I have been inspired to write this after having a conversation with a few people I’ve met over the past month. Explaining to others exactly what Web Science is can be very difficult, so I have instead taken to explaining to people what I am writing my first assignment on; alternatives to password-based authentication online. This inevitably leads to a discussion around cyber-security. It turns out, not enough people follow simple steps to keep themselves secure, that are often just the press of a button. I therefore have decided to outline some of my steps for staying secure online, and offline, below.
Cyber Security Tip: Use a Password Manager
I am an avid user, and believer in, 1Password. The principle of 1Password is simple: you save your logins into the app (that being a username or email address, accompanied by a password) and it protects them all under one password that you enter when you load the app. I found it really surprising that most did not even consider that such an app would exist. When I researched a bit further, I discovered that many saved their log in details in the notes app of their iPhone. This is dangerous! If someone gains access to your phone for whatever reason, the chances are they will look in the notes app to find passwords. Even if the details are not labeled, it will not be difficult to figure out what is valuable information. It is therefore absolutely essential that if you need to keep a record of your passwords (and you should, but we’ll come to that later) that you use a password manager app, and I recommend 1Password.
Cyber Security Tip: Passwords Continued
Unfortunately, due to their cumbersome nature, there are other steps that must be taken to secure passwords. Although this may seem like old advice, your passwords should be different. The important thing to note is that not every single password should be dramatically different. The ones you deem to be the most important (bank, social network, email, online shopping sites etc) should be different. However, those to sites of less importance, can be the same if they have to be, despite it not being recommended. All your passwords however, should be strong. While there are various clever ways to work this out (take the second letter of every line of your favourite poem, working out the ASCII value of your dogs name etc etc) by far and away the easiest way is to use a password generator. Luckily for us, the clever guys at AgileBits have built one into 1Password all ready to go! Just another reason why you should use this app!!
Cyber Security Tip: Software updating
It is of paramount importance to ensure that you keep your software updated, across all of your devices. iOS, Windows, Android, OS X, Linux, Microsoft Office. Whatever it is, updates and patches are bound to be released frequently, more than likely because of bugs or security fixes. So, if you don’t have enough space on your phone to download the latest software update, don’t just ignore it, make space! Companies offer massive amounts of money as rewards to people who can discover these holes in their system, and when they pay out, they then fix them (most of the time) through the form of an update, to keep your data safe! Take advantage of this, and don’t leave your devices vulnerable.
Cyber Security Tip: Virus Protection
While this can take a huge range of forms, virus protection is also very important. Mac OS X is not as secure as it used to be, lets set one thing straight. As more and more computers running Mac OS X are sold, the interest for those with malicious intentions for the system begins to increase. While Windows users are still massively more at risk from viruses and adware alike, Mac users will still need to be vigilant. Windows users however, will unquestionably need a form of anti-virus on their machine. The one I recommend is Trend Micro. At a fairly low price, and more importantly for me a comparatively low over-head, Trend can provide more than enough protection for most users. However, just like any other piece of software, it can only be as effective at protecting you as you are at using it. Anti-virus programs work by scanning files on the computer for malicious code. They can determine if the code is malicious by comparing code it finds to a database of known malicious code. This database will be constantly updated as more and more virus and attacks are discovered. Therefore, you must ensure that if you have an anti-virus program, you either update the database manually yourself regularly, or you allow it to auto-update. This will help protect you massively.
Cyber Security Tip: Wifi
With the growth of handheld devices, almost everyone will now have a wireless router at home. However, almost no one with a router, will have changed the password since it was installed (hopefully almost no one will have an unsecured network, but who knows). If you change the password from the default, or change it once a month for example, it will help secure your network from anyone else who might be using it (either intentionally or otherwise). Not keeping tabs on who has the password to your wifi network can allow compromised devices onto the network, that can then affect your devices. If you follow these steps you can ensure the only people using your network, are those who are supposed to be.
While this list is absolutely far from exhaustive, if you pair these four points with common-sense and care when browsing online, you will be able to secure your devices against a vast number of threats. Cyber security is becoming more and more lucrative for criminals as the adoption of technology becomes faster and faster, so it therefore becomes a lot more important to look out for yourself – stay safe!