Take control of your online safety

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If you are reading this, you are one of the 4.66 billion active internet users in the world today who loves the convenience of the internet. Unfortunately though, our convenience comes at a price, and that price is the risks associated with using the internet. Just like average life off the internet, there is always the risk of someone targeting us to steal data and, if successful enough, money and/or identities. Fortunately though, 95% of internet breaches stem from human error, meaning that with proper knowledge of cybersecurity practices, you can work to keep yourself safer online. While there are many things to watch out for online and many practices needed to be as safe as possible, we'll go over the most basic ways to start taking control of your internet safety.

One of the most important things to remember when using the internet is to keep your confidential information confidential. If you wouldn't give the information to a stranger, don't give it out online without knowing for certain you are sharing that information in the proper place. First, check for the lock symbol at the top of your internet browser and ensure that it is locked, meaning it is secure, and check the domain name and ensure it has a "https" and not a "http" web address. Then, make sure that the domain is correct. Many phishing attempts use a method called "typosquatting", which uses similar website names to fool users, such as www.banksofamerica.com or www.bankamerica.com, instead of www.bankofamerica.com. Even if it looks correct, double check, especially if the website involves banking or shopping, because it has been found that 80% of mistyped URL's lead to typosquatting sites. If you receive an email from a company that you are familiar with and possibly use that is asking for information or to have you log in through a link they provide, bypass that link and log in as you normally would or even call the company directly from the number you are familiar with and ensure that they sent you the email before submitting any confidential information.

Another way to help ensure your online safety is having strong passwords. When creating a password, you should never make it something that is easily recognizable. For instance, avoid common phrases, address numbers, names, dates that are important to you but public knowledge like birthdays, anniversaries, etc. It is best to use a password with at least twelve completely random letters, both upper and lowercase, numbers, and special characters, that cannot be easily guessed with a little bit of easily obtained knowledge about you. Not only is it important to have a strong password, you should also change your passwords often and avoid using the same password for every account, this will prevent cyber criminals from being able to gain access to more of your accounts in the event that you do encounter a data breach. For extra security, when possible, use two factor authentication to log into your accounts. Two factor authentication requires not only your password, but a secondary code or pin that is sent to your dedicated device. The requirement of both makes it nearly impossible for hackers to gain entry, as they would need access to the separate device that you have decided to have your two factor authentication code sent to.

Not only can what you do online put you at risk, the way you go online can put you at risk as well. Many of us find ourselves needing to log into free wifi at places other than our homes on occasion, and while it can be done safely, hackers can easily set up fake wifi spots that look like legitimate, safe public spots. You may want to use the free wifi at your local coffee shop or the hotel room you are vacationing in, only to find that there are a few connections with nearly identical names. One will be safe but what if you choose the one set up by the hacker nearby? Your data will be intercepted and potentially used to harm you in some manner, so it is best practice to never log into banking sites or apps or to shop online when logged into wifi sources that are not yours. If you absolutely must use public or untrusted wifi, it is advisable to invest in a VPN, or virtual private network, to disguise your IP address and keep your online activities private and secure. When you are at home, ensure that all of your devices that can be internet connected are secured. This includes all computers, phones, tablets, video game systems, smart televisions, smart watches, and other smart devices. If you can use it to access the internet, it can be vulnerable to attack.

A few other measures to take to prevent your data from being breached is to always use trusted antivirus and antimalware software and keep it up to date. The same goes for your operating system. Hackers are always improving their methods of accessing your data, so the companies who make your software have to constantly improve their defenses against them. To ensure that you always have the latest in their defenses, you need to keep your trusted software up to date. Not only should you keep your software and apps up to date, you need to do the same with your personal files. Regularly create backups of your important files and data to ensure that if you are ever attacked or breached in some way online, you do not potentially lose anything in the process. One of the most common attacks is ransomware, which involves locking a victim's files with encryption and holding them for ransom until money is paid to decrypt their files. This happens to multimillion dollar companies, holding their financial information for ransom, all the way down to the average user having their beloved family photos stolen from them.

These are just a handful of the precautions that you can take to keep yourself safe and following these measures will greatly increase your security online, but the most important thing to remember is that hackers are always trying to stay one step ahead of the users they are trying to attack, so staying up to date on the latest cybersecurity technologies and happenings is necessary as well. To stay safe - stay up to date, stay secure, stay private, and stay suspicious.

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