To many of my colleagues this is the bread and butter of the network engineers life. Poor online security can lead to unlawful access to your email, Facebook, Amazon and Bank accounts by unscrupulous individuals sometimes know as ‘hackers‘.
It is in many cases unfair to brand all hackers as criminals as many ethical hackers put their digital skills to good purposes such as penetration testing, development of new technologies and encryption methods and the rentless crusades to search and destroy bugs, Trojans and worms.
Passwords are like underwear: you don’t let people see it, you should change it very often, and you shouldn’t share it with strangers.
– Chris Pirillo
What can we do to protect ourselves online? There are a number of simple steps we can take to ensure our digital lives are not compromised; some are quite straight forward but some may need assistance from network or security professionals.
- Quite simply – Be smart. If it looks to good to be true it probably is. No Nigerian Prince wants you to help him get his billions of dollars out of the country and should ‘Dave’ from Barclays call requesting your bank details to ‘update’ their records you can tell him from me to do one.
- Make sure whatever flavour of operating system you use be it Windows, OS X or Linux is updated regularly and your anti-virus software is current and functioning. No operating system is immune from vulnerabilities.
- Avoid the Dark Web. By this I mean suspicious looking websites and pay attention to warnings posted by your browser. Google Chrome is great at telling you in advance that the site you are trying to access is potentially unsafe. Always try to use secure versions of websites, these will have the prefix https:// and display a green padlock or tick to confirm the site is secured using a valid certificate (such as this site)
- Never use the same password on all your online accounts and change them regularly. It is recommended to use a password manager that encrypts your passwords in a ‘vault’ this is particularly useful as you can use long complicated passwords for stuff without the need to remember them! One very good example of this is 1Password, they have Windows and OS X desktop apps along with iOS and Windows Mobile companions.
- This is where it starts to get a little more complicated. Many services now offer additional security options and one of the best options is two factor authentication. This is an accompaniment to you normal login details that requires the use of a multi digit number (usually 6 or 7) numbers that is generated by a hardware or software token or delivered to you via SMS. It adds a great deal extra security to your accounts as a hacker will need access to your token in order to gain access.
- Now for the most complicated of the list. VPN services. It has become very popular in recent years to use a VPN service to secure your web browsing, email and other online activity. It works by tunnelling your traffic over an encrypted passage to an endpoint managed by people who know about security. Your traffic can be scanned for known signatures and you can be alerted to potential breaches in security. The best use case for this is public hotspots where client separation and user security can be very poor. I host my own firewalls to achieve this but there any many commercial services offering this. I came across a link to a spreadsheet that offers a comparison of many of these services here
This list is by no means definitive and is quite high level but if you improved your own security by using just one of the above methods you will be on your way to being safer online. There are plenty of resources online that can help you understand online security and many of them are free for consumer use.