8 Cyber Security Tips to Stop Hackers and Scammers

Ignite Online - 16 April 2018

Online hacking has been rife in recent times, and with the complexity of the digital landscape today it can take many different forms. Hackers are looking for any opportunity to violate your online privacy, whether that be through identity theft, various types of fraud, fake investments, malware and more. When someone online tries to invade your privacy or convince you to give up personal information, it can be just for kicks or it might have the ability to do some serious and irreparable damage.

With the amount of time we are now spending online, it’s important to remain vigilant and follow best practices in regards to how to conduct yourself when using the internet.

Always utilise two-factor verification when possible

Two-factor or two-step verification might feel like a burden, but it’s a pretty simple way to ensure that hackers won’t be able to get into your account easily. If a website even has two-factor verification as an option, odds are they’re a company that has sensitive information that you won’t want others to get their hands on e.g. Facebook, Apple, PayPal, Google, Dropbox.

Use a password manager

Whilst it’s easy enough to sign up to a whole range of accounts using the same password (or variations of the same password), it’s important for us to remind ourselves that a website that you hastily created an account for to receive a free screensaver might not have the same strength of security as your online banking website.

Handing over your personal details and more importantly, entering a password to a low-security website that may help someone easily guess the password of a more important website, is a big no-no. Use a password manager to organise and keep all your passwords in one secure place. Many will also include a password generator function, where a secure password can be created at random to help you keep each password different and of a high strength. Just be sure to make your master password very, very secure.

We use 1Password for our passcode and security needs as it has a great ‘team sync’ feature, but LastPass is another popular option.

Check for SSL

When traversing the world wide web, it’s important to continuously be mindful of the websites you’re visiting. For any websites where you’re submitting sensitive information, be sure to check if they have an SSL certificate installed. An SSL certificate is a cryptographic key that is bound into any website’s database which ensures that other external devices aren’t able to access this information. Check this by referring to the (i) or the green lock to the left of the address bar in your Chrome browser. The green lock signifies a secure connection, and a grey (i) signifies that the connection is not secure.

Be cautious of what you store in the cloud

Always be aware that information you store on any cloud-based system is vulnerable to hacking attacks. Do not store highly sensitive information like passwords, credit card information, business operations information in cloud backups.

Don’t put your date of birth anywhere online

While putting your entire life on social media has become the norm for many internet users, one important nugget of information that users freely share on the net is their date of birth. This is often a vital piece of information that institutions like banks and governments use as a way to verify your identity when contacting them- be conscious that this puts you at risk.

Don’t click on unsolicited links

‘Phishing’ emails have become more and more realistic in recent years. An African prince who wants to send you a few million dollars…probably not legit. But someone contacting you who seems to be from an organisation that you use, know and trust? Stay vigilant. Scam websites will also often try to imitate the look and feel of popular companies and send fake ‘bills’ or ‘invoices’ to your email. Their hope is that you click to pay a bill and enter your payment details without properly checking the URL.

A good rule of thumb to play it safe is to never click any link via an email, and instead go directly the relevant site yourself, log in, and perform the relevant action.

When paying for anything over the internet, be sure to consider any small differences as suspicious.

Use a VPN

Using a VPN on the internet is a commonly exercised precaution for advanced users and is a great way for you to have peace of mind when engaging in sensitive activities on the internet. A VPN acts as an encrypted filter for all information exchanged between you and any external traffic. This keeps all your data secure, including your IP address, meaning your workstation location and identity is anonymous.

Essentially what this means is that your internet traffic is routed via a 3rd party location, it could even be overseas. So instead of sites having access to your IP address, it might appear that you’re actually living in Mexico.

Be wary of public WiFi

When waiting in an airport or shopping centre, many people’s default is to connect to the free WiFi for internet use. Be particularly aware of public WiFi that doesn’t require authentication to connect to, as hackers can use an unsecured WiFi connection to tap into any information you are sending to the network. Any login details you enter, the information you send, can all be intercepted by other devices. Hackers can also use public networks to distribute malware.

Moral of the story, never use public WiFi to log into online banking or pay for anything over the internet! A safer option would be to use your phone’s 4G network wherever possible.

Remember that a hacker will always choose the easiest target – so try not to reveal yourself as hack bait by taking these simple precautions in order to reduce your risk level of being scammed or hacked online.