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The past decade has been about the internet wave as more people came online for the first time. From iPhone to Android, phones are making their way into the hands of the masses, paving the way to go online. The first thing many people do in the morning is check their phone for new notifications, particularly news, social media and work-related emails.
Over the years, internet users have developed internet habits which may hamper their general safety. It is essential to identify them and use different techniques to address them before they become the reason for an unfortunate incident which could result in monetary, business or other losses to the user.
Here are some of the most common internet safety ‘bad habits’ an average user includes in their daily schedule.
1. Using the same weak password everywhere
Numerous users are guilty of using the same password across social media, services, and internet banking accounts. Using weak passwords is high-risk and they are easy to guess in brute-force or dictionary hacks.
Avoid using the most common passwords on the internet. Remembering several passwords for various accounts is not easy. Writing them on paper or the back of a diary only adds to the problem.
2. Storing credit/debit card information
When a user shops on a website and goes to the payment page, it asks to save the card information for future transactions. Some do it for convenience, while a few accept the offer without being made aware of the risks involved.
Entering the information for every transaction might seem like a painstaking task, but it is better than losing money from your bank account. Smartphones even allow you to scan your cards to directly fill the number and expiry date without requiring user input.
3. Downloading files from untrusted sources
When looking for a specific file unavailable from official sources, users often look in other places to get what they want—the risky activities this leads to range from visiting sketchy websites to filling out random survey forms. Often, these websites offer fake files filled with adware or viruses. They can harm the device and cause irreparable damage.
4. Checking essential websites on Public Wi-Fi
Everybody loves free Wi-Fi, whether at a local cafe or the airport. The bad news is that publicly-available internet is not the safest. The caveat in using public Wi-Fi is that it is not always secure and may also be from a dangerous source.
It can be set up or snooped on by hackers who want to steal your personal information. They can also plant malicious worms and viruses on your devices.
5. Allowing apps to track location
On launching a newly installed app on a smartphone or a tablet, it asks for permission to track user location. Giving shady apps the right to track the location at all times is risky in terms of the privacy and safety of an individual user. The user should remember the permissions handed to various apps on the device.
6. Adding unknown people on social media
Want more views and likes on your social media posts? Everyone prefers that. But adding random people on SM may do that at the cost of privacy and risk to personal safety. Thieves, stalkers, and people looking to harm you in any way can track your activities based on social media posts.
7. Clicking on harmful links from unsuspecting emails
An email from an unknown person may look genuine to a regular user. It can contain instructions to do specific actions such as visiting the attached links for claiming a prize or viewing an important document. Hackers generally set them up to bombard the user with ads and phishing pages and, on occasions, automatically download harmful files.
8. Downloading attachments from unfamiliar emails
This occurs on a regular basis: a new mail arrives from an unknown email address. It has a few attached files in different formats. The user clicks on them and automatically downloads them to the device. They may contain harmful viruses, worms or other kinds of malware that can steal information and monitor activities. Some harmful programs have the sole purpose of sabotaging the device.
9. Trusting random people on social media
Whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or even Twitter, some people appear to be friendly and come off as trustworthy. We often form a good bond with them over time. Sharing personal information with them can land the user in trouble as nefarious actors prey on innocent social media users for fraud, spying, and blackmailing.
10. Blindly agreeing to terms on software install
When installing new software or applications on the device, we often agree to everything to quickly get over the process. There may be a lot of grey and shady things a user might agree with, such as the consent to collect information, monitor activities, or even install additional software bundled with the setup.
While there is no fool-proof way to stay protected, there are specific measures that a user can apply to stay safe online and avoid all kinds of mishaps.
1. Use complex and unique passwords
Simple, common, and easily guessable passwords can leave the user's account and devices vulnerable. A strong password should be at least eight characters long, contain a combination of alpha-numeric strings, and include special characters.
Users can rely on reliable and trusted password managers to store their credentials. Android and iOS offer similar features that store passwords and automatically fill them on devices. There are gaps in security as auto-filled passwords can be viewed on a few apps, services and when the device lands in the hands of someone else with consent.
2. Update device and apps regularly
New vulnerabilities are discovered in applications and hardware every day. Developers and manufacturers push out security updates to patch these security threats. Always update your device and the apps on board as soon as possible. Microsoft and Apple push out weekly updates for different apps and their operating systems to ensure that no gap in security is left unattended.
3. Take regular backups
Ransomware is more common than we can imagine. One of the most recent with ramifications on a global level was WannaCry, which affected users across almost every country in the world with the estimated loss of over $4 billion. The malware essentially locks up the computer and demands a particular sum of money for unlocking the system.
To avoid giving in to the hackers’ demands in such cases, regularly backup your files, saving considerable money and time.
4. Verify links
Double-check for disparities before visiting a link on social media or in emails from untrusted resources. They can be set up by scammers tricking the users into entering login credentials that can be used to steal money from a bank account or hack a social media account for impersonation.
Verify the links using Google or any trusted search engine. For instance, if the user wants to visit the Bank of England's website for net banking, search for it in the search engine to verify the link.
5. Protect your Wi-Fi network
Have a strong password on your Wi-Fi network to prevent uninvited guests. They can hijack the wireless grid and consequently access the devices connected to the network. All the systems can be infected with worms or trojans and even taken over by the hacker.
6. Use a VPN to connect to the internet
When a user goes online and visits a website, their activity, IP address, and location are exposed to the ISP (Internet Service Provider), a DNS server which acts as the internet's phonebook, helping connect to the right website when a user enters an address. Use a trusted VPN to encrypt all this internet traffic, keeping snoopers and hackers at bay.
7. Turn off Bluetooth
Network security experts have reported a vulnerability in a Bluetooth connection that makes it vulnerable to hacking. Many wireless accessories such as fitness bands, smartwatches, and headphones rely on Bluetooth LE to stay connected. Keep a closed eye on paired devices and do not connect to unknown devices without a valid reason.
Make sure to turn off Bluetooth when it is not connected to a paired device or actively in use with any equipment.
As new technology continues to reach the masses, the threats will go hand in hand and grow exponentially. We should stay ahead of the curve by being aware of the internet habits that make us vulnerable to online threats.
Start by subscribing to a premium VPN if confidential information is exchanged, as free ones are generally unreliable or, in the worst-case scenarios, selling your data to advertisers. Use complex passwords and store them in a trusted manager, with many offering physical keys.
Beware of phishing pages that look like real ones, tricking you into entering the credentials of your personal accounts. Keep all apps and devices updated with the latest patches to stay one step ahead of the potential threats.
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