A Guide: Staying Secure in the Cyber World

We live in a world of technology, a world filled with gizmos and gadgets, most of which are connected to the internet in some way meaning that most things in your life are possible victims of cyber crime, aka hacking, or other associated crimes. We live in a world where it is not inconceivable that sometime over the next decade everything we interact with will be connected via the Internet. As technology grows so too does the volume, and complexity, of cyber threats.

Cyber security and the concepts associated with it may at first thought seem daunting, and too technologically complex to really play a part in your life, “cyber security is the worry of big corporations, and governments, not little-ole me sitting on the sofa playing Candy Crush.” However, I’m here to tell you two things: firstly, that knowing something about cyber security is going to be essential in the world we are moving into, and secondly, it really isn’t that complicated.

Cyberspace is the world technology lives in, and the world you live in when on your computer, tablet, smartphone, or any other device connected to the Internet, and just like any place you visit in the physical world, you’re going to want to know the rules, regulations, and how to stay safe in the cyber world too.

The area you will probably already know about when it comes to risks you take on the Internet is social media, like Facebook and Instagram. These are places were there are constant threats of being deceived and exploited. The root of this threat is in the exposure of personal data, that is the first aspect of cyber security I want to explore.

The increase in devices means an increase in data, and most of that data is collected and then used by advertisers to show you advertisements they think you might like and give you a more personalized experience. This may sound like a positive in that personalization is pleasing, however all this personal data can also be accessed by criminals seeking to exploit you. Criminals can hack into these platforms’ databases and expose what you’re doing (as was seen with the Ashley Madison leaks exposing the mass infidelity of married men), steal your identity, and trick others using your information, or sell your information on the dark web (something you do not want happening). The main thing I would say on this topic is that you should never share any information on these sites that you wouldn’t want your family, friends, or colleagues at work to see, and secondly not to share any information publically that you wouldn’t want a complete stranger to know such as your birthday, home address, or telephone number.

It’s not all bad news though; there is a positive side to this compilation of data. Due to this mass collection of data cyber criminals can be tracked by following their digital trail, and security analysts can use data to predict and prevent attacks.

The following are a few key tips for staying safe online and making sure you are super cyber secure:

  • ALWAYS UPDATE: whenever any of your devices have software or other update you need to update it as soon as you can. I know it sometimes takes a while and can be frustrating to lose the use of your phone for the period while it’s updating, but it will be worth it long term. A lot of the time these updates are to improve the security of your device and data, so the longer you leave it the longer your device could be vulnerable to attacks and hacks.
  • CHOOSE STRONG PASSWORDS (I know you’re probably sick of hearing your teachers, parents, friends etc. telling you this but it’s true): Although it might be annoying to have to spend time typing a long password, or trying to remember which password you used for what log-in, it’s essential you choose passwords with numbers, capital letters, as well as punctuation where possible. In today’s world it is no longer a case of someone sitting down and typing in names of your pets and family into your password box to try to get in. Criminals can now use programs and technologies that scan all of your publicly available information (like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and try to hack your account by using various words that come up regularly like family members, friends’ names, birthdays etc. in a matter of minutes. So in order to be safe, change your passwords regularly, as well as making them nothing to do with your daily life and those close to you.
  • In case of an attack, BACK UP YOUR CONTENT: This can mean emailing important documents and data to yourself regularly, or putting all your content onto an external hard drive weekly, or using cloud storage such as Google Drive or Dropbox. Just make sure that if everything that was on your computer it is lost, you don’t have to panic because it’s all retrievable.
  • This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often people do this, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MACHINE: never leave your device unattended in public, or private settings, never leave it in a class room, office area, or outside, although you may feel you can trust those around you, better safe than sorry, so always have your device with you, or in a safe and secure location at home.
  • USE A SECURE CONNECTION: It may be tempting to connect to public Wifi systems, in the street, on the subway, in Starbucks, however it is important to know that by doing this you are giving everyone else on that network the ability to access your device. Resist the temptation, get a good data plan and use the cell network, or only connect when you’re the only one on the network (which is unlikely).
  • NEVER SAVE YOUR PASSWORDS OR CARD DETAILS: Saving passwords and card details may make logging in and doing online shopping that little bit easier, but is a few minutes extra time really worth someone hacking your accounts and stealing your bank details (taking your money)? It’s easy to do but resist and keep that information private and inaccessible to criminals snooping around for data to steal.
  • Furthermore for bank accounts, ENABLE 2-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION: This way in order to access your accounts not only do you have to put in your password, you also have to put in a code send to your phone or email. This means that the criminal would have to crack your bank login password and would also have to crack your email password to get into your account, or have your phone. 2-factor authentication is a massive headache for cyber criminals.
  • STAY TIDY: Any accounts or apps you haven’t used for over 6 months delete them, it’s less of a cyber footprint to worry about and fewer accounts to keep an eye on and update.
  • Finally, STAY INFORMED, make sure you stay on top of what’s going on in the world of cyber security in terms of staying safe. There is an array of cyber security tips feeds on Twitter and other social media you can follow to stay updated on all the essentials, like @schneierblog or @mikko.

If you only take one thing away from this post it is to be extremely careful about what you post online and assume that everything you do online can be seen by anyone, your friends, family, colleagues, your worst enemy. If whatever you are doing or saying online is not something you would want these people to know about then don’t do or write it. Also keep your webcam covered, a post-it note or piece of paper stuck on with tape will do.

In the world of cyber security, the threat will inevitably get larger as criminals become more experienced and knowledgeable about the technology, but so too will the ways we can prevent attacks. And all this said, the cyber world of the Internet is a beautiful place that enables many wonderful exchanges to happen, so stay safe, stay informed, and don’t worry! You’re on it!