Are You Vulnerable To Hacking? “Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi” + 4 More Tips To Protect Your Information Online
Cyberattacks have increased by 330% amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pia, 42, was surprised to receive a Facebook private message one day from Hannah, a colleague she hasn't been in touch with for months. Hannah was inviting her to join another social media platform, so Pia readily gave her information to "Hannah" thinking it was a chance to reconnect.
Within minutes, Pia's friends received malicious messages from her Facebook account, which she was unable to access again from that point on. Pia's account had been hacked by this person pretending to be her friend Hannah, and her identity was stolen.
Looking back, Pia is dismayed at how quickly things happened. “I got distracted. I was in the middle of a meeting when the message came, so I didn’t think it through when I gave my information. But something felt off, and I should have trusted my instincts,” she says.
As everything shifted online because of the pandemic, technology has become both a friend and a foe to its users. While advantageous in the new normal, it also brings with it dangers that we should be aware of.
According to data from Atlas VPN, cyberattacks increased by 330% amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including hacking, phishing, ransomware, and malware. However, it does not necessarily mean you will be a victim if you’re using the Internet. There are cybersecurity practices you can follow to protect your information and privacy.
What is cybersecurity?
Erin Nob, an innovation research analyst, and information technology graduate, describes it as “a discipline that envelops the protection of technological assets in the interest of maintaining privacy, data integrity, and proper authority.” In other words, cybersecurity, also known as information technology security, is the practice of defending our networks and devices from malicious attacks.
How can we know if we have “vulnerable” security?
Erin says that hacking breaches and unauthorized access are usually due to the negligence of the user. “A majority of the popular tools that hackers use still require the participation of the user themselves.”
She says that these are hidden in clever ways like phishing emails and software from unreputable sources. “How vulnerable a system is to hackers eventually boils down to how aware the user is with regard to topics such as phishing, weak passwords, social engineering, etc.,” she adds.
How do hackers get our information?
We think of hackers as geniuses who can magically access our data, but the reality is, hackers can only work with what is available. If the system or network is secure, there is a minimal chance of privacy breach. However, Erin says that the more information we give away in public, the more they can do with the set of tools they use. This includes pictures on our social media accounts, files sent through our emails, contact information, etc.
Does using VPN protect our privacy?
Aside from our personal information, our online data also contain signatures of our origin, specifically the exact location where we are accessing certain information from on the Internet. “IP addresses usually describe the general location of the data in query. In that case, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) hide your real IP address, and allow your IP packets to be seen as if they are accessed from a different country,” Erin says.
Does encryption protect our privacy?
Encryption is a way of “scrambling” data so that only authorized parties can understand the information available. In simpler terms, encryption has the ability to alter readable data into a string of mathematical values so that it will appear random to unauthorized hackers.
“Currently, we already use encryption through HTTPS websites, where only the involved parties (PC client and/or web server) can read these pieces of information.” However, Erin emphasizes that there are still sites that use HTTP, where information is not encrypted, making it possible for hackers to see data in plain text.
How can we improve our security online?
There are numerous ways to protect our data from unauthorized hackers! Following these tips from Erin and Trend Micro, a global leader in cybersecurity, will ensure that our information is safe and private.
- Use strong passwords and change them frequently.
When choosing a password, Erin suggests using alphanumeric and special characters, so they are difficult to guess. It is also best to avoid including any personal information such as birthdate in our passwords, change them frequently, and not use the same password on different websites.
- Familiarize yourself with common tactics and attacks.
According to Trend Micro, 61% of malware attacks are delivered via email attachments and malicious websites.
An example of a common tactic is phishing, where hackers use emails to trick you into giving them your personal information like bank account details and your passwords to certain websites. To avoid scams, do not click any suspicious link, and do not give your information to unreputable sources.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi.
An article by CSO Online emphasizes that public Wi-Fi networks are never secure. “One of the biggest threats with free Wi-Fi is the ability for hackers to position themselves between you and the connection point. So, instead of talking directly with the hotspot, you end up sending your information to the hacker.”
However, if you find yourself with no other option but to connect to a public network, do not enter any personal information and do not access mobile banking applications, as these can be accessed by hackers as well.
- Be wary of malicious websites.
Your browser can detect whether a website is safe or not. A secure website uses “HTTPS” in the address bar (e.g., https://www.onelife.ph/). If the URL uses just “HTTP”, Erin says that the security of anyone accessing that website might be compromised.
- Always read the Terms & Conditions.
When downloading a new software, there are dialog boxes that will pop up. Always read the information on these boxes carefully, as malicious sources can install additional software you may not be aware of which can be the cause of a cyberattack.
Now that technology plays an even bigger part in our lives, we also have a bigger responsibility to ensure the privacy of our information, for our own.