With current advances in AI, Fintech, IoT, it is very easy to overlook problems in more traditional areas of our digital/ Internet lives, such as cybersecurity. Nevertheless, this constant arms race between hacking tools and digital security tools has been valid for all these years and continues to be so nowadays. There are a number of actions regular users or the employees of a company can take to ensure comprehensive security across devices.

Creating Strong Passwords

One important action has to do with learning to create a strong password for any web platform (e.g. payment system), mobile or desktop app, password-protected archive, etc. Truth is that nowadays, a simple user has accounts on dozens of websites and remembering all passwords can be very challenging. As a consequence, users might make the mistake of choosing passwords that are very easy to remember but also very weak (can be bypassed in minutes by a professional hacker with appropriate tools).

Alternatively, users might pick strong passwords and reuse these for multiple platforms/ apps – this is an equally dangerous approach given that data breaches are frequent nowadays and a Dropbox data breach, for instance, can reveal to a hacker the password you are using to log into several other places (this has happened, by the way).

To address these, people must choose both individualized and strong passwords for all important accounts. Fortunately, nowadays this can be greatly facilitated by dedicated password vaults (specialized apps that can both generate and save hundreds of passwords, serving as unifying password storage centers).

Using Antivirus Software

Antiviruses are universal, multifunctional tools that monitor lots of processes and data exchanges occurring on your device. Among the typical functions these perform are:

  • scanning local and downloaded files, email attachments, directories and locations (e.g. flash drives) for viruses, spyware, malware, etc.;
  • isolating suspicious files (putting them under quarantine);
  • enforcing safety practices;
  • preventing access to dangerous websites;
  • warning you of potential risks (e.g. about changes to certain system settings).

With regard to data traffic, antiviruses and firewalls actively filter it trying to identify known and unknown threats.

Avoiding Phishing Attempts and Suspicious Links, Not Sharing Sensitive Data Irresponsibly

One important prerequisite of safe web experience is to avoid emails from entities disguising as credible ones in order to obtain your login credentials, personal data (including intimate), or financial data (phishing emails). If a hacker obtains such data, it can be used for fraud, blackmailing, unauthorized actions in your name, etc.  You should be extremely careful with regard to who you share your personal data or passwords with (it is virtually never justified to share passwords).

Another important piece of advice is to avoid links from suspicious addresses/ users delivered via emails, text and video chat apps, social networks, etc. Accessing these can infect your device with malicious content and compromise your security. If suspicious messages come from friends, just write them back asking whether they really wrote it themselves (sometimes the answer would be negative).

Using VPNs

A VPN is a somewhat less familiar technology to many digital users since it has only recently known a serious expansion and popularity gain. The role of VPNs for safe digital media accessed via the Internet is already significant and likely to become even greater in the years to come. This is explained by the functioning principles and the clear advantages this technology offers.

What VPNs do is to establish secure communication channels between users and the Internet by rerouting all communications through dedicated VPN servers and by encrypting all data traffic exchanged through these channels. This has a number of implications:

  • data traffic becomes harder to intercept and decrypt. This is true for hackers, Internet providers, government Internet spying agencies and for any other third party who tries to tap into your traffic. Encrypted traffic looks like nonsense to anyone that does not have the corresponding decryption keys (some really strong keys can be used with many VPNs). Safe Internet traffic ensures secure online data exchange and payments even from less trustworthy networks.
  • users cannot be easily tracked anymore. Websites normally track users by their IP addresses – all activities performed by users over the entire web are associated with their IP addresses (and oftentimes, with unique advertising IDs) and websites use to exchange/ sell this information with each other. By activating VPNs, users become virtually impossible to track by simple means – their IP and other provider-associated data is hidden (and replaced by VPN server data). In theory, users can be tracked even by using such parameters like the screen resolution of their devices (in combination with other parameters), but such data is much less informative and cannot be routinely used to identify users uniquely.
  • not only one cannot be tracked – one can choose which region or country he/she might be willing to access the Internet from (which can add another layer of privacy). A major bonus implication is that users can also access geo-blocked content by simply rerouting their traffic manually through one of the VPN servers in a country of choice (where the corresponding content is allowed). Interestingly, this is one of the key reasons that motivate the use of VPNs, including in countries with censorship practices.

To conclude, comprehensive cybersecurity practices involve several complementary measures like using antiviruses for overall safety and for filtering out constantly evolving threats, abiding by safe practices (e.g. choosing strong passwords, avoiding dangerous links/ attachments, not sharing personal data), and using VPNs for privacy of the Internet access but also to hide the traffic from the public and thus, to minimize the risk of hacking. Only by ensuring all these aspects one can be justified to expect no trouble.