Tips for Avoiding Malware and Other Security Threats Online
You may think that malware and other malicious actors on the internet only hide on shady websites that you would never end up on. It turns out that spyware, software that gathers your private data without consent, can hide in many places on the web. All it takes is to end up on a “bad” page at the wrong time and malware or other viruses could inject themselves into your computer, even when you least expect it.
How your system could be impacted:
- You open up Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox and start browsing normally.
- You visit a website and without knowing it spyware injects itself on your computer. These malicious actors can come from a number of sources. It could come from a pop-up you click on, a deceptive link, an interactive graphic, or a seemingly harmless email.
- Spyware or malware then loads on your computer without you even knowing.
- Your computer is infected and the malicious software is now harvesting your personal information.
What makes spyware so harmful is that it is designed to run undetected. So even though you may have a firewall in place or an anti-virus software running, your system could still unknowingly be hacked.
Spyware’s goal is to collect your personal information, including credit card numbers and other financial information, usernames and passwords, and other sensitive data. Another effect could be hijacking your web browser and directing you to suspect sites or showing constant pop-ups while you’re on the internet. If you notice your computer suddenly start running slowly, this could be an effect of spyware running in the background.
Internet Browsing Safety & Security Tips
Normal use of the internet can feel safe enough, but can end up leading to malicious sites pretty quickly. Unfortunately it is relatively easy for a website or software to appear to offer valuable and reputable service without actually doing so. It is always a good idea to be critical of the websites you visit and the services you download.
Some websites may be entirely counterfeit. For example, phishing sites pose as a popular website and then try to trick you into their scams. While phishing or other scams can really exist on any website, some may leave you more vulnerable than others. Beware of software or other downloads from:
- Adult/Pornography Websites
- File Sharing Sites
- Social Networking Sites
Safety Tips For Security on the Internet
- Avoid questionable websites, especially those without HTTPS enabled.
- Don’t download software from sites you don’t trust. Be sure to pay close attention to free software and applications before you download them.
- Update your existing software often, including your operating systems. Software uses updates to patch security vulnerabilities.
- Make sure you have privacy and security settings fully enabled.
- Rather than clicking links or banners in an email or on the web, simply type the website into the address bar.
- If you have an anti-virus or other security software installed on your products, make sure it is reputable and up-to-date.
- Use browser extensions and other safety products to block tracking and other malicious scripts from loading.
Who Are You Protecting Yourself From?
The term “hacker” is definitely overused to the point that the term’s meaning is a bit cloudy. However, hackers are individuals trying to gain access to your information for personal or political gain. These cyber-criminals use a number of methods but their motivation is mainly getting your financial information, passwords, or social security number. They then use this information for identity theft or to access your bank accounts.
Much of the internet is built around advertising. To make their ads more effective or to get insight into how you interact with their websites, companies and businesses use the massive amounts of data they collect.
Google operates the largest advertising network in the world. With its analytics software and advertisements on a majority of the internet’s websites, Google knows a lot about you. If the idea of one company knowing most of what you do on the internet makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone.
NSA & Other Governmental Groups
Unfortunately, governments around the world have decided they need to track their citizens on the internet and through other means. Edward Snowden revealing the NSA’s surveillance methods shocked many people. In countries under authoritarian regimes, this is sadly the norm.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
The companies who provide internet service also monitor how people use the web. Congress passed a bill that allows ISPs to sell data about their user’s habits on the internet. This could lead to your browsing data ending up in third parties’ hands. ISPs can arguably access the most information about you because they see all of your internet activity, not just the browsing on specific websites.
How To Keep Your Information Private from Hackers, Advertisers, NSA and ISPs
These are just a few suggestions for keeping your information safe on the internet.
Manage Your Cookies
Cookies are a way for websites to store certain bits of information in your browser. Their original purpose was to make browsing more convenient for users, by storing login information for example. They have certainly achieved that purpose, but have also morphed into “tracking cookies”. These let websites track you after you’ve left their sites.
Clearing cookies that you don’t want or need is the best way to keep sites from tracking you once you’ve navigated to new, unrelated websites.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is when a service requires two measures of verifying your identity. This could mean you need a password and a link sent to your email, or a code text messaged to you to log in. Adding this second layer of protection is a reliable way to keep your data safe.
Use Tracker Blockers
The majority of websites have some sort of analytics or tracking scripts that load on their pages. Most of this data is used for advertising purposes or for tracking the effectiveness of a company’s marketing.
In recent years, tracking across the internet has grown more advanced. It can paint a more complete picture about who each individual visitor actually is. Because each website can store this information on their own, it creates vulnerabilities for your data from many angles. If you let these scripts load, you have to trust every website you visit with storing your data in a secure way.
Use A VPN
VPNs, or virtual private networks, are a way of obscuring your internet connection. They redirect your browsing through different virtual networks so it appears you are in a different location than you actually are. People often use VPNs to get around school or office content filters.
These are valuable tools for keeping websites you visit from linking your data to you personally.
Other Privacy Tools
Browser Extensions: Opinions are a bit mixed on this one. While adding extensions, or add-ons, to your browser can protect you, it also just opens up your data to another third party. It’s important to do your research before installing.
Private Search Engines: These search engines work like normal, popular search engines except they make your privacy a priority. Generally, private search engines don’t track your searches or link your search terms to your personal data. These search engines also use encryption to hide your search terms locally and from other users on your network. Try these out and see if you like a certain one best:
Read More: Why Should You Use a Private Search Engine?
Conclusion: Be Vigilant About Your Internet Privacy
Privacy and security on the internet are constantly evolving. What keeps you safe one day may change completely the next. Because the internet is generally an open platform, new threats emerge all the time. Technology and opinions surrounding it are constantly changing. It’s important to get second (and third) opinions on the products you use and the protection measures you take.
You can control your privacy and safety on the internet. Good luck!
Main Image Credit: The Internet Is Under Attack by Louis Wes