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In the 21st Century, being secure online is becoming a bigger and bigger concern. No longer is internet security reserved for millionaires and politicians – nowadays it’s vital for everyone to be aware of threats to their safety and take steps to stay safe in cyberspace.
The consequences of being too laid-back are well-documented and serious. Now that pretty much everything from banking to politics is conducted online, things can go downhill very quickly if sensitive information falls into the wrong hands (as the U.S. election showed us).
You could also end up with a broken computer, and some particularly shady criminals have even been known to run illegal operations from the laptops of unsuspecting victims.
Fortunately, there are plenty of things that you can do to make your online experience much safer and gain valuable peace of mind. Most of these cost no money at all, and can be done pretty much immediately.
We’ll take you through five quick ways to bolster your cyber defences.
A firewall is your first line of defence against online threats. Without one of these, you run the risk of picking up a virus simply by clicking the wrong link or visiting a rogue website.
You also leave yourself open to data theft, damage to your files, and even having your activity tracked and recorded.
All Windows devices come with a default firewall, although these aren’t the most stringent of defences and it’s highly recommended to install something more advanced. As luck would have it, Avast offer a firewall as part of their package, and it’s highly rated. Check it out here.
Firewalls work by monitoring all traffic moving into and out of your device. This way, they are able to quickly identify any potential risks, and block threats before they can cause you any problems.
While firewalls are a great asset to your digital armoury, they aren’t perfect and occasionally fail. When this happens, it’s important that all of your data isn’t left vulnerable to attack.
To add another layer of defence, get some good anti-virus software. Again, Windows operating systems have this feature built-in, but by their own admission it isn’t very good and should be supplemented with something else.
AVG, owned by Avast, is a highly effective anti-virus program and, perhaps best of all, it’s completely free. You can download it here.
Anti-virus software works by locating threats inside your computer, and notifying you. It can also quarantine any suspicious material and offer to destroy it. These programs also allow you to perform scans of your entire machine – and you should be doing this fairly regularly.
Once you’ve got some reliable anti-virus software, make sure to keep it updated so it can be maximally effective all the time.
Browsers are your portal to the web – but portals tend to work both ways. That’s why internet browsers are a common target for hackers and cyber criminals.
Most of the major browsers work hard to protect their users from threats, with Chrome widely acknowledged to be the safest out there, taking multiple steps to ensure danger is minimised.
However, there is still more you can do to give yourself the best protection possible, and plenty of software exists to make browsers safer.
Add-ons and plug-ins can also weaken your browser and leave you open to threats. Java, for example, is notoriously unsafe. It also isn’t necessary for most online activities these days, so from a security standpoint it may be wise to just remove it.
Another step you can take is to delete your cookies, as these are a prime source of data such as passwords and personal information – things that are highly appealing to opportunistic hackers.
While reliable firewall and anti-virus software should keep you safe when visiting unknown websites, it’s always wise to err on the side of caution.
Some sites are more dangerous than others – such as porn sites and those offering free downloads of media. Avoid these where possible to maximise your safety, or at the very least keep away from the more cheap and suspicious looking ones that are riddled with pop-ups.
While simply browsing can lead to problems, the danger increases exponentially when you start downloading things, so you should be wary of downloading files from sources that you don’t completely trust. Even professional looking sites can be scams, and many ‘trustworthy’ downloading and streaming sites can harbour threats.
When downloading files such as movies and songs, make sure that you’re familiar with the average file size and type. For example, a 2-hour long film in high definition isn’t going to be 5MB in size, and likewise a 3-minute song won’t be several gigabytes. Also, .zip files should always be approached with caution as it’s impossible to know what’s inside.
It helps to follow common sense and intuition when online – sites that look unprofessional and are packed with sleazy ads and pop-up windows are usually best avoided.
Ever used the same password for multiple different things? Let’s be honest, most of us have been there, and it’s tempting to use the same easy password every time we log into anything.
However, it goes without saying that this is a pretty huge security risk. If one password becomes compromised, it’s game over for all of your accounts. That means if a hacker gets hold of your Facebook password, they’ll instantly gain access to your other social media, email, and even banking services. Not good.
Luckily, this kind of catastrophe can be avoided by taking just a few simple steps. Use a different password every time, so it isn’t the end of the world if you’re unfortunate enough to be hacked in one area.
It also helps to make your passwords as strong as possible. This can be achieved by using a combination of letters and numbers, along with a mix of lower and upper cases, and symbols such as punctuation marks. And with passwords, longer is always better.
Staying safe online doesn’t have to be a struggle, and there are tonnes of useful and affordable services out there that can provide rigorous security. If you’re running for president, in control of a large business, or possess highly sensitive information, then you may want to take some extra steps and invest a little more money into your security. For most people, however, just follow the steps above, and you’ll be able to sleep easy in the knowledge that you’re protected against the vast majority of online evils.