The How-To Guide on Personal Cyber Security
A Detailed Guide on How You Can Protect Your Precious Data and Your Identity Online in This Digital Age When Cyber-Crimes Are at an All-Time High.
Around 1.5 million cyber-attacks are registered annually, which means over 4,000 attacks in a day, 170 per hour, or nearly 3 attacks every single minute in the world.
The Internet, since its boom from the nostalgic 90s to up until now, has the most active users than any other communication medium.
However, with such a huge user base and uses comes some big threats too. Yes, we are talking about the infamous cyber-attacks or in a common tongue “Internet frauds”. Today the big tech giants and corporations are spending millions for securely using web services and to avoid any data breach. These companies have specialized teams of cybersecurity experts to deal with all kinds of cyber-threats. However, as an individual, people don’t have access to such consultancy services. So, in this article, we are going to talk about the ways by which we as individuals can do safe and anonymous web browsing care-free (well not really).
Given below are some ways and techniques through which we can be secure and anonymous in the big world, full of prying eyes on the internet.
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)
‘VPN’ is a well-heard name in the internet community, however, not something that’s taken quite seriously by the internet users as per the observed trends. For the sake of this article, we won’t be diving very deep into the encrypted deep tunnels of the VPN. Rather, we will only be discussing what exactly a VPN is, what it does, and what to look for in a ‘secure’ VPN if you are planning on to get one yourself.
A Virtual Personal Network, commonly known by its abbreviation VPN, is a tool or service, provided by VPN providers (just like the internet service providers or ISPs) that have different servers all over the globe or specific countries. These VPN providers direct our internet traffic (our requested website or content online) through their servers, masking our original IP address and giving us a new, virtual one.
An IP address is like the physical address for our devices like phones, laptops, and computers, etc. However, unlike the usual addresses that we are familiar with (such as our house’s street address), a device’s IP address consists of numbers, like 123.456.78.90. Each public IP address is a unique combination of digits, i.e., each device has an IP address that acts as a unique public identity for the device on the Internet. These combinations can be very tricky, and we are very lucky that in this age of the Internet, we don’t need to remember the IP addresses to open a website or content. Rather, to access a website, we just need to type its domain name not the IP address of the server on which the website is being hosted on.
A VPN not only masks our IP address and makes us look like virtually, we are the resident of some different location, but also it gives us access to some region-specific content that might be blocked previously. For example, some content on Netflix is only accessible in the US and not in other countries. But through a VPN, some people not residing in the US might be able to access that unavailable content as well.
Regarding what kind of VPN to choose for browsing anonymously on the Internet, it is suggested to opt for only those VPN providers which offer a ‘no-log policy’. This means that whatever you search online, your request goes to the VPN servers for returning the search result, and once that is done, our search log is deleted permanently and not stored on the VPN servers after our use.
This is important since often, Government agencies might ask the VPN providers to provide their client’s search history, or in the worst-case scenario, the VPN service provider’s database might get compromised. In such a situation, due to the no-log policy, you don’t have to worry about your browsing history leaking out to the public. Hence, this makes us secure and anonymous.
However, more than 60% of daily internet users, due to negligence or carelessness, either do not turn on their VPN service while browsing the Internet or don’t even have a VPN service, due to which they are more prone to the cyber threats.
Total Protection Software
People often buy anti-virus software and assume that that would help them in safe-browsing and protect them from email phishing scams. However, contrary to the popular belief, this is not the case. Anti-virus is a basic program that stops malware from an external source (flash drives, internet, etc.) from spreading within the system.
But a Total Protection Software defends us against several other threats as well, like key-logging (records our keyboard’s keystrokes), webcam hijacking, trojans, and many more. The total protection software warns us about risky and harmful websites and files. Just like antiviruses, this software has a pre-defined database of previously found viruses and harmful codes. What sets it apart from an antivirus is the functionality that checks for suspicious, unusual activity within the system, and flags one is detected.
Despite all this, total protection software doesn’t offer total protection. As we know things are complicated with us humans, and so are the cyber-threat types. Daily, around 350,000 new pieces of malware are detected. Over 7 billion malware attacks were reported in the year 2019. And there are now nearly 980 million malware programs out there. Also, every minute, four companies fall victim to ransomware attacks. There are countless peoples out there creating new and lethal viruses and malware, constantly searching for new vulnerabilities to exploit and take advantage of.
So, we have people on both sides. And there is a never-ending war between the philanthropists and the exploiters, the attackers, and the protectors. As general people, we must not be care-free, because some people are working hard day and night to hack our digital life.
Image from Wikipedia
So, here comes a tool that is not only for security but is an independent browser too. Torr is a browser that comes with an encrypted request/response cycle. Just like an onion has multiple layers, in the Tor browser, any data request made by us is sent through different encryption layers which encrypts our request and masks our IP address. This is done with the help of a combination of different cryptographic algorithms within each layer.
However, the fact that certain webpages and web apps don’t run on the Tor browser is the reason for its lesser popularity when compared alongside the other big browser names. But things are changing fast. Tor is catching up with the other leading browsers in the market. It’s newer and updated versions are overcoming the compatibility limitations, thus narrowing the gap within the browser market. Also, the infamous darknet, commonly known as the ‘dark web’, which is a restricted free platform for unsupervised web activities (including the illegal ones) can be accessed by Torr. Torr here supports some websites with ‘. onion’ domain, which other browsers like Chrome and Safari can’t. Because of this, Darknet websites are accessible only through Tor.
Software piracy, especially game piracy, is the most frequently performed piracy crime, both by the seeders and uploaders, and those involved in downloading these pirated games. Most exclusive and popular game titles can be really expensive, costing as much as $80, which is a price some can’t afford. As a result, people take to downloading pirated copies of these games online from shady, untrusted sources. While it might not be directly visible to the user of this pirated software but during the installation, or while running the program, some unknown programs or codes might get installed too which may act like malware, like ransomware, virus, or in a lucky case might be simple adware.
See the screenshot below that shows some malware that got installed on a user’s computer while installing a pirated copy of video editing software on their PC.
Keep Your System and Apps Updated
Keeping up with the latest patches and updates, especially for the operating system on our devices, greatly decreases the chance of cybercriminals finding vulnerabilities within our system and applications. Companies time-to-time release security updates that address and bring about the solution to our system’s previous vulnerabilities. The same goes for the various applications or programs that we use, that might get used as backdoors for the hackers to gain access to our devices because of their underlying vulnerability. As a result, keeping up-to-date with the latest software versions is a must.
Work Smart, and a Little Hard
In this section, we will discuss a few more miscellaneous ways by which we can decrease the possibilities of a cyber-attack on our side.
Firstly, you should be vigilant while accessing different web pages on the Internet. Visit sites with ‘https’ file transfer protocol, which is a secured channel for the request/response cycle between our device and the host server. Similarly, try avoiding the older ‘HTTP’ protocol which is not secure and might be a vulnerability.
Also, we should avoid giving any personal information or data on untrusted or unknown platforms, like surveys or Google forms surveys from an unknown source. Never save your credit/debit card details on any platform. Rather, you can manually input the payment details each time when you use them. While it might sound a bit inconvenient, this is certainly the more secure option.
And last but not the least, use separate email addresses for social media and web browsing, and a separate one for each bank account and online wallet that you use. In case one of your email ID gets hacked, not all of your accounts will get compromised. This also ensures less spam or phishing emails on your bank-registered email, since you will be using that email only for banking purposes.
About the Author
Shivraj is a 2nd year student studying Computer Ccience with cyber-security and digital forensics and is am driven by thirst for “How to” knowledge.