There’s no denying it – technology is a part of our lives.
According to the latest information from Pew Research, 95% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, 77 percent of those are smartphones. Eighty percent (80%) of U.S. adults own desktop or laptop computers and 50 percent own tablets.
The reason technology is such a big part of our lives is because of the many wonderful things we can do using technology – shopping, video calls, social media, etc. However, we also need to be aware of the risks. Internet security company Symantec reports that, in 2015, phishing campaigns more than doubled and ransomware attacks increased by 35 percent.
This month’s “WannaCry” ransomware attack may cost businesses billions of dollars before the year is over, according to security experts.
If we’re going to use technology – and frankly, we know we are – then we need to use it responsibly.
6 things you can do to keep your technology safe
It’s not a matter of if but a matter of when your device will be compromised in some way, according to Lynda Fleury, chief information security officer at Unum.
“An innocent click on a link or an attachment can result in malicious content being downloaded. I’ve seen some ransomware ingress opportunities that include spear phish, SPAM, and web popups that appear to take over the whole screen and scare a person into calling a phone number. The operator on the other end then offers to remote control the device, then installs the ransomware program.”
To prevent unauthorized extensions or add-ons installing without your knowledge, one step Fleury suggests is setting up an administrative account on your device that requires a password to be entered before anything installs on your device. Other actions you can take include:
1. Create strong passwords. We might be inclined to laugh at the idea of using “123456” or “password” as a computer password. But it’s done. A lot. Enough can’t be said about the importance of good passwords. Computer passwords need to be difficult, changed frequently, and not shared with others. If part of your hesitation with creating and maintaining passwords is remembering them, do some research to find a password management program that works for you.
2. Add two-factor authentication (2FA). Basically, 2FA is a second step in your computer login process. A person initially logs into a program and is prompted for a code or additional piece of information. Two-factor authentication has been around for years. Many social networks have encouraged users to activate the 2FA feature on their accounts. Because it does require a second level of passwords, it might seem inconvenient. But remember that password management program can assist.
3. Visit HTTPS sites. Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the protocol over which data is sent between your browser and the website that you are connected to. With HTTPS, the ‘S’ at the end stands for ‘Secure’. It means all of the communication between your browser and the website is encrypted. Google has made it clear that they will give preferential treatment in their search engine rankings to sites with HTTPS, so more organizations are making the switch. In the meantime, you can check out this free browser extension from Electronic Frontier Foundation that loads communication over an HTTPS connection (versus HTTP).
4. Research a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Recently, the U.S. Government blocked an FCC ruling that would have required internet providers to ask your permission to sell your browsing data. As a result, individuals are exploring the advantages and disadvantages of VPNs. There are many services available and, if you’re looking to do some research, there’s an interesting discussion in the comments on this Lifehacker post that can help you identify what to look for.
5. Understand the capabilities of your internet browser. Speaking of HTTPS and VPNs, another option is to take a look at extensions for your current browsers. For example, Google Chrome has several VPN extensions. There’s also a lesser known browser called Opera, that has a built in VPN.
6. Use multiple search engines. It’s a general good rule of thumb to use multiple search engines. Since each one operates with a different algorithm, they will yield different information. One search engine that you might not be familiar with is DuckDuckGo. It’s a search engine that doesn’t track your browsing history. DuckDuckGo also has an app for iOS and Android.
Find your trusted technology sources
Even when you have nothing to hide, it’s normal to want to know that your technology devices and communications are secure. The good news is there are many options. Fleury reminds us it’s about doing our homework. “Only download and install add-ons and extensions from trusted sources like Apple Extensions Gallery. If you do not know the source of the add-on or extension, don’t install it.”