The importance of being safe in the cyber world and some steps to make you secure
“Once you put something on the internet, it is impossible to take it down completely.”
This has never been truer than right now! Today’s cyber world is full of invisible potholes that are waiting for you to trip over. It doesn’t matter whether you are extremely “social” or a rare user, your information can be taken away in a matter of seconds, without you even knowing it happened. We see an ever-increasing number of exploits and the collateral damage is going up exponentially. Thanks to how much we depend on the “Internet,” Cyber criminals can bring any country or organization to its knees in a matter of days.
Hackers and cyber criminals are always working to find ways to get inside your device and then do all sorts of nasty things. No one can boast to be 100% secure. It will be akin to the claims when Titanic was built as the “unsinkable” ship, we all know what happened next. Much like the ship, to think that you are “impenetrable” is borderline foolish. No matter how many layers of protection you have built around your digital life, people will find ways to break in. What we can do is take steps to make sure that those trying to infiltrate will have a tough time doing so.
Before we look at the steps to secure yourself amidst all these, let’s have a look at the recent incidents that reminds us the importance of being safe.
The lengthening tentacles
Intelligence agencies often develop hacks that can infiltrate PC’s and track them. If these tools get into the wrong hands, it can wreak havoc. That is exactly what happened in May of 2017.
A forked version of CIA’s EternalBlue software created for surveillance. Wannacry belonged to a category of exploits known as Ransomware. Once downloaded to a PC it encrypted all the files on a system and then demanded a ransom which was paid via Bitcoin. This was using SMB related vulnerability inside windows. It also had the ability to propagate to all PC’s connected to the same network on its own. This exploit affected around 200000+ systems in over 150 countries.
Related Read: Ransomware: World Reels for Massive Cyber-Attack
A modified version of Petya ransomware that was identified in 2016. It encrypted the Master Boot Record, preventing Windows from booting up. It displayed a message to pay using Bitcoin to have your system restored to working order. The spread and havoc was comparatively less but still massive enough to cause serious panic.
These are just two of the widely-known attacks and there is simply a hell of a lot of ways to hack onto your systems and access your data.
This article discusses protecting yourself on Windows which is on more than 95% of all personal computers out there. The number of Mac and Linux users is too low to warrant targeting them.
If you want to be protected without having to go through all the hassle, you may as well switch to Linux, which is free and inherently more secure. Beware that the user experience is not something casual user will like or love. If you decide to Stick on to Windows, then read on.
Update, Update, Update
This is one thing that we all hear all the time but choose to conveniently ignore. Updating your OS and Software to the latest version, while time-consuming can make a huge difference. In fact, 98% of all the systems that got attacked by the aforementioned ransomwares were on Windows 7, which is two generations behind the latest version. Users on Windows 10 were unaffected as Microsoft patched it in March. Updating your system is only one half of the job, malware can get into user system via anything including the programs you install and use? Unpatched vulnerabilities in this software can let attackers to run wild on your PC.
Adobe flash, which is getting phased out by Adobe is among the most vulnerable pieces of software on Windows and browsers with a staggering 154 RCE vulnerabilities listed so far in 2017 Google Chrome. which is the most used Web browser in the world had around 83 vulnerabilities which allowed remote code execution in 2016. Firefox had around 53 of these loopholes. Photoshop CC, its latest version has around 9 such flaws resulting in arbitrary code execution. Earlier versions are much worse in that respect.
The takeaway is to update your OS/ 3rd party software (at least once in 3 months/ regularly). It doesn’t make you 100 percent secure but goes a long way in making it that much harder for attackers to do their thing.
Use an Antivirus
This is one this that has been debated countless times by techgurus and geeks for eternity. It boils down to your usage habits. If you are a casual user and is rarely online then, you can get away with the built-in solution. If you are the “social” kind of a person then it is better to opt for a third-party solution to keep you secure.
Windows Defender, which is the default option in Windows 10 has got much better than its Windows 7 days. It uses machine learning and advanced analytics to provide user with all the basic protection he or she may ever need. It was even described as the only “well behaving” anti-virus on the market by an Ex-Google developer.
If you prefer decide to go with a third-party solution, you have a great number of products to choose from. Bitdefender and Kaspersky are two vendors who often top the AV comparatives list. They both have different plans on offer with varying number of features. Webroot is another one that is gaining popularity thanks to it being incredibly light on storage and resources. It ditches the signature model of scanning and uses a cloud based solution. It also tops the lab tests.
Change should always start with you before it can affect other people and your life. The same applies to your browsing and general computer usage behaviors. In this world, it is ridiculously easy to get infected and even easier to be tracked. There is a number of things you can do to protect yourself against most of these attacks.
1. Use a Virtual Private Network
VPN’s let you tunnel all your internet traffic through an encrypted, secure and fast network which protects you from being tracked. They also let you unlock region restricted content. There are a multitude of options to pick from including free and paid ones. Tunnel Bear is among the most popular free VPN services which is available on Chrome and Opera. Pure VPN heads the list when it comes to paid options.
2. Stop using pirated software
Pirated software lets you use paid software for free. Pirating means modifying the application files to enable full functionality without paying a dime. This also means they can be the carriers of malware that can break your system before you know it. Use trials or free alternatives if you want to test something and even better pay for it, they deserve it.
3. Know what you are seeing
Web is becoming larger and more secure each day, but still there is way too much vulnerability to ignore. A technology like Adobe Flash extremely susceptible to attacks and has a truck load of loopholes. It is flaws like these that the attackers will exploit to take control of your system. One thing you can do is to understand what technologies the website you visit is using. There are many extensions available to know which technologies are used to run a website like Whatruns which is available on Chrome and Firefox lists all the technologies used by the site.
4. Use HTTPS
HTTPS is the encrypted and secure version of HTTP which encrypts all the connection going through it and ensures you are visiting what you think you are visiting. Not all sites comply with HTTPS, but there are extensions like HTTPS Everywhere that helps you to make almost all sites into HTTPS.
5. Use Ad blockers
Now I am open and supportive to all those genuine content creators out there, but the number of ads that plague websites today is just plain ridiculous. While most of them are harmless, there are certain types of Ads that can be malicious and can cause infections. So, use an Ad blocker if you often visit sites that rely heavily on Ads for revenue. Adblockers are programs that prevent the loading of Advertisements on a website. They reduce the amount of data that needs to be loaded, making browsing faster. The popular one’s are Adblock and Adblock Plus both are available for Chrome and Firefox.
No matter how much you make yourself secure, you are not a 100% secure from attacks. All you can do is to reduce your chance of being attacked and to make that process as hard as possible. It is practically impossible to be fully offline nowadays, so your best option is to make it trickier and harder for the attacker. These steps will help you to do just that. The cyber world is always full of traps; it is your responsibility to keep yourself out of them.