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How to stay safe online in 2017

Published: April 3rd, 2017 By: IT World Canada

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The Internet is a great place for memes, games, banking, business, shopping, and more, but it’s unfortunately also a hotspot for hackers, identity thieves, and other cyber attackers. The good news is that if you take proper precautions to protect yourself online, you greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a cyber-attack. Start with these tips for staying safe online in 2017.

1.    Use a VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, adds a layer of security to your Internet browsing in multiple ways. First of all, it hides your IP address, which makes it next to impossible for people to track you online. That means search engines and social networks can’t track your activity to deliver targeted ads, and it means you can access sites that aren’t available in your country.

A VPN also encrypts your data. That means that even if someone does get ahold of sensitive information, they can’t use it without cracking the encryption code. Most hackers are looking for an easy way in, so they won’t even bother trying to decode your data—if they can even figure it out in the first place. This adds a huge layer of security especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi since your data will no longer be vulnerable to prying eyes.

A VPN does all this by first routing your data through the service provider’s servers and then repackaging the data before sending it on to other servers. Different VPN providers can be found here.

2.    Remain Cautious of Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is everywhere. While it’s convenient, it’s also risky. Hackers can set up their own hotspots and spy on your Internet activity, all without you knowing you connected to a malicious network. Alternatively, they can hack a legitimate network or set up man-in-the-middle attacks, leaving you vulnerable when you connect to it.

Don’t take connecting to public Wi-Fi networks lightly. Start by making sure the network you’re connecting to is legitimate by talking to an employee at the coffee shop or hotel you’re at to confirm the network’s name. Avoid entering sensitive data, including passwords or credit card numbers. Your best bet is to connect to a VPN to encrypt your data over the network or to use your device’s mobile data instead of public Wi-Fi.

3.    Be Careful With Your Passwords

You’ve heard this advice spouted over and over in the past several years, but the tip still holds true today. Be careful with your passwords. That means creating strong passwords that aren’t easy to guess, using different passwords for all your accounts, changing passwords frequently, and using two-factor authentication when it’s available.

Avoid entering passwords of any kind over public Wi-Fi networks, even if the site you’re accessing contains no personal or sensitive data. This is advised because hackers know that people commonly use the same username and password combinations for multiple sites. With that information, they may be able to log in to your email, social networking sites, and even your bank account. That’s just another good reason to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.

4.    Install Anti-Virus on Your Devices

Another piece of advice you’re likely all too familiar with is to install anti-virus software on your computers. This tip is still crucial in 2017. A good anti-virus software will warn you of malicious files before you download them to ensure your data is kept secure. But be careful! Some free anti-virus software programs themselves can be a virus, malware, or scam. One of the popular free and legitimate anti-virus options is Avast, which is available for Android and iOS in addition to desktop operating systems.

What’s important to remember about anti-virus software is that it’s not just for your desktop. Reports show that most people don’t secure their smartphones, with only 14 percent of people using an antivirus app. Don’t forget to install the software on your phone and tablet as well as your laptop or desktop computer. Remember: No device is immune to cyber-attacks.

5.    Keep Your Software Up to Date

One of the common ways hackers get access to data is by getting in through holes or “bugs” in outdated software. To keep yourself secure online, it’s important that you update your apps and operating system as soon as updates are available. These updates will patch vulnerabilities and keep you less susceptible to hackers. You might consider enabling automatic updates so it’s less of a hassle.

6.    Beware of Scams

Software vulnerabilities and malware aren’t the only way hackers can get ahold of your sensitive data. The same scams that were happening years ago are still going on today, so it’s best to stay alert and aware of what types of scams are out there.

One of the more common types of scams that’s still hurting people online today are phishing scams. These involve an email from what looks like a reputable company. They may ask you to reply with sensitive information to confirm your identity or to click on a link and re-enter your login information. The site might look reputable, but it’s really been built to capture your information and use it against you.

Social media scams are also on the rise because there’s such a large pool of people to target, so it can be easy to hit a lot of people at once. For example, in 2016 a video virus traveled around Facebook. It featured a computer worm with a video showing the victim’s profile picture and name and appeared in a chat window from a friend. It played off people’s curiosity and spread a virus when they clicked on the link.

The scary part of online scams is that scammers are becoming smarter about how to run them. Because of that, it’s important to stay on high alert and do your research if you’re ever suspicious of a message or email. Never click on messages or links from people you don’t know, and confirm the validity of a message from people you do know if it doesn’t seem safe.

7.    Take Precautions When Shopping Online

Online shopping has always been risky. These days, it’s become safer, but it’s still best to proceed with caution. The first step is to avoid shopping on sites you aren’t familiar with. Bigger online retailers with a positive reputation are a better bet for keeping your information safe. Always be sure the web address starts with “https” instead of “http.” That means the information you enter on that site will be encrypted and secure. Bonus tip: Use credit cards when online shopping instead of debit cards since credit card companies are more likely to issue a refund for fraudulent transactions.

Staying safe online in 2017 follows much of the same rules as years prior, but people still tend to choose convenience over security. By putting the abovementioned tips into action, you should greatly reduce your risk of a cyber-attack.

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