How To Protect Yourself From Hackers – Best Practices

How To Protect Yourself From Hackers

In today’s digital era, most people have grown accustomed to the fact that vast quantities of their personal data is stored electronically. Our bank accounts can be accessed with just a few clicks, our movements can be tracked by multiple apps via mobile GPS and in some cases, even our health records are stored online. In addition to this, there’s also the data we voluntarily divulge through social media who our friends are, where we like to shop and eat, as well as our favorite music, movies, and art. We sometimes take for granted how much of our personal information is potentially vulnerable to third parties, who may not have the best intentions.

Let’s take the biggest known data breach to date as an example. Between 2013 and 2014 hackers managed to gain access to personal information held by Yahoo! users, affecting over 3 billion accounts. Cybercriminals were able to retrieve names, passwords, phone numbers, dates of birth, as well as security questions and answers in a series of deliberate attacks. This information was later offered for sale on the Dark Web a less-accessible section of the Internet where illegal transactions often take place. While it’s not entirely clear what ended up happening to all of this stolen data, it could have potentially been used to commit identity theft, access bank accounts, and various other forms of fraud.

If huge companies with cybersecurity experts on their payroll can suffer such significant data breaches from hackers, so too can smaller businesses, not to mention less-cautious individuals who are more likely to let their guard down. In this article, we explore some of the ways hackers can gain access to your information and the best practices for keeping them at bay. 

6 Ways To Stay Safe From Hackers

The same way you lock your doors at night and keep wallets out of sight in busy places is the same way you need to take a few security precautions in digital spaces. Here are six ways to stay safe from hackers while using electronic devices:

1. Create strong and unique passwords 

Why it’s important: A password is all that stands between most of your personal data and a malicious hacker, so it’s important to get this security feature right. When large companies experience data breaches, passwords can often fall into the wrong hands. If you’re using the same password for your email, social media, and bank accounts, it puts you at far more risk if one password falls into the wrong hands. 

How to do it:

Firstly, make sure you are using unique passwords for each account and use a password manager to keep track of them.  Additionally, your passwords should be strong so that someone can’t guess them with a little bit of basic knowledge about you. As such, avoid using birth dates or children’s names. Other obvious password choices to avoid include predictable sequences such as “123” or “abcde”. And while it should go without saying, never use the word “password” as a password!

Hackers can use software to run endless combinations of word combinations to try to break into your accounts, so to really ensure your password is secure, you can use the “Bruce Schneier Method”, devised by an American cryptographer of the same name. This method requires you to come up with a random phrase you will remember such as “Chips and ice-cream taste great together” and then transform it into a password using a rule. For example, take the first two letters of each word, which would give you the password “Chanictagrto”. It looks like nonsense to anyone else, but it’s memorable and is a lot more difficult to hack.

2. Protect yourself against phishing attempts 

Why it’s important:

Phishing is the most common hacking method. Nearly everyone has experienced an attempted phishing attack, even if you don’t realize it. Using this method, hackers send very convincing emails or text messages, intending to trick you into handing over account credentials or personal information.

How to do it:

Your email’s spam filter does a pretty good job of filtering out phishing attempts, but even so, a few can often slip through the cracks to your main inbox. If you ever receive an email (even if it looks genuine) from a company requesting a password change, asking you to update your payment information or anything else that’s unexpected, the first thing you should do is look closely at the sender. If it’s a genuine email from a company like Amazon or PayPal, it won’t contain a random string of characters. 

If you receive a link or an attachment from someone who looks like a friend, check with them first if they actually sent it to you. Don’t open any attachment if you’re not sure what it is or who sent it. Furthermore, don’t provide any personal information if you’re not entirely convinced that it’s a genuine company.

3. Protect yourself while browsing 

Why it’s important:

You’re most vulnerable while browsing online. If you accidentally visit a suspicious website, you are at risk of bait and switch attacks, clickjacking, and other forms of malicious hacking attempts. Some sites still use the insecure HTTP protocol (as opposed to HTTPS), which means that hackers can potentially spoof domains and trick you into visiting a fake site. 

How to do it:

Most browsers like Chrome and Firefox now warn users when they are visiting a non-secure HTTP site, but this isn’t always enough to protect you. To make your browsing experience even more secure, you can use browser add-ons to provide extra protection. WOT is a browser extension that runs background safety checks on every website you visit and alerts you from potential threats. It uses community ratings, reviews, and ML algorithms to provide a safety rating for each site, allowing you to make informed choices while you browse. This trust rating can even assist you when making purchases online from unfamiliar companies, to reduce your risk of getting scammed.

4. Install antivirus software 

Why it’s important: Computer viruses still exist, but they’re no longer the main threat faced by your device online. An effective antivirus application prevents attacks from all kinds of malware, including ransomware, which is malicious software that hackers use to forcefully encrypt your computer data. Once your computer is disabled, the hackers demand a ransom fee to release their hold on your system. Antivirus software also prevents trojans (malicious software disguised as something trustworthy) and worms (a type of computer virus that can spread itself without human interaction).  

How to do it:

Use a reputable website such as PCMag or Techradar to compare the antivirus software market. Choose one that is suitable for your particular operating system (OS), whether that’s Microsoft or macOS (yes, Macs can get infected too). You should be looking for something that will protect your device from all kinds of malware spyware, ransomware, adware, and trojans. Genuine antivirus software is not free, so be prepared to pay a subscription. But ultimately, it’s worth it to protect your device and data.   

5. Keep your software up to date

Why it’s important: Have you ever wondered what all those operating system updates actually do? When a company like Microsoft finds a hole in their OS security, the first thing they will do is issue an update to patch up that hole. The same thing applies to every software application you use. If you don’t keep everything updated, your system will be vulnerable to hackers attempting to exploit these security cracks. 

How to do it:

Firstly, stop ignoring update notifications! Most operating systems and applications will automatically check for updates and ask you to restart your system while running. Don’t ignore these requests, even if it seems inconvenient. If you’re not sure whether your Windows OS is due an update, type “updates” in the search bar on the lower left-hand side of your screen and click “check for updates”. If you’re using macOS, click the Apple menu and choose “system preferences”. In this window, choose the “software updates” option and click “upgrade now”. 

Most mobile phones will also notify you when you are due an update, so make sure you keep an eye out.

6. Secure your home network 

Why it’s important:

If someone can gain access to your home WiFi network, then they can potentially exploit any device, which uses that network, including tablets, mobile phones, and computers. This can allow them to install malware, steal data, or hijack your devices for other criminal purposes. 

How to do it:

Your first step should be to change your SSID, which is the name of your router. When your network is installed, it usually comes automatically with a name that indicates the Internet service provider. This can provide clues to potential hackers, as to the make and model of your router and may leave it vulnerable to exploitation. You can change the SSID and network password by logging in to the router’s management interface through your browser (this information should be provided by your internet service provider). 

From inside the router management system, you can also increase the level of encryption to WPA2 or WPA3, which are more secure than older forms of encryption such as WPA and WEP.

 

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