Today, cybercrime has gone 3D. There so many avenues to invade an online computer. Any ordinary person who is determined to compromise your online security would surely do it if they have the necessary knowledge and skills.
However, the good news is that there are simple steps you can take to make it as difficult as possible for a hacker to infiltrate your system.
One secret you need to know is that hackers are always present online, continuously scanning the world for vulnerable systems. They simply write a little code or script and release it online to scan through every IP address it comes across for vulnerabilities.
Should they discover your system is vulnerable, they will launch an attack. On the other hand, if there aren’t any vulnerabilities on your system, they simply proceed to the next computer with an online connection.
In this article, we will explore 11 credible measures that can protect you from being hacked online. The more you implement best practices like these, the lesser the chances of being hacked.
- Use secure passwords.
Password cracking is one of the oldest strategies used by hackers to gain access to an online system. In fact, some password scavengers are remarkably successful for most cyber attacks.
A demonstrative case in point is when Russian hackers were able to steal 1.2 billion usernames and passwords a few years ago. Perhaps you have also heard about a vulnerability called Heartbleed that was found to expose users’ data on websites.
While there’s no such thing as an unbreakable password, in most cases, password-related hacks are as a result of our own fault.
Using passwords that are too simple to guess or reusing passwords on multiple websites—so if a hacker has access to one password, they have access to other accounts too—dramatically increases your vulnerability.
The solution here is to use lots of quirky character types on your password code. The more unique symbols (such as %@! $) that your password has, the stronger the password is.
As a result, it would take longer for hackers to guess your credentials, which therefore protects your online security.
Also, it’s important to create unique passwords for each account so that in the event one account is hacked, all vital information is not rendered vulnerable.
- Change your password regularly.
Creating one secure password, but then never bothering to change it, is a bad idea. Hacking technologies continue to evolve and improve over the years, and using the same passwords for an extended period of time puts your account security at risk as follows:
First, by using the same password for longer than a short time, you increase the risk of hackers guessing your password; come to think of it, any person watching you type your password a number of times or trying to guess the same password repeatedly is likely to get it right.
The more you change your password, the longer it will take for hackers to figure it out.
Secondly, hackers tend to make repeated cyber attacks. Once they hack your computer, they will continue monitoring your data and keep stealing information.
If you don’t change your passwords, it is quite difficult to find out whether a stranger has been logging in to your account. Changing passwords every few months reduces the risk that other people will have frequent access to your accounts.
Thirdly, if you ever share your device with other people get rid of old computers without first resetting the hard drive, there is a possibility that new users may have access to your saved passwords, and consequently have access to your accounts. Changing your passwords regularly will render such old passwords unusable to whoever who may be able to access them.
- Install firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware software.
A firewall enacts the role of a security guard. It serves as a barrier between your computer and any other unauthorized program that may try to sneak in through your internet connection. Turning on the firewall permanently on your computer is an excellent way to get notifications should there be any unauthorized efforts to access your system.
Antivirus software can also play a significant role in real-time protection from cyber attacks. Despite the fact that antivirus software programs have been accused of slowing down a computer system, they are unbeatable when it comes to giving your computer a strong line of defense against phishing schemes, malware attacks as well as other threats that may be sourced from the internet.
Furthermore, most advanced antivirus programs provide automatic updates, which are resourceful in protecting your computer from newly developed viruses.
Anti-spyware software, on the other hand, plays a critical role in combating spyware. Spyware software is notorious for collecting personal information without the owner’s approval and redirecting it to a third-party entity. Anti-spyware scans all incoming information to block threats once they’re detected.
- Don’t click on unsolicited or shortened links.
Originally, shortened links were developed purposely to prevent broken URLs from appearing in emails. And over the years, as use of instant messaging (IM) services and social media sites like Twitter have increased, URL shortening tools such as Bitly and TinyURL have grown in popularity by offering a useful utility to internet users.
Unfortunately, although many other applications are useful to legitimate users, fraudsters tend to take advantage of this fact for their own benefit.
URL-shortening services provide hackers with these pros:
- Presents hackers an opportunity to gain access past the spam filters since the domain names of shortened URLs are trusted.
- Obscures the actual website URL hence preventing informed users from properly checking for suspected URLs.
- Makes it easier to redirect internet users to phishing sites that can gather their information.
- It also allows the redirecting of internet users to sites laden with “dropper” programs that can easily download malware.
Clicking on a questionable link, whether they’re in email messages, IM and text messages or tweets, can easily add malicious programs to your system that could allow outside access to sensitive personal information, including bank account details and credit card numbers.
Always approach web links (especially those with shortened URLs) with caution. As a rule, if a link is unsolicited or you are in doubt about the source, the surest way to be safe is avoiding it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Invest in a Virtual Private Network.
To understand why it’s crucial to invest in a VPN (Virtual Private Network), consider how the web itself functions. It is a vast public network where you receive and send data, ranging from general to very sensitive information. A VPN helps one to navigate the internet safely by guarding confidential information such as:
- Payment data, such as credit card or bank routing numbers, used in online transactions that are at risk of getting stolen.
- Authentication details on sensitive accounts such as emails.
- Medical records, such as personal health information, that hackers may collect and resell on the online black market. They can even use that data to create fake insurance accounts that you’ll be billed for.
How a VPN works is simple. It hides your location and creates an encrypted “tunnel” through which all data from your computer is transmitted in order to shield your browsing data from anyone who wants to access your device without your permission.
- Avoid public or open Wi-Fi networks.
The problem with using open Wi-Fi networks is that they are prone to digital eavesdropping. Also, many people have the assumption that public hotspots requiring a password are secure. But, in reality, they are nothing of the sort. You see, if that password is written somewhere on a counter or is being handed out to customers or clients who ask for it, it is not any better than having no password at all.
However, if using public Wi-Fi is your only option, consider finding out the exact details of the network you’re supposed to connect to. This is because hackers sometimes set up their own hotspot, assigning it a name almost matching that of the legitimate network, then waiting for users to take the bait. And as soon as you start browsing, all your communication details (such as logins, emails, payment information, etc.) are collected in real-time by the hacker.
Should you find yourself using an open or public network, remember to have boundaries on the kind of sites you can visit. Checking your social media platforms may be ok, but you should desist from accessing any banking or financial sites until you’re on a private network.
- Use two-factor authentication.
A two-factor authentication (2FA) system makes it much harder for a hacker to access your online accounts. It is recommended for accounts such as emails, social media and the bank. While implementing a 2FA may seem like an extra task that you have to do every time you have access to your account (especially when on a new device), it is worth it.
It will save you the trouble of losing access to your accounts since anyone attempting to sign into your account will have to go through a second layer of security—a code that is sent to your phone via text message.
- Answer security questions with fake answers.
Most sites often use security questions such as “What is your mother’s maiden name” or “What was the name of your first school” and even “What was the name of your hometown” to help you recover your password should you forget it.
These questions can be problematic, though. With social media platforms and sites like Whitepages.com, it’s no longer rocket science to figure out the maiden name of someone’s mother, as well as the schools they went to or even their hometowns. To stay safe, make up fake answers to the most common security questions, so that an attacker can’t easily guess them.
- Check the security of sites.
Just as the name suggests, Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is a part of the standard web protocol that adds a boosted level of security and encryption online. Communications on HTTPS sites are both encrypted and authenticated, making it possible identify malicious operations often referred to as “man-in-the-middle” attacks.
When visiting websites for online banking, shopping or other sensitive transactions, always check to make sure that the web address begins with “https” instead of just “http” and also has a padlock icon in the URL field. These are the indicators that a site is secure, and it uses encryption to scramble your data so that it may not be intercepted by fraudsters.
Also, watch out for sites that have misspellings or even bad grammar in their addresses. They could possibly be malicious copycats of legitimate websites.
- Avoid inserting USB drives into your computer.
Would you open an email attachment from a suspicious source? Opening files on an untrusted USB is similar. While modern computer systems may not run USB drive programs by default, some sophisticated cyber attacks like BadUSB can disguise USB drives as other programs.
So, the next time you come across a random USB drive, don’t be quick to plug it in. It could be full of malware waiting to cause trouble as soon as it is inserted to a device. If you must use one, make sure is it is hardware encrypted.
Alternatively, users may also consider running their own sandboxed environment. It will greatly help prevent damage from a file infector.
- Back up your data.
If you have an experience with rock climbing, you know how important it is to fix redundancies into your anchors, so that should one-part fail, you will have another part as a backup. While in climbing, a backup can save your life itself, when the same concept is applied to your data, a backup can save the treasures of your life online.
For basic backups, you can use the built-in backup setting in Windows (ntbackup.exe). The alternatives you may consider here include:
- Configuring the backup settings manually.
- Setting the backup to be performed automatically or using the Wizard Mode to create and restore backups.
- There are also many other third-party backup programs that may offer you more sophisticated options.
Remember to store a copy of your backup offsite. This way, should you ever get infected by malware, you will still be able to recover a “healthy” system from the backup data.
While nobody wants to think about losing data, cyber attacks conducted by hackers are real. Always take precaution for every activity you do online, including what you click and which sites you visit. Use comprehensive security software, and back up your data on a regular basis.
By taking preventative measures, you will not lose too much sleep over hacking fears.
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