the router making it a non separate device. A firewall also comes preinstalled with a operating system. A smartphone doesn’t need a firewall. Android uses .apk files which can’t run in the background without the users permission like .exe files on Windows can.

Virtual private network

Used for privacy and online security. A VPN completely encrypts web traffic and hides the users real ip address, spoofing the users geographical location. Changing the location can allow users to access online content not normally available in their country.

ISPs (internet service providers) can throttle you for using to much bandwidth. For example if you use a video streaming service often the ISP may reduce your bandwidth which may slow down your connection speed and streaming quality. With a VPN the ISP can not throttle you because they see a stream of encrypted data not knowing what service you’re using. Internet activity can not be spied on by ISPs using a VPN.

A VPN is very useful for unprotected Wi-Fi networks such as inside of a cafe of restaurants since the connection is open allowing anybody to spy on the network. VPNs can be free or they can cost a small monthly fee. They are available for desktops, laptops, and smartphones.

Proxy server

A proxy server and a VPN work in a similar way. The difference is a proxy does not encrypt web traffic. When you request information from a website, a proxy server will access the site for you and then send the information back to you from the proxy server. When this happens your ip address and other information is hidden but the content you are viewing is not encrypted.

Browser settings and cookies

An important part of internet security is the browser settings. Which makes sense since the browser is what you use to access the web. Web browsers have simple settings like how to set a home page. They also have more advanced privacy and security settings. All of these settings can be found in any web browser by going to settings or advanced settings. There is usually an option to block users from dangerous websites, pop ups, sending a do not track request when a user visits a site, and deleting browser history.

Let’s talk about cookies. Cookies is a computer term. When a user visits a website, the website will issue a file (cookie) or more to that user. When the user returns to that website, the server will then send the file back to the user which retrieves information such as login information, web activity, and history to remember user preference and to display ads suited to the users interest.

Ecommerce websites and others will issue cookies to users so that when they log into their account the website can identify the device they are using. If somebody logged into their bank account with another browser or device it will ask to verify the account through a sms text or email. It will send you a code that you have to enter on the website to verify that it is you.

Cookies are not classified as malicious but they can be used for malicious purposes. If you don’t have browser security settings in place, tracking cookies from malicious third parties can track your activity and act as spyware. Selling your information and sending ads, spam, and malware to your email. Fortunately you can block third party cookies, block cookies completely, or delete all cookies when the user closes the browser.

Understand that some websites require you to have cookies enabled. Blocking third party cookies is ok and reduces the risk of privacy invasion. Cookies store your login information so if you delete your cookies you will be logged out of all current websites that you’re logged into having to reenter your log in information so be careful. Most sites will have a privacy policy explaining what computer information they collect and what type of cookies that they use. Also make sure that your browser is up to date.

Strong password

A strong password is such a simple step to make sure your account is secure. A weak password for example is ocean. There is something called brute force. Which is a program that allows a computer to generate multiple possible characters, numbers, and words. It may take a while but the weaker the password the easier it makes it for the software to find the right password. A password like *09OceaN^Jul? Is a lot more secure and will take a very long time to crack possibly never having success.

Don’t use the same password twice because if somebody gets the one password then they have the password for other sites that use the same password. As a guideline use a strong password that you can remember or write it down in a very safe spot. Use lower case and capital letters, along with numbers and characters such as ! Or #. Most websites will require email validation to verify the account so that if you forget your password you can have it send to you through email or sms text if you provided a number.

Two step verification

Two step verification is a method that websites use for added security. It’s surprising to say that a lot of people don’t use this feature. It is very helpful and makes a big difference in securing your account. Most websites will have two step verification listed in the settings. After you log into your account you will also be emailed, have a code sent to your mobile number as a text, or sent a approval notification to your phone to verify that it’s you. Also when you forget your password for a site you will be sent a code to verify that it’s you, similar to two step verification.

Supported operating system

Older versions of operating systems such as Windows XP are not supported. Not supported means that they no longer receive security updates which can make them targets for malware infection. Windows XP stopped receiving updates as of 2014. It’s possible to use this OS but recommended not to. If you have Windows XP or any other OS that is no longer supported and you can’t upgrade right away make sure you are carefull online and have all security measures in place.

Malicious websites

Websites can issue malicious cookies used for tracking and spam, as well as infect computers with malware that visit the site. Sometimes the website creator purposely puts malware on the site and other times websites are hacked by other criminals and then infected with malware due to outdated code and low security. If you own any websites it is important to keep them up to date. Also have virus protection, firewalls, browser settings, and other settings in place.

Phishing and email spam

A phishing email is a fake email, text, or pop up that is sent to a user claiming that it is from a legitimate company. It will have a message claiming that your account has been hacked or needs to be updated such as Netflix, PayPal, Twitter, or YouTube. It will most times have a url link back to the website where it falsely asks you to enter your information such as your username and password, bank info, or other information.

Malicious emails also contain links that may redirect you to websites containing malware. If there’s any malware present when you visit the site it can likely infect your computer. A lot of companies will send you an authentic email or notification if they detect that another device has logged into your account so it’s important to determine the differences between real and fake emails. Good email providers will have a spam folder to filter out the unwanted ads and other spam but sometimes a message can get through. The email will contain images and logos to make the email look real.

A lot of phishing emails will also have spelling errors in the email and url. The from section in a fake phishing email can be changed and altered so it’s easy for somebody to think it’s from a legit sender. There are other signs to look out for. If you highlight the url (The link that the email wants you to click on) with your mouse cursor, the bottom left of the browser will display the real url. Often times it will be the wrong address, having spelling errors, or other errors to alter the url.

Everything explained will help you remain alot safer online. Remember to use good judgment, keep everything updated, have good virus protection, use a VPN if you prefer, and have all other security measures in place.

Advertisements

What are browser cookies? 

Website cookies aren’t edible like the ones you bake. They are issued to user’s who visit websites so that the website can remember login information and user browser habits to better display ads so that when you return to a website the website will remember it’s you based off the cookie it issued. Almost all legitimate websites will have a cookie policy explaining how they collect information.

Cookies are usually safe and are not considered malicious. However third party cookies are for the most part unnecessary and can be used for malicious purposes depending on who they were issued by. You can disable third party cookies in browser setting as well as block pop ups as well as other security options. You can send a do not track request if you wish.

Third party cookies can track and then sell your information. This happens with normal cookies to better display ads according to your interests. The bad news is that with third party cookies the ads and spam email you may receive are usually unwanted and can lead to malware infection. For example clicking on a spam email link which can possibly steal your information. In general third party cookies are not needed and can be disabled.

You can clear all your cookies or delete certain cookies as well as browser history and data in your browser settings. Please be aware that clearing cookies will log you out of most websites so make sure you remember each password. You can also disable cookies completely however a lot of the websites that you probably use require cookies to use.

As long as you dont accept third party cookies or go to possibly malicious websites, cookies are relatively safe and are essential for web browsing.