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Cyber-security 101: effective measures to improve your online security

Chances are you use the internet every day for a myriad of reasons. This ability to connect online is incredibly useful, but it can also connect you with the wrong people and put your in danger of being targeted by hackers or malware. It is of paramount importance to protect yourself online.

Formidable firewall

Firewalls are important to protect your computer and network from malicious external sources. They work like a gateway, only letting certain traffic in and out. Imagine the bouncer for a nightclub: he monitors patrons, entering and leaving, for potential anti-social behaviour. He can then stop them entering, or if they caused a disturbance while inside the nightclub, he can stop them from leaving. This is essentially what a firewall does by monitoring for malicious activity.

Up-to-date anti-virus software

The internet is infested by a magnitude of potentially harmful software that ordinary security companies can’t compete against. These viruses can cause you problems in a variety of ways. They can steal your personal information, spam you with advertisements, and even cause your computer to barely function or shut down completely.

Anti-malware technology can stop this from happening. The right program can identify viruses on your computer, or even before they make it on, and effectively quarantine and remove them. This makes anti-virus software essential for every internet user. Do some research and find a quality program from a company with an established reputation. Once installed make sure regular scans are scheduled.

Protect your privacy with VPN technology

It is likely that you send private and sensitive information, via the internet, every day. However, what if other web users could access this data? They could learn all about you, including your financial information.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a system that encrypts your online data.  This is achieved by essentially creating a secure tunnel between you and other internet users. Information can be sent through this tunnel without hackers being able to access it. VPNs are different from firewalls in that they protect the information sent and received, whereas a firewall just protects your network and computer.

Another advantage of VPNs is they can be used to disguise your whereabouts. You could be based in Canada, for example, but have your location appear to be Australia. This is achieved by displaying an IP address associated with a different location. Besides the extra security benefits, this also allows you to access online content that they be restricted in your country or region.

Email safety

Phishing emails are extremely popular methods of gaining access to an individual’s online data. They function by making you think that the email originated from a bank or other institution. They often ask for personal information to resolve an issue, or supply a link to a dummy website, that then requests your login credentials. An example is an email pertaining to be from PayPal, notifying you that your account has been limited. A link to a fake login site is supplied, in the hope that you will enter your username and password. This is how scammers can gain access to your real PayPal account.

A bank, PayPal, and most other legitimate institutions, will never ask for your personal information via email, nor will their emails contain a login link. Any emails of this nature should be marked as spam and deleted.

Strong passwords

Is your password your birthday? Well, then something needs to change. The first thing hackers will do is try common password combinations. It’s likely they can research you online and discover your birthday and other personal information. Therefore, never use a password that relates to you in any way, but instead one that is completely random.

A password should be at least eight characters, a mixture of numbers and letters, and not contain a word or phrase. Even better, include a mixture of upper and lower case letters, as well as some special characters. This will make even the most determined hacker likely to fail.

Also, try not to use the same password for every site login. If your password gets compromised on one site hackers can then access all of your online accounts. Two or three different passwords are good, including a completely unique one for your internet banking.

Now you are prepared

Now that you are more informed about the best security measures, you will be able to take your online security to the next level. Research and download some quality firewall, antivirus, and VPN software if you do not already have it. Then, if needed, upgrade your password, and be more careful with your email. These steps will get you 99.9% of the way to being completely secure online.

Photograph by Pixelcreatures

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