7 Tips for Online Security

Security in the last few years has changed somewhat. More and more of us find ourselves using social media, file sharing and online messaging sites. We are more mobile than ever before, with our most personal and confidential information held on our smartphones. We carry data around on memory sticks and portable hard drives. We find ourselves accessing the internet from cafes and restaurants, or at the airport while waiting for a connecting flight.

This has become everyday life.

Ask yourself the following questions

  • How secure is your data?
  • How secure are your passwords?
  • Do you use the same password on more than one website?
  • Do you use public wireless or public computers?

The following 7 tips are something I practice and preach to anyone who wants to protect themselves online. I highly suggest you read the following if you are keen to protect your security online.

#1 Ditch Passwords, Use Pass Phrases

What is a pass phrase? A pass phrase is a collection of random words that create a phrase. Instead of having a P@ssw0rd! like that (I bet you read that fine), you would use something like “the green monkey house”. What is the reason for this? See below

Pass Phrases

#2 Never use the same password

Out of all the tips listed here, this would have to be the one most important that I want you to remember. Never, Ever, use the same password on multiple devices or websites.

If your password is ever compromised, it will be very likely that the attacker will have your email address.

Most websites use your email address or social media account to login, so effectively, having your password compromised can expose yourself personally on a wide scale.

As soon as your password is discovered, most hackers will attempt to use this on common sites like Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook and so on, attempting to compromise your security even further.

For myself, I like to categorise my web services like the following:

Banking and high security websites

For these websites, I use a different pass phrase for each, and usually some other form of security such as two factor authentication. Most banking sites support this.

Sites which hold confidential/private information such as Facebook

For these websites I still use a separate pass phrase for each website. Hacking your Facebook account or similar may result in other accounts you have being hacked.

Sites where I might post comments such as news sites

For these websites I might actually use a pass phrase over a number of the sites. If an attacker has this password it doesn’t really impact me at all. It’s more of a inconvenience, and having these accounts exposed will cause very little damage.

It comes down to the level of security you feel comfortable with.

#3 When using public internet use HTTPS

If you’re using public wireless internet, make sure you use secure websites. If the website starts with http, it’s probably not secure. The website should start with https. You can usually just edit the address in your address bar and change http to https. Most websites support this.

What is https? In simple terms, it’s a secure, encrypted connection to the website you are browsing. This means any traffic sent over the network, such as usernames and passwords is encrypted.

Why is this important?

Many people sit on public networks such as public wireless networks ‘sniffing‘ traffic. This means the attacker can watching traffic flowing across the network. If you are not using encrypted sites, your usernames and passwords are sent in clear text, meaning someone sniffing the traffic will see your username and password.

#4 When using public internet, make sure your shares are turned OFF

Like most people, you’ve probably had the need to share something on your computer. Most people forget to turn these shares off. When connecting to a public network, such as public wireless, your shared files can become exposed. If you use Windows 7 or Windows Vista, when connecting to a new network, you will be prompted on your network location. Make sure that you select Public Network if you are connecting to a Public Network.

#5 When using a public computer, be very careful

If you use a public computer in a library or internet cafe, be very careful about what websites you go to and what you type. Key loggers are a form of virus. They can reside on a computer and capture all of the input from the keyboard and send it to a remote location. Internet cafes are a prime target for this sort of activity.

Make sure there is up-to-date Antivirus software running on the computer.

When visiting sensitive sites like Facebook and banking sites, make sure you are using a https connection (see above) and that you make sure that the website does not remember you.

#6 Make sure your Antivirus is up-to-date

Hopefully everyone has Antivirus installed, but just in-case, make sure you have some form of Antivirus that it’s up-to-date. If you cannot afford Antivirus, or don’t want to pay for it, there are many free alternatives. One that I really like and recommend is Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows.

Virus protection is very complex these days, and good Antivirus can save you many hours and a lot of money trying to get malware or a virus removed from your computer.

#7 Make sure your browser is up-to-date

A lot of internet attacks are done through the browser. Old Browsers like Internet Explorer 6 and 7 have many security holes which can be easily exploited. Running an old browser is one of the easiest ways to get your computer infected by malware.

There are many browsers out there. At the time of writing, Internet Explorer 9 is the latest browser by Microsoft and includes many features that will keep you safe online.

You can also download alternative browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Summary

Stay safe. If something looks dodgy, it probably is. A few quick points

  • Use Pass Phrases instead of passwords
  • Never use the same password/pass phrase for different websites
  • When using public internet, use secure websites and ensure your computers shares are turned off
  • When using a public computer, check the installed antivirus is up-to-date
  • Make sure your Antivirus and Browsers are up-to-date
  • Also make sure your operating system is up-to-date (turn on Windows Updates)

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