Written by Amer Owaida, Security Writer at ESET
As we’re entering 2020, we’re also plotting out our New Year’s resolutions. Instead of suggesting what you should do next year, however, let’s have a look at some cybersecurity mistakes you should avoid for a more secure 2020.
Denying You Are a Target
You’ve probably already brushed off this possibility with contempt, thinking the chances are slim to none. To quote Dwight from The Office, “False”. When it comes to the internet, you cannot anticipate if a breach will directly affect you. New malware may appear or a service that you use may get hacked and your password can be leaked. All of these are probabilities that you should be aware of, and prevention can go a long way in securing your connected presence.
Clicking on Suspicious Links
Receiving spam has become a part of everyday life. Sometimes it’s just a harmless ad, but every now and then it can be something more sinister. You might get an email coaxing you to click on a suspicious link to claim a prize you’ve won. Or an offer that sounds too good to pass up might appear in an ad. Whatever the case, if you have even a shred of doubt about it: avoid clicking on it at all costs. The link just may contain malware that may wreak all kinds of havoc on your computer.
Failing to Patch
Is your computer nagging you for the umpteenth time to install that pesky update? Perhaps the latest patch for your smartphone’s OS has been released. You’ve probably hit the postpone button more times than you’ve snoozed your alarm. We can’t speak to your sleeping habits, but you should always keep your devices updated to the latest version of software available. It will probably save you from a headache in the long run. The infamous WannaCryptor malware spread due to devices not being patched.
Recycling Your Passwords
To simplify the arduous task of memorizing scores of passwords, some people resort to recycling. This means that they reuse the same password or passphrase, perhaps varying a character or two or by adding upon it. This practice should be avoided. If the bad actors figure out one of your passwords, password reuse allows them to guess the rest of your passwords.
Not Using 2FA
Two-factor authentication (2FA), also known as multifactor authentication (MFA), is a simple way to add an extra layer of security to your accounts. The most common 2FA method used by popular online services is a text message with an authentication code sent to your phone. It is one of the most basic methods but use at least this one if you have no other option. If bad actors are missing one piece of the puzzle, they cannot get in until they overcome that hurdle, which might make them look for an easier challenge elsewhere.
Ignoring Your Router Setup
When it comes to home interconnectivity, the router is the heart of your home. All your devices with an internet connection are linked to it, be it your smart TV, smartphone, personal computer or laptop. For convenience’s sake, a lot of people just go through the bare necessities when installing it or keep the default settings pre-configured by your ISP. You should always take steps to secure your router, so you can browse the internet safely.
Using Unsecured Public Wi-Fi
Most places like cafes, restaurants, and even shops offer complimentary Wi-Fi connections, which is a welcome alternative to using up your precious data plan. As convenient as such free connections might be, you should be careful what you connect to. An unsecured public Wi-Fi can lead to your private data being stolen or your device being hacked.
Besides using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect to your work’s servers, there are other security reasons to use one in private. You can use VPNs to access your home network remotely or to limit your ISP from seeing what you are doing, or to browse safely on public Wi-Fi. Depending on what you want to do, there are various types of VPNs you can choose from to protect your communication.
Skimping on Security Software
The internet is a useful tool, no doubt, but to paraphrase G.R.R. Martin, it can be dark and full of terrors. Granted, this leans towards hyperbole, but you should always use reputable security software to protect your data. Clicking on the wrong link might lead to malicious code making its way to your computer. Security software provides multiple layers that can stop these threats in their tracks. Prevention is the mother of security; athletes in contact sports use mouthguards as a preventive measure because fixing their teeth is more expensive than protecting them. The same goes for your data.
Underestimating Backup and Encryption
If, due to some unforeseen circumstances, your computer kicks the can, having a backup comes in handy. Always back up your sensitive data and things you have been working on recently; thus, if something does happen, you can continue unhindered by the unfortunate loss of your device. The same goes for encryption. Never underestimate the value of having your data encrypted: if you get hacked, the bad actor will have a tough time getting to your data; if your device gets stolen, you have an extra layer of security in place before you remotely wipe it.
Part 2 to follow…
Top 10 Steps to Securing Your New Computer
Written by Phil Muncaster, guest writer at ESET
With Windows 11 making headlines for all the right reasons, it could be a great time to invest in a new PC for the family or the home office. But any new household computing device should come with an attendant safety warning. Hackers will be after your data the minute it’s connected to the internet. And they have numerous ways to get it.
That’s why you need to think about cybersecurity even before plugging your machine in and switching it on. Take time out now to refresh your memory and make cyber-hygiene a number one priority.
What are the main threats to my PC?
As soon as you’re connected to the internet, malicious actors will be looking to steal your data, encrypt and hold your machine ransom, lift financial details, secretly mine for cryptocurrency, and much more. They’ll do so via some tried and true methods, which often rely on cracking, stealing or guessing passwords, or exploiting software vulnerabilities. Top threats include:
Phishing: One of the oldest con tricks in the book. Cybercriminals masquerade as legitimate and trustworthy sources (banks, tech providers, retailers, etc) and try to persuade users into clicking on links and/or open attachments in emails. Doing so will take users to a spoofed site requesting that they fill in personal information (like logins and/or address/financial details) or could trigger a covert malware download.
Drive-by downloads and malicious ads: Sometimes merely visiting an infested website or a site running a malicious ad could trigger a malware download. We may think that well-known sites may be less compromised in this way as they are better resourced and can afford enhanced protection. But there have been plenty of counter-example through the years showing that it’s not always the case. That’s why its essential to invest in security software from a reputable provider and ensure that your browser’s security settings are correct.
Digital skimming: Hackers may also compromise the payment pages of e-commerce sites with malware designed to silently harvest your card data as it is entered. This is difficult to guard against as the issue is with the provider. However, shopping with better-known sites can reduce risk.
Malicious apps and files: Cybercriminals also hide malware inside legitimate-looking applications and downloads. Many of these are posted to online forums, P2P sites, and other third-party platforms. That’s why it makes sense to download only from trusted sources, and to use an effective security software tool to scan for malicious software.
Ten tips to keep your computer safe
Many of the below steps may be taken care of automatically by your PC manufacturer/Microsoft, but it pays to dig a little deeper to make sure all the settings are as secure as you need them to be. Here are our top 10 tips for computer safety:
- Apply automatic updates for the OS and any software running on the PC
- Remove bloatware that often comes with PCs. Check beforehand if you don’t recognize any software to ensure removing it won’t degrade the performance. The fewer pieces of software on the machine, the less opportunity for attackers to exploit bugs in it
- Install multi-layered security software from a reputable third-party vendor and keep it up to date
- Configure backups, and ideally back up a copy of data to a remote storage device kept offline
- Secure the browser by adjusting privacy and security settings and ensuring it is on the latest version
- Switch on and configure your firewall on the OS and home router, ensuring it is protected with a strong password
- Download a multi-factor authentication app in order to help protect your accounts from being hijacked via phishing and other attacks
- Avoid using USBs that you don’t own, in case they are loaded with malware
- Use a password manager to ensure that all your credentials are unique, strong, and hard-to-crack
- Only download apps/files from trusted sources and avoid pirated material, which can often be booby-trapped with malware
It goes without saying that, even by following these best practices, you could still be at risk when browsing online. Always proceed with caution, don’t reply to unsolicited emails/online messages, and ensure device encryption is switched on.
Why You Should Use a VPN While Traveling
According to a survey conducted by NordVPN, 50% of travellers use public Wi-Fi while on the road. However, only 20% of them use a VPN (a virtual private network) to protect themselves while being connected to a public network. “Travelers connect to public Wi-Fi in airports, cafes, parks, and trains. Some even use public computers to print their visa information or flight tickets. A VPN in those cases is crucial if you want to make sure that your vacation will not be ruined by cyber criminals. Nobody wants to lose access to their device or their bank account during a trip to a foreign country,” says Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN.
As International VPN day (August 19th) is just around the corner, Markuson lists all the benefits offered by the service.
Enhanced online security
The main purpose of a VPN is to keep its user’s online connection secure even when they are away from home. Hackers can set up fake hotspots or access unsecured public routers and this way monitor users’ online activity. Once a user is connected, criminals can intercept their internet traffic, infect the device with malware, and steal their victim’s personal information.
When authenticating themselves on public Wi-Fi, users often need to type in their email address or phone number. However, if a user has accidentally connected to a hacker’s hotspot, they could be exposing themselves to real danger.
A VPN hides users’ IP addresses and encrypts their online activity. That means that, even if a user is using a malicious hotspot, the hacker behind it won’t be able to monitor their activity. Therefore, getting a VPN for travelling abroad is essential if you want to stay secure and private online.
Grab the best deals
Depending on the country in which you’re located, the prices for airline tickets, car reservations, and hotels might vary. That’s because businesses know that people in different countries can and will pay higher amounts for certain products and services. If you use a VPN for travel, you can hop between servers in different countries and find the best deals available.
Make the best of additional VPN features
As the industry is evolving, many VPN providers add new features to make their users’ experience even more wholesome. NordVPN, for example, recently added the Meshnet feature that lets travellers connect to other devices directly no matter where in the world they are. This enables users to form a remote connection with their home or office PC from anywhere in the world to share files or for other uses.
However, having said that, please check local laws and regulations about using VPN services on your devices, before you do.
Social Media Data Leaks Account for 41% of All Records Breached
Written by Edward G, Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN
Social media is quickly turning into a primary security weak point. A single data breach within one of the major social media networks can result in millions of records being stolen. Within the past few years, we have seen multiple large-scale data breaches involving companies like Facebook and Twitter. Yet, we rarely see the bigger picture.
Luckily, data presented by Atlas VPN gives insight into the scope of the issue. It turns out that 41% of all compromised records in 2021 originated from social media data leaks, which is a significant upsurge compared to 25% in 2020. The data presented is based on the 2022 ForgeRock Consumer Identity Breach Report, which gathered data from various sources, such as 2021 Identity Theft Resource Center, IBM Ponemon, TechCrunch, Forrester Research, as well as UpGuard, and IdentityForce.
A few other factors make social media a security weak point within the current online landscape. First, criminals can prey on business clients by posing as the company in order to obtain credentials. This is becoming especially prevalent since companies increasingly use social networks to communicate with customers.
Second, fraudsters frequently attempt to infiltrate businesses by leveraging mutual connections, which create a false sense of security. Moreover, people who overshare on social media make it simple for thieves to locate personal information that aids in company breaches.
Besides social networks, another major source of leaked information is the retail sector, which accounted for nearly a quarter of all records breached in 2021. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Retail Indicator Division, e-commerce sales increased by 50% during the pandemic. Retail data breaches increased in frequency and severity during the same period.
While the average cost of a retail breach was $2.01 million in 2020, it increased by 63% to $3.27 million in 2021. Customer credit card, payment information, and personal data were the principal targets of retail data breaches. E-commerce websites and applications sometimes skip security precautions like two-factor authentication (2-FA) as they seek a simple user experience.
When the enormous volumes of personal data that retail websites collect are not adequately protected, it creates the ideal environment for breaches and subsequent fraud. Finally, the healthcare sector is worth mentioning with only 1% of records, yet, at the same time, the information leaked is usually particularly sensitive.
Data compromised from healthcare institutions tend to include name, address, SSN, date of birth, and, in two-thirds of the breaches, actual medical history information. With this information in hand, cybercriminals can blackmail companies or even particular individuals.
To round up the findings, it’s obvious that retail and social media companies should go the extra mile in securing their customer information. In addition, even though healthcare providers leak only a fraction of the data, they should still safeguard their client data with particular care due to the sensitive nature of the information.
Some services offer data breach monitoring tools. Data breach monitors track any data breaches related to your online accounts. It automatically scans leaked databases and informs you of any past or recent breaches where your personal information was exposed.
As always, we must mention the most effective countermeasure against data leaks. It is advised to enable multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts that offer the functionality. This way, even if your credentials are compromised, threat actors will not be able to access your account unless you lose your phone, and it is also found by ill-meaning individuals, which is less than likely.
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