The Internet is a dangerous place
Each time you go online (from any internet enabled device) you increase the risk of identity theft, fraud, viruses & malware, account hacking, malvertising and more.
While you are online ALL of your online activity is being monitored; your location, your searches, visited web sites, purchases, personal interests, shopping habits, holiday plans, books you read, forums you visit and much more are being watched and logged by ISP's, web site owners and government intelligence agencies.
An "invisible web" is at work behind the scenes watching everything you do, collecting untold amounts of personal data. Trackers, beacons, cookies follow you everywhere - allowing marketing companies to serve you "tailored adverts".
While some people are very concerned about their privacy, some don't mind, some are in the middle - yet the vast majority of Internet users aren't aware of the scale of what is being collected about them - and no one knows where the data ends up - a scary thought.
Even if you don't mind people collecting data on you, there are however personal security risks and performance issues which everyone must consider....
A multi-layered approach to security & privacy is required.
Below we have together some tips, information, advice, suggestions and tools which we hope will allow you to make some informed choices and decisions about your "online health".
Viruses and Malware
Surely everyone knows about viruses these days? Suffice to say;
- Install proper Anti Virus software (Sophos provide free software for home users and mobile devices).
- Think before you click ! Never download pirated software, torrents, cracks etc.
- Always just delete unsolicited emails - even if they look like they are from a reputable sender.
- Patch your system & applications. Run Windows Update.
- Un-install Adobe Flash and Java.
- NEVER open attachments in emails
- Periodically run a malware scanner - like Malwarebytes.
- Ransomware is another new threat - check out our tips for reducing risk
Everyone agrees passwords are a real pain in the rear. Most of us have dozens of different combinations of usernames, email ID's, passwords and security questions to remember. The majority of people report using the SAME password everywhere - a huge security risk.
Most websites state STRONG passwords are recommended - we all know by now; don't use names of pets, friends, family, dates of birth etc. and instead choose a random 8-12 characters, random letters, digits, uppercase, lowercase blah blah blah. WAY TOO HARD.
There is a better way. Use a proper Password Manager - such as the truly awesome DASHLANE.
With Dashlane you will never need to remember another password or login ID again ever. Dashlane automatically generates ultra-strong passwords, and will automatically log you on to every website you visit, from any device you are using.
You should change your online passwords regularly, but it's a real chore going through hundreds of sites. Dashlane makes it truly simple, giving you the ability to change ALL of your passwords automatically. With a single click passwords are changed on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Ebay, Youtube, Netflix etc.etc
An additional feature of Dashlane is the ability to "Auto Fill" website forms. No more filling in your name, address, credit card details - Dashlane does it all for you, saving you hours of time a year.
Where websites (and email accounts like Gmail / iCloud) offer it, we also highly recommend enabling "Two Factor Authentication" in addition to using a password. See Google Authenticator or Sophos Authenticator for more information.
Privacy / Website Tracking
To significantly reduce the amount of data being collected about you, and to improve the performance of web page loads we recommend;
- Use an encrypted, no-track search engine such as DuckDuckGo or Startpage and set it as default.
- Install a web browser tracker blocker such as Ghostery.
- Use HTTPS (encrypted) websites where possible - use the HTTPS Everywhere browser plugin to automate this.
- Use "Incognito mode" in Chrome and "Private Window" mode in Firefox
Adverts slow down your browsing experience, use up your mobile data, and can be really annoying when they obscure programs or data on web pages.
*Important* In March 2016 it has been widely reported that adverts have been served on major websites such as the BBC, Forbes, New York Times, Newsweek and Reuters, infecting peoples computers who simply visit the websites.
- Install an Ad Blocking program / Web browser extension such as Ad Block Plus (install it on your mobile too which will reduce your data usage)
Anonymisation (VPN / Proxy)
Whatever you do on the Internet, via fibre, xDSL, 3G or 4G on mobile, the ISP you are connecting through will store a record of all your online activity - where you go, what you do, for how long, to which IP addresses.
Also if you are using a mobile device via a WiFi hotspot do you KNOW who is providing you that WiFi connection? Just because the WiFi ID says its "FREE WIFI", how do you know the hotspot is not being controlled by a hacker, "slurping" your usernames and passwords as you enter them into his hotspot for future use.....
Some countries, Governments, ISP's or other locations or agencies restrict access to parts of the Internet, denying freedom of speech, research and expression, and denying users access to, for example Google Play Store applications because of location.
To gain unrestricted, secure, anonymous access to the Internet;
- Use TOR and TOR Browser (can be a bit technical for novice computer users)
- Install and use an encrypted, anonymous VPN service like PureVPN on all your devices
- For ultimate privacy (or the really paranoid) use "Tails" which leaves zero footprint (very technical)
Social Media is a dual edged sword. Yes, its great to be in contact with friends & family, but it also unintentionally "leaks" a lot of personal information about you, your likes, dislikes, where you are from, where you spend time, the clubs, associations, schools, university and jobs you have had.
Hackers can collate this information building up a picture of your life, and can use it to steal your identity, guess your passwords and ultimately steal money, information and cause reputation damage.
It's very important to use Social Media wisely;
- Enable Two-Factor Authentication for all your accounts
- Ensure all privacy & security settings are reviewed, enabled to the highest levels, restricting access to your information to everyone except your closest contacts..
- Never provide personal information, date of birth, middle name, address, phone number, mobile number etc.
- Think before you post. Status updates, photos, and comments can reveal more about you than you intended to disclose.
- Don't fill in surveys, questionnaires or competitions.
- Be wary of applications like Foursquare & Facebook which pinpoint your precise location when posting - giving thieves information that you aren't at home.
Mobile Device Security
- Install security / anti-virus software (Sophos have a free one - check your mobile appstore)
- Don't install unknown applications
- When installing apps be wary of permissions - why would a weather app need access to your contacts?
- Set your device to lock after a short idle time, and set it to require authentication for unlocking
- Use something stronger than a simple four-digit PIN
- Encrypt your device & any external media / memory expansion card
- Always use a VPN & Password Manager when connecting - especially via unknown WiFi hotspots.
- Install an Ad Blocker which will reduce the amount of data used.