We live in the digital age. Nearly everything we do is done on computer, tablet, or smartphone. We are endlessly connected to the Internet, often via Wi-Fi hot spots at most coffee shops, restaurants and stores. Because it’s such a large part of everyday life it’s easy to forget the risks to your data as well as devices. With the holidays fast approaching, computer hackers will be even more aggressive as they attempt to steal your information for their own benefit. Here are a few ways to help protect your information during one of the busiest times of the year, and beyond.
Be aware of fake wireless access points. Wireless networks are very easy to create and name. Anyone sitting in the parking lot of your favorite Starbucks can create a wireless network and name it “Starbucks Wireless Network”. Once you connect to that network they can gain access to everything you send through Wi-Fi; including email, bank account information, usernames, and passwords. Some hackers have taken it a step further by requiring those who wish to log in to create an account since many people use the same username and password for everything. From there they can log in to your accounts and create new ones and leave you with nothing but the bill. The lesson to be learned here is be very careful when connecting to a public wireless network, never visit sites that have your personal information—bank, email, social media—when connected to those networks, and don’t use the same username and password for everything.
A feature that many of us enjoy using that makes browsing the Internet smoother is cookies; however, just like the ones in the jar in the kitchen, they can be stolen. Although it can make life easier, having your usernames and passwords auto filled can make it easier for hackers to take over your computer. Look for sites beginning with https as they are more likely to be equipped with the latest security and web encryption software.
We all have our favorite sites that we visit often. Most computers are equipped now to recognize when we begin searching for those sites and fill them in automatically, this is the host file. Hackers, however, will redirect your computer to a site that looks similar but contains malicious content that will damage your system. If you are being redirected to malicious sites check your host file to see if it has been tampered with. This is also similar to the “bait and switch” technique that hackers will use. While you believe that you are on one site, they are actually running a malicious site to steal information and/or damage your system. This is commonly done through ad space in which the link starts out legitimate but gets switched to a malicious link. Don’t allow any links on your site that you don’t have full control over.
Dealing with hackers is something that most of us will have to address at some point, but staying alert and taking the necessary precautions—like good virus protection that alerts you to potentially malicious sites—can help make those attacks less damaging.