When we’re out and about, logging into public Wi-Fi can be a lifesaver. Just a few details - maybe our name, location, perhaps phone number and email address - and then bam! We’re online.
If you’re one of the many that gives little thought to this then you’re not alone. In fact, a huge 82 per cent of us say that we access public Wi-Fi when we’re out, but when asked about the level of concern we attach to the security implications of doing so, the majority of us don’t think about it or say it doesn’t bother us. The problem is that it should; public Wi-Fi spots are a goldmine for hackers and whilst we may be sitting and chatting with friends in Starbucks, the person sat on the next table could well have accessed our personal information. So, with that in mind, here's what the experts advise to protect your online security.
1. Your password's your birthday
Admit it, is your password for your mobile your birthday? If so, then you better reach for your phone and change it fast – as this is one of the most common passwords we use and hackers know this. When it comes to your laptop do you have a simple to remember password such as ‘123456’ or even use simply ‘password’ when you log in? You’re not alone but you should change it now. And even if you have been given a password by your work or a suggested password, change it immediately to something strong that is harder for cybercriminals to demystify. Only you should know your password. “93 per of the attacks we see connected to the internet of things are weak-password related”, comments Maher Yamout, Senior Researcher at multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab. Maher explains, “A good password is complex—at least 15 characters long, mixing letters, numbers and special characters.” So keep you passwords strong, and keep your private passwords, well, private.
2. You're posting in haste and repenting at leisure
Our digital footprints are enormous. But remember, the internet does not have a delete key, you can’t really erase anything. That casual slightly awkward comment you made or embarrassing selfie you took at the office Christmas party, is always going to remain, so don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your family or prospective employer to see. Any comment or image you post online may stay online forever because removing the original (say, from Twitter) does not remove any copies that other people made. So think twice, before you post.
3. You're shopping online from sites that aren't secure
We’ve all been there, we’ve just chosen a whole new wardrobe and we’re at the online checkout. While we go through our items and question whether we actually do really need another kimono after all, we also need to check we’re on a secure website. So, don’t let your excitement about your latest fashion buy mean that you overlook your internet security. When you’re at the checkout and you’re about to type in your credit card details, stop for one second and pause. Your financial details is what cyber hackers want to get their hands on. So only supply credit card information to secure, encrypted connections. How do you do that? First up, check the domain you’re on. Does it say ‘https'? Does it have a padlock icon next to it on the address bar? This means it’s secure, if it doesn’t have either of these, run away… fast.
4. You're working from home
Half of employees have never worked from home before and cyber security expert David Emm from Kaspersky Lab believes this creates a playground for cyber hackers from which to extract information. “We found that 73 per cent of people had no cyber security awareness education and 27 per cent said they have received COVID-19 related malicious emails," he reveals. So how can you work from home safely online? One thing you can do is to ensure that your company has cyber security software installed on its systems – you should be able to see this in the checks that are running when you log in. Also if you’re sharing devices or using your work laptop to stream Netflix every night, just be careful who has access to it. Keep your laptop logged off when you’re not using it. It’s nothing to do with being untrusting of your flat mates, but it’s everything to do with common sense.
5. You're making new friends on social media
Just as you would be in public, be careful who you meet online. Don’t give too much away, because people you meet online are not always who they claim to be. They may not even be real. Fake social media profiles are fairly prolific and they’re a popular way for hackers to cosy up to users, and pick our cyber pockets. Be as cautious and sensible in your online social life as you are in your in-person social life.
6. You're downloading from questionable links
More often than not you get an email with a slightly suspicious looking link and you click on it anyway, thinking, what’s the worst that can happen? Fast forward half an hour, and you’ve realised you’ve downloaded a virus, you’re in panic mode and your IT team is going crazy. It happens. A top goal of cybercriminals is to trick you into doing just this - downloading malware programmes or apps that carry viruses or try to steal information. This malware can be disguised as an app: anything from a popular game to something that checks traffic or the weather. Don’t download apps that look suspicious or come from a site you don't trust. It’s really just too risky.
Photo: Domenico Iola for Unsplash