How To Beat The Hackers – 5 Tips For Staying Safe Online

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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To mark Safer Internet Day, TechWeekEurope has teamed up with Charles Sweeney, CEO of web content filtering firm, Bloxx, to help you surf the Internet safely

The Internet is now so well embedded with our lives that Google’s Eric Schmidt has predicted it will soon cease to exist. But don’t be alarmed! Schmidt merely means that the web has become so ingrained into our everyday lives that we barely notice it any more. Just like the air we breathe or the roads we drive on, it’s just, well, there.

That probably contributes towards explaining why we don’t give much thought to the information we happily give away via our social media profiles or the fact that we often use the same password for every account we have. After all, who’d want our details? In reality, your personal details are just as valuable as financial data. No digital information is OK to lose, however insignificant we perceive it to be. And Safer Internet Day (February 10), organised by Insafe (a European network, comprised of 31 national awareness centres) each year, is all about educating and enabling us to better protect ourselves online.

Charles Sweeney, CEO of Bloxx, shares his top five tips for beating the hackers:

hygiene1. Password hygiene

Passwords are the Achilles heel of security. Largely, because they have an unavoidable human element to them. And human nature means that we’re pretty lazy when it comes to using different passwords for different accounts. After all, it is such a bind to remember a different password for each of the multitude of online services that we access each and every day. From a memory and management perspective it makes sense to use the same one.
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that we also tend to create easily crack able passwords, such as our birth date, children’s names or our address. If you really must to use the same password, be clever about its combination, change it frequently, never use a default password and never, ever reuse a password.

2. Beware the scammers

Phishing is the oldest trick in the book for hackers. Yet its sheer simplicity makes it highly effective and successful. Just the other week my mum was targeted by a scam sent to her by her broadband provide (only of course it wasn’t). She thought nothing of the request to check her account information and happily updated her card details.

This happens every day to people of all ages across cyber space. So, how can you protect yourself? Firstly, check the email address, as often it will be a misspelt version of the company it is pretending to be from (e.g. LinkeIn.) In addition, never click on links. As a security check, you can hover without clicking to view the true destination of your screen. Lastly, don’t ever open attachments you are suspicious of. Ever.

3. Be social media savvy

We give away far more on social media than we realise. From our location, through to our likes, dislikes and habits. Because people feel safe They’re just chatting with a friend, right? They don’t give much thought to swapping email, bank or telephone number information. Yet if you were to meet your 105th ‘friend’ who is a friend of a friend in real life, would you just as easily pass them your account number and sort code?

The underbelly of the internet thrives on this openness, for this information is precious and can be used as clues to passwords as well as to understand your digital footprint (in hacker terms, just how many accounts they can render vulnerable, steal information from and sell on the dark web). Think about your privacy settings and never give away personal or financial information. Remember that reputable companies wouldn’t ask for this in the first instance, so remain alert online.

4. Protecting your smartphone or tablet

group on smartphone ©andersr/shutterstock.comThese days mobile devices are at the very epicentre of our lives. In fact they pretty much run our lives, from email to catching up on our favourite TV programme on the train home. But our need to consume data on the move also makes us a target. When we see a free, unsecured WiFi service, rather than questioning it, all too often we immediately log on. Whilst it could be harmless, it could just as easily be a set up. Hackers frequently use ‘fake’ WiFi spots in order to get access to mobile devices and the data on them. You might think what you’ve got on there is pretty harmless, but what if you also have a private and confidential work doc, secured by the same password you use for everything else?

A few simple steps can go a long way to securing your mobile device. Always password protect your device, but also think further afield. We all love apps, but if you download them from untrusted/unauthenticated sites the chances of them being riddled with malware are pretty high. Think before you download.

5. Be alert

The main theme (I hope) of this blog has been that when you’re online you need to be alert. Being cyber savvy really can help to protect your digital identity. And increasingly as our digital and real selves merge, your offline identity too. Just a few simple measures significantly reduce the element of opportunity and chance that is the life blood of cyber criminals. The web is a powerful and amazing thing, but don’t let your guard down and stay safe.

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