Safer by the dozen – 12 tips to keep hackers away from your devices in 2023.

12 tips to keep hackers away from your devices in 2023

It’s never been more important to protect yourself from identity theft, financial crime and hacking as we spend more of our hours of the day online. It could be something simple and relatively harmless, such as the embarrassment of your social media accounts being infiltrated by pranksters, to a serious incident of your bank account being emptied by professional cyber-thieves.

Here are our ‘hackers’ dozen’ tips to keep you safe online by following these basic precautions:

When social media becomes antisocial

When social media becomes antisocial

At one end of the scale, a relatively harmless jape is often played on people who don’t have PIN code, face recognition or fingerprint access on their phones. Imagine going for a night out with friends, visiting the bathroom and leaving your iPhone on the table. You return to find you have publicly announced online that you identify as a goat, and that you’ve decided to pack up your job and live in a cave in the Gobi desert!

That’s just a laugh, but it could have been much more serious. To avoid your phone being used if it is lost or stolen, enable the ‘Find My’ on Apple or Google’s ‘Find my Device’ app on Android; at least that way if it’s lost the device, you have a good chance of finding it after you dropped the thing down the back of your friend’s sofa after the 15th shot of Rum punch last night. Also, you can ensure that any of your important online accounts are protected by two factor authentication (2FA).

If the phone is found by a stranger, with fingerprint or face recognition it can’t be used by them without being totally reset, then at least any personal information is simply erased, but you’ve lost some expensive hardware.

Avoid weak passwords

Avoid weak passwords.

If you can, create discrete and complicated passwords for each website or online service you access. The problem, of course, is remembering them. Obviously, you should not write them all down in a notebook as it’s a pain to carry it everywhere and if it was found or stolen from a handbag or rucksack by a malicious stranger, they could have a field day online at your expense.

You can use a password manager to both generate and store effective passwords. Such tools might be 1Password, Dashlane or LastPass. Alternatively, you can use a random password generator. However, a simple way of generating and remembering your own passwords in your head might be to create your own ‘mental algorithm’ – which can be used to apply to any online service.  

Imagine, for example, that you wish to create a password for TikTok. You could create your own system whereby the first and last letters of the domain name you’re creating the password for are represented by their numerical alphabetic equivalent, A being 1 and Z being 26. T would be represented by the 20th letter of the alphabet and K would be 11. You could then have a core password in the middle such as your pet’s name or your town of birth – just use the same core for all domains so it’s easy to remember and always make one character uppercase.

Using that system your TikTok password would be 20Fido11 and your LinkedIn login would be 12Fido14. It doesn’t matter how you create your mental algorithm, so long as it’s consistent – how complicated it gets might depend upon your mental agility!

Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

 Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA).

Do this on all your devices and online accounts wherever possibleThe only drawback to this might be the necessity of having a good phone signal wherever you go to receive a One Time Password (OTP) to your mobile device.

Only put personal details into websites using the HTTPS protocol

Only put personal details into websites using the HTTPS protocol

HTTPS is indicated by a padlock symbol in the browser, so it’s easy to know when a website’s connection isn’t encrypted and secure.

Beware of public Wi-Fi networks and use a VPN whenever possible

Beware of public Wi-Fi networks and use a VPN whenever possible.

A Virtual Private Network like Urban VPN offers added security because it places an encrypted tunnel between your device and your wider internet connection. VPN servers also have advanced anti-virus facilities. Unlike simple anti-virus software, the VPN will cut your connection immediately to any Wi-Fi network where it detects malicious activity from hackers. Virus software will only identify and isolate malicious files but won’t disconnect from the internet.

Avoid phishing traps

Avoid phishing trips.

Always be especially cautious about following links or downloading any attachments from unfamiliar senders or unknown sources. If you get a message purporting to be from your bank, don’t click the link that the message includes. Instead, contact your bank through their recognized, regular public login page and chat or speak to an advisor. If you connect via a link in an email, you may be connecting to a ‘phantom’ web page – these can look very convincing.

Use your computer's firewall if available

Use your computer’s firewall if available.

On Mac computers, this facility is also enhanced by FileVault, which encrypts files and volumes ‘on the fly’ as they are created; especially helpful if the laptop or machine is stolen. You can also use this in conjunction with a free Mac VPN, for added security. Windows Firewall is known after Windows 10 as Microsoft Defender Firewall – that version is on by default on all machines and cannot be turned off.

Secure Your IoT Devices

Secure Your IoT Devices:

The Internet of Things (IOT) refers to all the ‘smart’ devices in your home that can be controlled remotely or by voice control like Google Assistant, Siri or Amazon Alexa. Typical uses of IOT devices might be Hive thermostats and timers for heating systems, smart doorbells with cameras, motorized curtains and blinds, fridges and cookers that can be temperature controlled remotely, healthcare devices, apps in our cars and the like. You can often route an unlimited number of devices through a VPN, which could prevent hackers from downloading security camera footage and such activities.

Remember that modern cars aren’t so much transportation devices nowadays as iPads on wheels! Everything from the way you drive – speed, acceleration, cornering and braking – to where you drive to and from is recorded and can be analyzed by the vehicle manufacturer. What do they do with that data? Even your music playlist and the temperature at which you like to keep the vehicle interior is recorded. Think about your online privacy if buying a modern vehicle and make yourself aware of what data is mined, kept and passed along.

Change your default router password

 Change your default router password.

When you unbox your home router, change the password to your own. Write it down and save for friends and family use only. If a hacker gets into the database of a router manufacturer’s default passwords, it could be open season on your Wi-Fi across your neighborhood. Cyber criminals use hacked home networks for all kinds of illegal and unsavory practices.

Stay educated about cyber security

Stay educated.

The simple fact that you’re aware of contemporary ongoing security issues is often enough to keep you safe. After all, you probably wouldn’t leave your house with all the doors and windows unlocked. Online security is as important as physical security – so keep up with the latest trends in online protection.

No obvious answers

When setting up security questions, don’t use easily guessable answers, and especially keep things like your postcode, date of birth and mother’s maiden name off social media.

Avoid data mining.

Avoid commenting on those posts on social media – “It’s 1985 – what car are you driving?” or “Most memorable line in a song ever…”. It only takes you to answer a few of these questions publicly, and hackers build up a database of your likes, dislikes, favorite movies etc. This helps them immensely to program password hacking software. Don’t give the internet baddies any help!

Use common sense when browsing

Use common sense.

In summary, most of this stuff is common sense – you wouldn’t go into a bar and leave your purse or wallet on the counter unattended for an evening – likewise, take the same attitude to online security as you would to your ‘offline’ life, and you won’t go far wrong.

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