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The internet is an extremely useful tool, allowing you to gain access to a vast quantity of information, goods, and services. Yet it is also a place of great danger for the unprepared and unwitting, containing a great number of scams, malware programs, and cyber criminals that can lead to computer damage or identity theft.
Those risks being known, however, the internet is a perfectly safe place for those who are prepared, knowledgeable, and only seek the normal goods and information that the internet provides. Online security is more of a mindset and a collection of habits than an active battle, and once you understand everything, it will become second nature to you.
Here are a few ways to help defend yourself online:
Know the Basic Pillars of Online Security
No matter how many times people say to get a security program and to not use the most simplistic password they can think of, “password” remains among the most popular passwords in use, and millions of computers don’t have any security program after the 30-day, free trial that comes with their computer in the first place.
There is no magic solution to this and proper habits have to be formed. Passwords should be over ten characters and use a variety of different characters. Security questions should not be guessable by anyone. Email should be well protected, it being the gateway into other accounts. You should do a manual security review and look through all your files every few months in order to make sure everything is in place. Finally, you should do a reset on all of your accounts now, and change your password everywhere just in case someone has access.
Get Inside the Heads of Cyber criminals and Scammers
If you are ever concerned that you might be in a dangerous place on the internet, first get out of that place. If your instincts prove you wrong, you can always go back. Then, consider what the angle of the person or program you’re interacting with is. How do they sustain themselves? Does this appear too good to be true? Why am I so special that I am getting this offer or deal? If the answers to these questions don’t satisfy you, then move along, and don’t give another second of your time away.
In situations you’ve encountered or in new places you find yourself on the internet, try to look at your situation objectively. Try to think how a hacker or scammer would try to act toward you if given an opportunity. This allows you to anticipate any weaknesses in your own knowledge, and combined with reading some articles on common scam tactics, you should be able to keep your mind sharp when it comes to internet security.
Use a Virtual Private Network
One of the absolute best tools that you can use to improve your online security is the Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is a service that will connect your device to an offsite secure server over an encrypted connection. Originally developed for employees to connect to the office, it has been now developed for consumer use for online protection. While there are other benefits to using a VPN, the main purpose you should consider is the security it offers you.
The reason that this service is vital to your internet security is twofold. The first is that, while using an incredibly risky public network, you are protected so long as you are connected to a VPN. The most any hacker trying to intercept your data will see is the fact that you are using a VPN (and then they’ll likely try to move onto a new target). The other reason is that the server you connect to hides your IP address, meaning that no person or organization will be able to conduct surveillance on you. This is a huge benefit, allowing you to keep your privacy.
There are both free VPNs and subscription-based VPNs. If you are curious about the service but don’t know how often you might use it, then you might want to use a still useful free VPN to test it out. If you feel as though you are lacking something, then you can always get the other later.
Consider the Websites You Use
It is obvious by now, but not all websites are made equally. Some are among the most useful tools we have in our situation; most are harmless blogs and dead pages, while another fraction of them out there are websites meant to cause you nothing but grief. These websites often won’t even allow you to close out of them and try to keep your computer hostage so you need to be wary before you visit a website. If you aren’t certain about a website, you can always try searching for it and seeing if others reference it.
If a website has an “https” markup instead of an “http” markup on the address bar, you can consider that an extremely good sign. Other websites, without such a tag, you may want to remain cautious of; while they may be well-intended, they might also be infected with malware or hosting other programmatic programs on the website that seek to steal your identity or other information. If an unprotected site asks for any identifying information, just don’t use it, and find something similar and safer.
Thank you for reading, and may you never have to deal with the consequences of an online security breach as long as you live.