With a new data breach in the news seemingly every week, it isn’t unreasonable to feel nervous about the range of online threats that are out there. Hackers have wreaked havoc on everyone from British Airways to the NHS, and it starts to make you wonder if it’s even possible to keep your own data and devices hack-free.
The good news for those who are worried, is that many of the breaches that make the news could actually have been prevented by using basic cyber security add-ons that anyone can have. The WannaCry attack on the NHS happened because system software just hadn’t been updated in a while, and plenty of big names have slipped up simply because they weren’t using proper encryption.
If you’re keen to keep things secure online, here are a few of the most straightforward ways to lock down your data and stay hack-free.
The most obvious and the most overlooked defence against cybercriminals is antivirus. People often joke that their laptops are getting slow because they’ve downloaded videos from a dubious website, or are packed full of pop-ups from a link they clicked one day – but how many of us actually take device security truly seriously?
Email hacking, identity theft and spyware are just a few of the risks you accept when you use the internet without antivirus protection. Amusing-but-irritating pop-ups are a sure sign of malware infecting your device, but if the door is left open for one type of malicious software to get in, it’s open to all of them. Installing antivirus takes seconds, and ensures your device is being regularly scanned for suspicious emails, unauthorised file access and malicious apps.
Use a VPN
Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are another user-friendly invention that helps keep your data safe online. Primarily designed for anonymity, allowing you to browse without your activities being tracked, VPNs work by adding a layer of end-to-end encryption to hide your internet activity from prying eyes.
This means that if you visit a spoof website, or a domain that has been breached and is leaking or stealing personal information, your data remains encrypted. The perk of complex encryption is that it’s just about impossible to crack, so even if someone gets their hands on your information, it won’t look like anything other than a random series of letters and numbers – much less something that could be used to empty a bank account or log in to your personal accounts.
Adopt a password manager
Most of us know that using a password like ‘12345678’ or ‘P4ssw0rd’ is a risk, because simple passwords are so easy for someone to either guess or hack using basic software. The problem is, remembering super-secure passwords like ‘q9H56!*fKl34mP#’ is pretty much impossible. When you multiply that enough times to have a password for every email, social media and shopping account you use, it seems so ridiculous it isn’t even worth bothering with.
The easiest way to ensure you’re using security-safe passwords without the risk of forgetting the lot is to adopt the use of a password manager. There are plenty of free options out there, and you’ll only need to remember the password to log into the password manager itself – as far as everything else goes, this kind of app does the hard work for you.
The easiest way to ensure you’re using security-safe passwords without the risk of forgetting the lot is to adopt the use of a password manager.
Stay up to date
When a pop-up appears on your device to say a software update is available, how often does it get snoozed or ignored for a while before eventually being installed? In the case of some smartphone brands, people may actively ignore software updates because of the fear that they will slow down a device.
The problem is, software updates are designed to rectify things like known security vulnerabilities. Equifax’s well-publicised data breach, which exposed the credit card and ID information of more than 140 million people, happened because of one web server with out of date software which lacked a much-needed security patch.
Keeping your software up to date costs nothing and takes minimal time, but is a really important part of ensuring that your data and details stay secure.
Finally, it’s also important to stay up to date with the latest security threats and developments. While more time-consuming than just installing antivirus or a VPN, making a note to regularly look into new security options and to read about notable hacks is a great way to ensure you’re well-informed, and know what necessary steps to take.
Though it’s easy to sit back and relax once you’ve topped up your digital armoury, cyber criminals are developing new tactics all the time. With only a small amount of effort once in a while, you can ensure that you’re one step ahead and don’t become a target.