Five simple things to do to protect yourself online

Protect Yourself Online

The advent of technology has made it possible for professionals to engage online from anywhere in the world. However, this carries a number of risks, which can lead to loss of money and digital privacy.

Cybercriminals can steal your personal and financial information, which they can use to defraud you or sell on the dark web. It is therefore important to protect yourself against these risks.

Internet security is about protecting your online activities from hackers, scammers, etc. The most exposed users are those who transact and work online.

Here are some ways to protect yourself from online scammers and hackers.

#1. Use antivirus software

If you are attacked by malware, your device may be seriously damaged and your data security may even be compromised. In this case, hackers can gain access to your personal information or even take control of your device.

Once installed on your device, the antivirus scans it for suspicious files. If detected, it removes the virus and infected files and quarantines them.

The antivirus should be updated regularly, because according to Kaspersky Security Bulletin 2021 statistics, around 114 million malicious URLs triggered Kaspersky web antivirus in 2021. The report also states that malicious miners attacked more than ‘one million unique cryptocurrency users.

The Kaspersky report also noted attempts to steal money from the bank accounts of 429,354 users by malware.

Every time a new virus is discovered, it is assigned a unique signature and the virus database is updated by the antivirus manufacturer. This is why you should update your antivirus when prompted.

Today, advanced malware integrates itself into the rootkit of your device's operating system and exerts administrative control. However, antivirus updates now scan the rootkit and eliminate these powerful malware.

There is also the threat of fake antivirus programs, which are really just malware. You install them and they claim to scan for viruses, but instead steal information.

Be aware, however, that while antivirus software can be an important tool for protecting your device, it is not a substitute for good web hygiene.

#2. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication is another essential security measure. It adds an extra layer of protection by requiring a code or biometric data in addition to your password, to grant you access.

Since passwords alone are not enough to keep your account secure, 2FA provides additional security to your online accounts. In fact, a large number of online service providers now offer 2FA.

However, sending an SMS code to your mobile phone can be dangerous as hackers are now doing SIM swaps in order to obtain the verification code. To solve this problem, authenticator applications were created.

These authenticator apps generate a verification code that you use to log in. It is advisable to install the authenticator app on another device, so that even if your active device is stolen, criminals will not get the code.

Here are some examples of authentication applications: Microsoft Authenticator, Authy and Google Authenticator.

Many scammers are starting to focus on trading apps rather than banking apps because many brokerages don't invest as much as banks in IT infrastructure. Many brokers still have outdated infrastructure and do not have firewalls on their web servers.

Today, it is not uncommon to see trading apps that do not support biometric features, but most banking apps do, because banks need to keep their security standards up to date. This is not necessarily the case for brokers.

A scammer who infiltrates your trading app could use your account for pump and dump fraud. Pumping means that instead of withdrawing your funds, it uses them to buy huge volumes of worthless assets, creating a false impression that the asset is in demand.

Buying large quantities increases demand for the asset and drives up the price, and the scammer then sells his previously purchased stake cheaply and makes a profit.

Generally speaking, before downloading a trading app, one should check whether the brokerage firm is regulated or not, and whether it has sufficient resources to invest in the security of its infrastructure and cloud. For retail traders in Africa, trading applications from licensed South African brokers are generally considered to have a lower risk of security breach or data loss, as these brokers must comply with security standards set by the regulators.

In the past, the servers of popular brokers and banks, or their third parties, have been infiltrated by hackers due to poor infrastructure, and customer data has been stolen. So, it is very important to avoid apps that have been subject to data breaches in the past.

For example, the personal data of 1.7 million Nedbank customers was put at risk by a data breach at a third-party company, Computer Facilities (Pty) Ltd, which they used for marketing campaigns.

You should therefore use a strong password to protect your online accounts and change it regularly. Do not use weak passwords such as date of birth or last name, which can be easily guessed. Never use the same password for different accounts.

Ideally, a strong password should be at least 12 characters long with a mix of upper and lower case letters, symbols and numbers.

#3. Do not click on unknown links

Data has shown that many malware attacks occur when users click on malicious links. According to Cisco, a technology and cybersecurity company, 67.5% of people who click on suspicious links are likely to be victims of cyberattacks by entering their login credentials.

The most exposed users are professionals and even gamers. Indeed, these users often need to actively engage through email and online messaging.

It is important to avoid clicking on unknown or suspicious links. Some of these links are sent to your email address pretending to be legitimate companies or personalities. You can hover your cursor over a link to reveal the real destination URL.

Also, do not trust unsolicited emails and be wary of emails marked as urgent. According to Cisco, 94% of malware on computers got there through phishing emails.

Unsolicited messages may contain viruses or malware that may compromise your personal information such as your password and credit card details.

Many scammers target professionals by sending them phishing emails, in which you unsuspectingly click on the link in the email, which takes them to a login page that looks like the login page of the website you wanted to visit. Entering your data on this phishing page will compromise your account.

In some cases, scammers offer you deals that are too good to be true, tricking you into clicking a link that will take you to the deal. Once you click on the link, malware may be downloaded to your device or you may be redirected to a fake version of the suspected sender's login page.

When you are on the fake login page, all the details you enter are mirrored by the scammers and stolen. The fake page will then display an error and redirect you to the genuine page, so you will not suspect foul play.

If an unsolicited email message claims to be from a well-known organization, such as a bank or brokerage firm, go directly to the organization's website instead of clicking on links in the message.

Additionally, pay attention to the spelling of the website in an unsolicited message. In most cases, the spellings may look similar, but there is always a spelling mistake.

Also, don’t give out personal or financial information in a suspicious or unsolicited email message. This is often a scam.

You are advised to be careful when you receive messages or links from unknown sources. Be sure to use a spam filter and avoid clicking on links or downloading files from unknown sources.

#4. Do not install apps from unknown sources

As a person who is active online, you will need many apps for your activities. It could be messaging, banking, gaming, commerce or even entertainment. This is why you need to be careful and certain about the apps you have on your devices.

Millions of people have fallen victim to online fraud because they installed applications from unknown sources on the internet.

Apps downloaded from unverified sources may also contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers.

As an online retailer, you must first obtain applications for your mobile devices from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. You can also get apps from trusted enterprise app stores.

Although their security is not completely guaranteed, apps from the above-mentioned sources may offer you a certain degree of security due to the strict regulations that apply to app developers. These sources also verify individual apps before they are made available for download.

Although Google and Apple have strict rules and often remove harmful or malicious apps when detected, it is possible that innocent people downloaded the bad apps before they were discovered.

Always check the date the app was downloaded and compare it to the number of downloads. If a popular app was downloaded a long time ago and it still hasn't downloaded, that's a red flag.

The user comments section also gives insight into the point of view of a third party, i.e. other users. If the reviews are consistently bad, it means something is wrong with the app, and if the reviews are exceptionally good and insubstantial, it may also mean the review is fake.

#5. Use a VPN when using public wifi

Although public Wi-Fi has become a popular way to connect to the internet, it poses a significant risk to the security of your online presence, especially if you access your banking or trading account via an internet connection public.

Public Wi-Fi networks are often unencrypted, meaning your online activity can be easily intercepted by cybercriminals.

Using a virtual private network (VPN) creates a secure, encrypted connection between your device and the internet, protecting your online activity from prying eyes by encrypting sensitive data.

When using a public Wi-Fi network, your data can be intercepted by anyone on the same network. However, a VPN encrypts your internet traffic and protects your online privacy.

Additionally, when you use a VPN, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can't see what you do online, which means they can't track your activity or sell your data to advertisers.

In summary, if you use public WiFi frequently, you should make sure you have a paid VPN in place to ensure your online privacy.

Accidents hurt, safety doesn't hurt

Your online privacy should be taken more seriously, especially with the spate of cyber scams of late. The most exposed users are those who work in the financial field, for example day traders, because there is money at stake and scammers target them.

Always try to use strong passwords and do not use the same password for multiple accounts, which will make you more vulnerable to hacking.

Be wary of any unsolicited messages or platforms that ask for personal information such as your credit card number. It is also important to change your password regularly to enhance security.

Finally, be careful about the information you share on social media, as it could be used by cybercriminals to access your accounts, steal your identity, or create fake accounts in your name.