Protecting Yourself Online

Protecting Yourself in a Digital World:

When we sell products in our store-front location, we are frequently asked,  “what are your recommendations for anti-virus software?”  Our answer is always the same.  The best virus protection is yourself.   The same concepts apply for improving your security and privacy online.  It takes having the knowledge of different ways information is compromised online, and implementing methods to protect yourself in a way that works for you.  In this months segment, we will cover some of the best practices for protecting yourself online that everyone should be taking.  It is important to note that security can be almost always be taken a step further, however this comes at the cost of convenience.  The methods we discuss today will not apply for mass data collection from the tech giants of today, taking steps to avoid mass data collection can often mean disabling features that may lead to a less favorable experience for those who are not tech-savvy.

Virus & Malware Protection:

In order to know what the best virus protection service is, we must first understand what a virus is.  A virus is a type of malicious software, often referred to malware, that changes the code within programs on your computer and attempts to spread to other programs or files you may have installed.  While all viruses are malware, not all malware is a virus.  Some malware is designed to track you internet activity across websites, or steal personal information.   These threats can be detected in multiple ways.  One method is when a malicious piece of software is installed, often being flagged for having signatures that match known malware.  This method is known as signature based scanning.  Another form of detecting malicious code is heuristic scanning, which differs from signature based scanning by looking for similarities in the code of a program or file to known malware.  Larger companies will often have better detection on heuristic scanning, as with more customers, they have a larger data base to pull from when malicious software is detected.  It is very important to keep your anti-virus software up to date, as failing to do so will prohibit your anti-virus software from detecting new threats that have been discovered.  While paying for anti-virus software will often give you extra features such as a built in firewall and website protection, which will block potentially dangerous websites or files, a free anti virus will still give you protection against viruses & malware.  While we will not list any specific anti-virus software’s, you will want one with a high detection rate of malware.  Windows 10 & Windows 11 both come with Windows Defender installed which does a good job at detecting known viruses, but can lack on certain types of malware.  Since Apple MacOS is not as widely used as windows there is less incentives for people to create malicious software, however it is still possible and becoming more frequent as Apple’s has been gaining market share on Windows.  Chrome books are similar to Apple’s Mac Products as they don’t have as large of a market share, however chrome books take things a step further by preventing programs and webpages from having access to the rest of the computer, preventing a virus from spreading.


Password Protection:

One of the most important methods of protecting yourself online is to ensure that you are using different passwords for all your different logins.  This is important because reusing the same password can lead to your accounts becoming compromised from a data breach.  Often companies will encrypt their users passwords, preventing anyone without the encryption key to have nothing but a string of hashed characters, but sometimes this isn’t the case as with the data breach that effected MySpace in 2016 when 360 million accounts were compromised.  This allowed the hackers to reuse information from the data breach to access user accounts other websites, such as their banking logins.  While not re-using passwords is important, it is also crucial that you use long and complex passwords.  Having a short easily guessable password leaves you exposed to brute-force attacks where a hacker can use software that will continually try to guess your password until it has it correct.  Remembering all these different long complicated passwords can be difficult, that’s why we recommend using a Password Manager.  A Password Manager is a service that will allow you to keep all your passwords in one safe encrypted place.  In the instance of a password manager being hacked, they would only have access to your main password to get into the password manager, and not all of the passwords and information stored within the password manager.  Apple, Microsoft, and Google all have implemented their own free-to-use password manager with their services, however there have been some security concerns brought up with these methods of storing and securing your passwords.


Two Factor Authentication:

Another way of protecting yourself online is to enable two factor authentication.  This is an extra safeguard that will require a user to enter in a code from another source such as via a text message or through authenticated application such as Goole or Microsoft Authenticator.  Having this extra layer of security is helpful in the instance one of your account becomes compromised. When possible we recommend using an authenticated application.  This is because of SIM swap attacks where hackers use social engineering to convince an employee at a wireless carrier store, such as Verizon or T-Mobile, to switch the phone services to a hackers phone.  An example of this happened in 2020 when at the time Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was hacked from this method.  It is important to note that the average user will not be effected by a SIM swap attack, however it is possible.


Virtualized Private Networks (VPN):

Another good method of protecting yourself online is to use a VPN.  While there are Site-To-Site VPN’s and Remote Access VPN’s.  Today we will cover remote access VPN’s which is what most consumers use on their laptop or cellular device.  A VPN allows you to hide your web traffic from other people on your network, and your Internet Service Provider.  When you use a VPN you connect directly the VPN Host Servers which creates a VPN Tunnel that encrypts traffic from others on your network.  If someone was to be using a Packet Sniffer such as WireShark, they will only see that you are connected to a VPN, and not the web traffic that is going through it.  Using a personal VPN is very helpful when using public networks.  Doing so creates a protective bubble that prohibits anyone on the same network from interacting with your end point device, whether that be a laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.  It is important to note that not all networks are configured the same, and some may leave you more vulnerable than others.


Important Fun Facts:

  • Always update your operating system.  Not updating to a newer version of the OS potentially leaves you exposed to vulnerabilities within an OS in-terms making you an easier target.
  • Don’t click on links, and when necessary, copy and paste them into the URL.  While a link may look legit, it could be spoofed to appear as a legit website, and it could take you to the legit website, however there could be things done in the background such as a discreetly downloading malware or grabbing your IP address.



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