5 Things Everyone Should Know About Internet Security
Your computer is a potential gateway to your most valuable and intimate data for criminals to steal and use. You need to think of your online activity the way you think of your possessions. Taking no security steps to protect yourself from fraud or hacking is like going out and leaving your home unlocked. Every piece of data — financial details, passwords, etc. — that you store on your computer is an opportunity for some criminal with the skills to access and exploit it.
Nobody is immune
Anyone who uses the web has something that is worth stealing to someone. If you purchase goods online, your credit card details are there for the taking if you are not protecting them. Financial data is what concerns most people, but in fact access to almost any type of online account has a monetary value. For instance, if someone gains password access to your eBay account, it can allow them to redirect purchased goods to their address. There is an active black market in access to internet accounts in social media and elsewhere, with a set price range for each type (e.g. eBay, Twitter, Gmail, etc.). The price for access to each account may be low, but a major hacking operation will result in their being stolen in the thousands. For instance, a person’s email address and password can change hands for $20 or more if it gives access to enough of its owner’s accounts at such sites as Amazon, Hulu, etc.
Hackers and cyber-criminals don’t give warnings
Web security has to be preventive, otherwise you’re confined to damage limitation after the event. If you don’t have adequate protection, you’re unlikely to know that your computer has been infected or your accounts hacked until it’s too late. The whole point of hacking and cyber theft is to profit from it before the victim even knows it’s happening. Usually, the first you’ll hear of it is when you find unexplained charges on your credit card or withdrawals from your bank. Less than a third of victims of online fraud ever find out how their data was hacked or stolen. Make sure you have security software running before you do anything online.
All web activity poses a risk
Sticking to reputable websites is not a guarantee of immunity from fraud. Corporations can take care of their own cyber-security, but they can have no control over what their clients are doing to protect themselves at the other end. It’s true that all reputable e-commerce companies such as Amazon and eBay have state of the art protection of clients’ financial details that are entered on their sites when purchases are made. But a simple key-logger virus on an unprotected computer will record all of this data as you type it, and relay it to hackers who can proceed to use or sell it. Your security is your own responsibility.
Protection is not excessively expensive or complicated to use
Don’t be intimidated by the sheer number of security packages available. Unscrupulous companies may exploit people’s ignorance or paranoia to sell over-priced protection they don’t need (and which may be useless). Nor do you have to have technical skill to use and run security apps. Anything that’s worth buying will be reasonably user-friendly. Established, reputable specialists in the field like Norton, BitDefender and Panda offer suites of security software for less than $50 per year that will meet most people’s needs.
Security is a matter of constant vigilance
Staying safe goes well beyond protecting financial data, PINs and passwords. As people reveal more and more of their lives online and interact with strangers on social media, they are increasing the risk of being victims of crime. A good internet security policy includes commonsense precautions like not publicizing details of your private life, such as whether you live alone or at what times your house is vacant. A vigilant person will take care never to click on links from dubious sources. He or she will make sure unsolicited messages or pop-ups purporting to be from reputable companies such as Microsoft or Chrome are not fake (by checking the URL or email domain name). Being wary and skeptical has to become second nature. Staying safe is a matter of never letting your guard down.