How to Stay Safe Online; Guidelines to keep your data away from Prying Eyes

Staying Safe Online

It is alluring to think that since you are not a big celebrity, politician or a big corporation, you do not need better safety measures to stay safe online as to why would anyone come after you right? This approach is a definite way of losing your important data or personal information.

We live in a digital world where our communications, our work even our banking is done by tapping just a few buttons on a keyboard. In this day and age negligence in cyber security can have very dire consequences in the real world.

However, no need to fall into despair and hopelessness as with a few safety measures you can make yourself secure (if not completely safe) in the cyber world.

Create Strong Passwords

Make sure that you have created strong passwords and if you are still using 123456 as a password then maybe you should think about quitting the internet.

Characteristics of a strong password are;

  • Have 12 minimum characters,
  • Includes Numbers, Symbols, Capital Letters, and Lower-Case Letters, is
  • Not a dictionary word or combination of dictionary words
  • Do not use common substitutions (like replacing letter O with zero).

There are two methods of creating strong and memorable passwords;

  • Combine a personally memorable like “When I got my first pocket money, I was 11 years old” and create a password using initial letters wigmfp$iw11y0.
  • Use a passphrase like combining four random words together to string up a totally incorrect statement like “horseskyflowers”

One last thing to remember is to “Never use a single password for other critical accounts”

Beware of Phishing Messages

Got an exciting new offer in your email or through instant messaging and social media which seems too good to be true? Spoiler Alert! It actually is because chances are it is just a phishing message. The most common medium for phishing is emails, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

The only way to stay safe online from phishing attempts is to be wary of the emails and links you receive and make sure they are from legitimate sources. Following are the signs you should look out for to identify phony email or website:

  • The email urges you to click on a third party link (advice: move your mouse over the link to see the address it will take you to)
  • The email wants you to download a file you were not expecting to receive
  • Misspelled words or poor use of grammar in sentences
  • Unnecessary styling like overuse of italicsbold, and CAPITAL LETTERS
  • Sentences hardly ever make sense

Install a firewall

A firewall’s presence is a must if you are serious about staying safe online. It protects anyone from breaking into your computer, different types of worms, viruses and any outgoing traffic that is originating from a virus infection. There are two kinds of firewalls; hardware, and software.

Hardware firewalls can be bought as a product, and some new routers have now pre-installed hardware firewalls to protect your data while surfing the Internet. They are effective for online protection with little or no configuration, and also they can protect every machine on a local network.

Software firewalls, on the other hand, are installed on your computer, and you can customize it by as you can control its various function and protection features.

Create Two-factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication or Two-step verification makes it difficult for anyone to snoop around your online accounts or gain access to your online credentials. It adds a second level of authentication to an account login, where you cannot just access your account with username and password and can ensure that you’re safe online.

There are three types of Two-factor authentication that are used in combination with the traditional way of accessing account:

  • A PIN number or password sent to your phone or created by a device
  • A number like ATM card, phone or ZIP code
  • Biometric identification through fingerprint or voice print.

Create Backup to protect information

Is your data backed up in several locations or are you also one of those people who cry after spilled milk? One of the biggest contingency plans in staying safe online is to backup all of your files whether it is your favorite playlist or critical work documents. Loss of data is not always due to hard drive failure; rather it can fall prey to user error, thieves, and even various types of nefarious malware.

Creating backup is very easy, just dump all your critical data on an external drive or use the backup option for your Windows or Mac, though external drives are preferred. Also, always backup your data in more than one location so even if two places are compromised, you can still access it.

Encrypting Emails

Are you sending an important email and fear that someone would snoop around your device and invade your privacy? Well with the current situation of cyberspace, don’t rule out this scenario. If you are sending a sensitive document or information through email, consider encrypting it before you press the send button.

There are many programs and tools now available like Thunderbird, eM Client, etc. that can encrypt webmail accounts such as Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo. Also if you really want to stay anonymous, you can try Guerilla Mail and Mailinator as they allow users to quickly send and receive anonymous mail with no implicating sign-up processes or content scanning but they would record your IP address.

Staying Safe while Shopping Online

Shopping online surely is convenient, but it can also open up doors to a number of online scams. Always keep the following points in mind to stay safe online while shopping:

  • Never use a public wifi for online shopping
  • Never buy from a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption i.e. it starts with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://)
  • Never share your CNIC or any personal information like birthdays, work, etc.
  • Make a habit of checking your credit/debit card statements
  • Try safe payment options, or in Pakistan, you can opt for cash on delivery if you are not sure about a service

Watch Wi-Fi connectivity

Your data or network can also be breached through your Wi-Fi connection but don’t panic as you can always take some security measures to ensure that you do not look like an idiot because of a security breach. Firstly, there is no excuse for not using a WPA2 encryption method as all modern clients support it.

Secondly, change your default passwords and also your SSID name as they can give away the nature and maker of the said router. Also, make sure that that your Wi-Fi is not configured as a guest network, and if your router has a built-in firewall, please make sure to utilize it.

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