You probably spend around the same amount of time on the internet as you do outside, if not more. Outside, you of course know what you are doing. For one, you know to be afraid of moving cars, not to walk on thin ice and maybe even what neighborhoods are safe and which are not. These things hopefully seem dreadfully obvious, but the digital analogs of these habits are anything but common which is why more than half of the US’ population was exploited last year and why the average cost of said hacks was $142 and a big headache. In this post I will outline the bare minimum you can do to protect yourself online and avoid becoming one of these victims.
Being safe on the internet is not as simple as installing a handful of programs and then going about your business. That said, if you are really here for the very bare minimum, these following programs make for a good start. As your browser will almost definitely be the mediator through which you access the internet the most, it is important that it is as safe as possible. To this end I will first recommend a browser and then two extensions. Secondly, I will outline proper account and password management, perhaps even more vital.
Your browser and its extensions
Your browser of choice should be Firefox if security and privacy are concerns of yours. The latest update has made it faster and more reliable than ever. Most importantly though, it is built for safety and privacy. Whereas Google Chrome will track you and inevitably use your information for profit, Firefox’ fourth point in their manifesto states “Individuals’ security and privacy on the Internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional.” In my not so humble opinion, Firefox is the best. Among other things, it has the best warning systems in place to counter insecure browsing by the user. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
uBlock Origin, an ad and popup blocker, might seem to solve a convenience issue more than security one. However, for once, the two actually go hand-in-hand. Many ads are good, and I recommend you disable µBlock for sites that have respectful ads, but far more are deceptive and un-wanted. For example, you may have come across ads warning you that you have a virus and should follow a link or lotteries, claiming you have won something, in need of your information. These are both examples of so called phishing, attempts to get private information to sell such as names, phone numbers and email addresses. Furthermore, some will even try to get your SSN or bank information both of which you obviously should keep to yourself. Using µBlock, you should be rid of these deceptive ads for the most part. That said, you should be able to recognize them from their sketchy looking URL’s, their being a pop-up and the fact that your winning a million dollars without signing up for a lottery in the first place sounds rather dodgy. You will find µBlock Origin here.
Privacy Badger, solves something related to security that definitely also should be a concern of yours, namely privacy. The extension will counter the tracking of your movements through the web and make the few ads you inevitably see remind you slightly less of straight-up mind reading. You will find Privacy Badger’s website here.
Accounts and Passwords
Access to your accounts is by far the most important aspect of internet security. In this, passwords are most important. Furthermore, you should strive to enable two-step verification whenever possible. It is a slight hassle, but very much worth it. This feature is made available my most big companies and makes sure that even if someone were to discover your password, they would still not be able to log in to your account without, most commonly, your phone.
The easiest way by far to practice good password hygiene is to use a password manager such as LastPass. A manager will generate secure passwords, store them securely and make them available to websites quickly. The only downside is the slight hassle involved with setting it up; I definitely say it is worth it though. If not, you can still follow the following three rules, although it will be a bit more cumbersome.
First rule is never write down your password. This may seem obvious, but it is all too common. Good practice is, of course, to instead use a password manager. If you choose not to though, do not opt for writing down your passwords instead. If you absolutely have to, do not write what the password is for, keep it far from where it belongs and maybe write some fake passwords on the same note.
Second rule is do not use the same password on multiple sites. This way, if one site is compromised, your other accounts are still secure. If you are too lazy to follow this rule, make sure to at least use completely different passwords for your bank, main email and important work-related internet accounts. Obviously, you never want others to be able to access your internet bank or any work account (quick way to get fired). As for the email though, it is often used as a means to get new passwords on sites if you were to forget them. That means, if someone has access to your email, they can access all accounts made with said email unless, of course, you are in fact using two-factor authentication. Using a password manager makes it ineffably easier to use many different passwords.
Finally, make sure the password per se is secure, i.e. make sure the actual word is good as a password. Again, a password manager will make this a lot easier. If you do not use one though, here is the basic run-down. Make them long; longer passwords are harder to crack. Make them hard to guess; this means you should avoid any names of friends or family and you absolutely should not use the name of your pet. Make them uncommon; this final rule is the trickiest, as it is not as obvious. You should make sure not to use dictionary words or anything you might find in this list of the most common passwords. These lists, dictionaries and common passwords, are used by computers to systematically guess your password.
I hope you enjoyed the read; as always I welcome you to leave a comment if you want to give me feed-back or if something is unclear.