6 Ways to Improve Your Online Security

Cyber Security

As our businesses and personal lives are increasingly conducted online, it is more important than ever to keep our digital activities as safe and secure as possible. Here I will share some tips for safeguarding not only your website but your personal digital presence in general.

1) Keep your apps and software up to date, including WordPress

One of the main reasons why software developers provide regular updates is for security patches. So if you are running old software versions you are potentially exposing your computer to security vulnerabilities that have long since been fixed. This includes your computer itself — you are much safer if you keep your computer’s operating system up to date. I know some of you are reluctant to update your OS because of certain software compatibility issues (*cough* Adobe CS6 *cough*), but you should really consider whether it’s worth running an old OS that is vulnerable to all kinds of viruses and malware.

Also, if you have a WordPress blog, you MUST regularly update it and all its plugins to the latest versions! It’s easy, just log in to the WP admin and click the updates link in the menu when it shows that updates are available. Just follow the directions there and after a few clicks it’s all done.

2) Be careful when using public internet connections

This might be obvious but if you’re using a public computer such as in an internet cafe, never allow the browser to remember login details and always be sure to log out of whatever website you might be logged in to.

What’s perhaps less obvious is that when you’re using your own computer/phone with public wifi in a cafe, hotel, airport, etc., somebody could easily be snooping on your internet traffic, thus potentially exposing personal data or login information. To combat this, I highly recommend using VPN software on your computer/device. Which brings me to:

3) Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

Everybody should be using a VPN! A VPN service does two important things for you: first, and most importantly, it encrypts all data that leaves your computer/device, thus allowing you to safely use public wifi connections.

Secondly, a VPN provides privacy by running all your encrypted traffic through a remote server with a different originating IP address, so your internet history cannot be tracked by your personal IP address.

Did you know that your ISP, or internet service provider (like Comcast, Centurylink, Verizon, AT&T, etc.) can track of all your internet activity? Did you know that in 2017 the Republicans in Congress passed a bill allowing your ISP to sell all that information to the highest bidder? Outrageous, right? Well, a VPN effectively cloaks your web activity so it would be impossible (or at least much tougher) for nefarious actors to track, sell, or abuse your online privacy, whether they’re hackers, corporations, or the government itself.

This all sounds complicated, you might be thinking. Well it’s super easy to use a VPN nowadays! There are many VPN services out there; I use one called ExpressVPN which is highly regarded in numerous VPN reviews. You just sign up and download their software, then just choose a VPN location near you, and it runs effortlessly in the background encrypting all your internet traffic from your computer and providing anonymous privacy. Easy peasy! They even have an app that does the same thing for your phone. It does cost about a 100 bucks per year, but in my opinion it’s worth it for the security and privacy benefits. There are other perks too, such as being able to stream World Cup games by switching the VPN location selection to one in England, for example.

Read more about what a VPN does and how easy it is to install here.

4) Use encrypted HTTPS websites

When you visit a website with an address that starts with “https”, that means that the connection to that website is encrypted. A “http” website is not encrypted, which means that the traffic to that website can be snooped. All WideRange websites using the WideRange Admin 5.0 use https encryption. If you’re a client using an older version of the admin, please contact me to upgrade!

In general, though, be very wary of entering any personal data on a website that is not encrypted with an https address. Most modern browsers have started to show a warning symbol next to unsecure websites.

5) Use strong passwords

Another obvious tip, but all your passwords should be strong enough to prevent easy guessing or brute force hacking. Traditionally it’s been recommended to use passwords that include a combination of uppercase, lowercase, numeric, and symbol characters, and no dictionary words. Another strategy if you don’t want to use convoluted passwords is to use super long passwords that are just a long run-on sentence, like “Thisismypasswordbecauseiamparanoidabouthackers”; the advantage being that you can theoretically remember something like that, but it’s so long that it’s virtually uncrackable. Also, make sure that you use different passwords and not the same one for everything.

Personally I can’t remember dozens of different convoluted passwords, so I use a password manager service called LastPass. With LastPass you can have strong convoluted passwords for all your online accounts and it’s all stored for you in an encrypted digital account which functions via a browser plugin, and is accessible across all your devices. This is also a paid subscription service but again I think it’s worth it for the security and convenience.

6) Don’t open email attachments from unknown sources

Yet another super obvious tip, but it’s worth mentioning here: never open zip files or any other attachments from spammers or anybody you don’t know. The attachments could contain viruses or malware that infect your computer.

Also don’t click on their links either. Sometimes you might get an email that looks legit, like it’s from a real company that you trust. But if the sender’s email address doesn’t exactly match that company’s address, or if their links go to a site that isn’t that company, it’s probably just sophisticated spam designed to trick you into divulging personal info.

 

These are but a few starting tips for maintaining a safe and secure online life. You can see a helpful and much more comprehensive security checklist here. The more secure you are, the more secure we all are. If you have any other tips or suggestions, please let me know!