Real talk: the internet is awesome. Anybody who tells you otherwise is obviously lying. It provides you with an infinite supply of funny cat videos, allows you to restock on toothpaste without putting on your shoes and driving all the way to the store, and it gives you a million ways to keep in touch with friends and family. But for as much as the internet allows us to interact with one another in more ways and more easily than ever before, it also has a dark side. Putting yourself out there on the world wide web isn’t without its security risks.
Never given much thought to your cybersecurity before? Now’s the perfect time to start. We’ll even help you out by going over:
- Why cybersecurity is an issue
- What cybersecurity threats look like
- How you can protect your information as an individual or as a business
The Internet Wasn’t Built to Be Secure
In The Beginning
When the internet was first invented back in the 1960s, it didn’t look anything like it does today. At that point, computers were massive machines that took up entire rooms. They were so expensive that only prestigious universities, huge companies, and a handful of governments even had access to them.
The early internet provided a way for these primitive computers to communicate. When more than one computer is linked together, the system of linked devices is called a network. In the 1960s and 70s, networks were pretty small because there were so few devices to connect.
The networks gradually expanded as computers became a more popular tool, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and the advent of the personal computer that the internet exploded into the massive network it is today.
The Internet Today
Today the internet a thriving hub of activity– you can do pretty much anything you want to online. But whether you’re shopping or playing games or finding a hot date for this weekend, using the internet involves sharing information. We do it so often that this no longer seems like a big deal, but it is.
Think about it like this: there’s a house in your neighborhood that looks great. The paint’s fresh, the lawn is manicured, everything is neat and tidy. If you look closer, though, you realize that none of the doors have locks. Now, there’s no reason you can’t go into this house, but it’s definitely the sort of place you’d think twice about living. Would you really want to leave your valuables in a house you can’t lock up?
The internet is much the same way. You can do things to make your data more secure, but ultimately, you leave your information vulnerable every time you share or store it online. That’s just the way that it is. There’s no way of making the process of using the internet more secure without drastically changing the way it works– we would have to limit the kinds of information we can put online, make passwords and other security precautions much stronger, and eliminate many of our favorite kinds of online interactions.
An Introduction to Cybersecurity Threats
Since nobody’s ready to give up Google Drive or Amazon anytime soon, it’s best to know what kind of security threats you might encounter as a person who uses the internet. These are a few of the most common ones.
As it became easier for people to share data with each other using computers, some people began sharing programs that would crash or take control of. These programs are what we would refer to as malware, and there are all different types.
- Spyware monitors your screen and sends information back to the program’s owner, which means they have access to any personal information you pull up on screen
- Trojan horse malware looks like a legitimate program, but when opened it actually deletes your information, relays spam to your computer, or otherwise infects it
- Viruses take over some of your computer’s functionality. They can destroy data, steal information, generate spam, etc.
- Worms are like viruses, only they infect computers over a network. They often come in email attachments and can even send themselves to other people in your email address book once your computer is infected
Phishing is a scam that directs user to a fake website that is designed to look like a legitimate website in the hopes that users won’t notice the difference and enter their personal information. For example, a phishing scam may set up a webpage that looks just like your bank’s web page and try to get you to put in your account details.
For information that is stored online or is otherwise password-protected, hackers can try a number of different techniques to extract your password. They can use malware, they can set up a phishing scam, or they can use algorithms to try to guess your passwords. Regardless of what strategy they use, having someone else gain access to is never a good thing.
Keeping Your Information Safe
There’s no way to guarantee your online information will stay safe, but there are definitely things you can do either as an individual or as a business-owner that cut down on the risk of your information being stolen.
Tips for People
- Make sure your passwords have a good mix of letters, numbers, and special characters
- Use different passwords for all accounts
- Change passwords periodically
- Never leave your devices unattended while you’re logged in
- Only open email attachments from senders you’re sure you can trust
- Backup your data periodically
- If you’re going to go shopping online, make sure you are using your own devices and are on a secure network
- Don’t share personal information on social media sites
- Keep an eye out for suspicious activity on your accounts
Tips for Companies
- Equip each of your business’s computers with antivirus software
- Make sure your wifi network is secure and hidden
- Use a firewall
- Educate employees on how to best protect your company’s data
- Outline a clear code of employee conduct as it relates to cyber security, including punishments if they break the rules
- Back up any and all important business information
- Only allow authorized individuals to use computers at your office
- Make sure every page of your website is secure, not just your login and checkout pages
- Have well thought-out and secure IT solutions in place
When it really comes down to it, you can’t prevent your cybersecurity vulnerabilities, but you can be aware of cyber security threats. Whether you’re an individual or a business, being knowledgeable and prepared is the best cyber security protection you can give yourself.