The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Michael Kummer.
If anyone of you has seen the popular sci-fi anthology series “Black Mirror” on Netflix, there is an episode in the third season of the show named “Shut up and Dance” which is set in the present day. It explores the devastating effects of how invasive malware can be used against a person who is not so particular about securing itself online.
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The basic premise of that episode revolved around cybercrimes, and despite being immensely prevalent all around us, we seldom pay heed to the high level of threats they pose to us. And this has never been truer than in an era we are living in right now. From the seemingly simple camera on your laptop to even your “Private” chats, anything can be quickly turned against you or be used to harm you so much that it will be immensely challenging to recover from it.
Cybercrimes are very different from crimes in the real world because, on the internet, everything is meant to live forever. Even what you posted a gazillion years back can be found by just scrolling down enough on your social media profile. Even after visiting a page some years again, your digital footprint from that page to your IP still lives on until this day, as visible as it ever was!
But despite the threat it poses, you can stay from cybercrimes quite quickly, and for that, you need to do one thing, and that is to reduce your vulnerability. This can only happen if you are aware of the kinds of danger to your personal and financial data through different means.
And that is the primary purpose of this post, i.e., to enlighten the new digital generation of how you can actively protect yourself against cybercrime through the six rearguards mentioned below:
1. Use Strong Passwords
The biggest sin you can commit in the online domain is to keep a simple password that a hacker can easily guess. Passwords like “Yourname123456” or “YourDOB654321” are some examples of how lightly people take their account security, and it leads you to compromise your incredibly important personal financial data on places like your social media accounts, your online bank accounts among others.
Soft passwords are like a training ground for newbie hackers so be sure that there will be numerous attempts on guessing them right, so it’s imperative that you keep them as secure as possible and for that we recommend that you follow the following guidelines in mind:
- Include randomly ordered numeric values like “4BUR8GER7”
- Use characters like *&^%$#@!)(>< to make your password a whole lot more difficult to guess
- Avoid using your name or the names of your family members and friends in your password
- Avoid using your Date of Birth of city of birth in your password
- Ensure that you keep a different password for every account you have so that even if the hacker gets one of them right, it won’t affect the rest of your online accounts or presence
However, managing such a complex series of passwords can be a daunting task for any individual, especially if you do it manually. So, to end the risk of forgetting your passwords or getting them mixed up and facing the possibility of getting locked out of your accounts, its best to use a software known as a password manager.
A password manager keeps track of all of your passwords and some even automatically insert them into login data of websites to automate this process for you. While there are tons of free password manager apps available, we don’t trust their credibility because free stuff online is usually hiding ulterior motives.
The best-paid password managers according to us are Dashlane, Password Boss Premium, True Key by Intel Security and Zoho Vault. They are a bit expensive, but guaranteeing your security online can be worth a few extra dollars on your end.
2. Learn To Recognize Malware
Hackers are getting ever smarter these days by deploying schemes or baits to make you install malware yourself through surreptitious means.
One incredibly popular way to do this, nowadays, is that these hackers follow all of your social media accounts and posts to gather information about you to create much more believable and personalized email messages or headlines that you are more likely to click through.
For example, if your 6-year-old daughter’s birthday is coming up in a few days, you might get an inbox email that promotes toys for 6-year-olds or a customized birthday greeting tool. These hackers use the information around you to click on the malicious link embedded in emails.
The best way to circumvent these “social engineering” hacking attempts is to keep an eye on emails that appear the most benign and relatable in your inbox just like the ones we mentioned above. Ever heard of the term “too good to be true”? Yeah, that’s what we are talking about here, so be careful and don’t click on such links.
Another giveaway in the malware emails is that the link looks dubious or mimics a favorite site. Be very careful and pays attention to details if you want to be specific on identifying such links.
3. Never Install Apps From An Untrusted Source
The Android app store, i.e., Google Play seems like it has been stormed with a gazillion apps of all types ranging from gaming to religious books to music among others. But not all of these apps can be trustworthy, as many are being developed by dubious providers who want to serve their hidden motives.
A great example of this is the app for “Tekken 3”, a favorite 90s video game that most of the millennials must share a soft affinity. The app, when downloaded, lets you play your favorite game, but your device starts going awry with links opening up and irrelevant ads popping up among other highly frustrating problems.
However, iOS, the mobile world’s other ecosystem, has taken some credible steps to ensure that dubious apps don’t get through that quickly. That’s perhaps the reason as to why so many people believe that iOS devices are almost impregnable when it comes to getting affected by viruses.
Apple does this by its final vetting process for any new app that aims to debut on the iTunes store. From ensuring safety on various aspects to sandboxing of the data modification components, the vetting list is comprehensive and allows it to fight the menace of dubious apps that intend to harm the users.
If you want to keep yourself vigilant towards protecting your cyber existence, then never install apps that don’t come from trusted providers and might be dangerous for your personal and financial data.
4. Install Those Updates Immediately
Remember those nagging notifications on your laptops that a program on your computer was sent to you regarding the update and you kept closing it down or postponing it? Well, these kind of nuisances are incredibly crucial for your cybersecurity, and you always need to install these updates as soon as possible.
It is because many software that we use can have zero-day vulnerabilities or put merely, security loopholes, which hackers can exploit to break into your system and run malware or ransomware. Updates are often security patches that are meant to fix these security loopholes, so do give these update their due importance if you want to stay safe in the cyber arena.
But do remember one thing, that even updates can have zero-day vulnerabilities, and you can never be too sure of these hackers as they are always coming up with ingenious ways to hack into your system. So we recommend that you keep an eye on new updates and patches that come out for your OS, but install them after 24-36 hours, so that, if there are any problems in the updates, they can be solved and the update made safe.
5. Keep Your Cameras Covered When Not In Use
While this may sound something right out of a sci-fi flick, your laptop and phone camera can be easily hacked and used to capture photos or videos of you in your private moments. These videos are then used for blackmailing to extort money out of you. In other cases, your seemingly innocuous webcam can be used as an attack vector to undertake surveillance attempts that can lead to dangerous consequences.
Hacking into the camera is not such an easy task, but it can be quickly done. However, Mac systems are incredibly safe against such kind of threats because again, Apple ensures that security is given its highest due when developing a New OS.
For instance, in Mac OS 10.14, Beta Version, there is a feature that makes it necessary to acquire user permission before executing a wide range of tasks, including the provision of access to the device’s camera.
Linux systems and their different distros can allow you to get even better security than is afforded by Apple systems. But since Linux is so complicated to use because it requires the user to have at least some basic knowledge of coding, Apple is your next best bet if you are not too much into the technical side of things.
To stay safe from this threat, try to cover your webcam/laptop camera/phone camera with tape or a camera cover, which is readily available online.
6. Start Using a VPN
VPNs are no longer a specialized tool used by a small niche of people like journalists working in totalitarian regimes. They have gone mainstream due to the high range of security they provide to keep your online activity anonymous.
Most Best VPNs have military grade AES 256 encryption, which is almost impossible to crack even with brute force computing, thereby ensuring that your data remains safe while in transit in the online domain.
Apart from this, the IP masking feature of VPN protects you from not just surveillance attempts by government agencies and your ISP, but also comes in incredibly handy towards giving you a robust cover from copyright trolls when indulging in activities like Torrenting.
But, having said all of this, it’s imperative to go for a VPN that has a credible reputation in the market and is not a dubious smokescreen meant to serve ulterior motives. A case in point here is a VPN named “Onavo,” which was later found to be run by the social media giant Facebook, who used the VPN service to find out more about user’s activities.
Such VPNs permeate the industry right now in the hundreds, so when choosing a VPN service, its best to opt for credible review websites that provide you with the best VPN services for different kinds of devices and needs. A simple search for best VPN for Firestick, Netflix, etc. can lead you to these review websites making your job of choosing an excellent VPN service much more easier.
Protecting yourself from cybercrime is becoming an incredibly important thing because, in today’s age, the internet is where every facet of our life is playing out. From social media guiding our relationships to online stores guiding our shopping habits, the internet is not just here to stay, but to grow even more impactful as time passes by.
So taking steps to protect yourself in this domain is not a thing you should be taking lightly, because unlike physical robberies where the robber takes a long time to rob a place or a person, a theft in the online world takes just some good clickbait, a gullible victim and poof goes all the cash!