The internet is no longer new. It’s been in most people’s homes for twenty years or more now, and we’ve all come to accept it as part and parcel of modern life. When it first began, it was something that we only had on our computers, and we connected to it through a series of buzzes and dings that went down our physical phone lines. If someone then chose to give us a call on those phone lines, it would disrupt our feeble and vulnerable internet connections. If you’re one of our younger readers and you don’t believe this happened, speak to your parents! 

Technology has moved on a lot since then, and the internet is now in our mobile phones, our speakers, our lighting systems, and in a variety of other places and devices thanks to the wonder of the ‘internet of things.’ In almost all ways, this is a good thing. It’s made our lives more convenient and efficient, and revolutionized the way many people and companies to business. In some ways, though, the pace of change has been too fast. While the internet has been evolving around us, we haven’t changed the way we think about internet security. “Don’t give out your credit card details during an MSN conversation” (again; kids, please ask your parents) is no longer sufficient advice to protect your financial information online. Installing Norton Antivirus may not be the best way of safeguarding your files. 

It never hurts to take a moment to ensure everything is safe and sound, so here’s a quick refresher on the basics of making sure you’re safe and secure online in 2019. 

Consider Getting A VPN

Once upon a time, the main use of a VPN was for businesspeople to connect to the office while they work from home. Thanks to the arrival of cloud storage, we no longer have to do that. Now, VPNs have a new function; they’re the safest way to ensure that your web activity stays private. Installing a VPN might cost you a small fee, but if you regularly deal in sensitive data – or you just have things on your computer you’d rather nobody else saw – a VPN is the best way to protect you. 

Simply put, a VPN (which stands for ‘Virtual Private Network’) is an extra link in the chain between your device and the internet. Whenever you’re online, data is constantly being transferred between your computer, your mail server if you have Outlook or an equivalent mail client open, and any websites you visit. Although every effort is made by your ISP to keep that data secure, there’s still the risk of it being intercepted by hackers. Anything intercepted can be stolen. A VPN negates this risk by encrypting the data as it’s sent and received, which effectively scrambles the information in transit. It makes it hard for a hacker to trace the source of the connection – i.e., your device or computer, and also means that even if they do manage to grab data, it will be unintelligible to them.

The Rule Of Three

Backing up your data to one place is good. Backing up your data to multiple places is better. If you don’t back up your data at all – what on Earth are you thinking? Having backups of all your most important information is essential to protect against the risk of data loss. That doesn’t just have to be work documents or files – it can mean priceless photographs and personal information, too. Thanks to the advent of cloud storage it’s never been easier to back up your data online – which guards against system failure – but that doesn’t solve the risk of attackers getting into your device and having access to both your physical and cloud storage at the same time. 

That’s why we now advocate the ‘rule of three’ as the best way to stay completely data secure. As implied by the name, your data should always exist in three places at the same time – once on your device, once in cloud storage, and a third time on a second physical device. If you back all your essential data up on an external hard drive periodically – and then disconnect the device – it eliminates the risk of data maliciously or accidentally being deleted from the other two places. You’ll always have a place to go to recover from loss, and you’re no longer at risk of losing everything in the event of a ransomware attack. Just remember to keep the external hard drive encrypted! 

Use A Password Manager

Most of us are guilty of an enormous faux pas when it comes to passwords. Because there are now so many different online accounts we have – from banking to email to social media – we’re not as clever about passwords as we really ought to be. Some people still use one password for all their accounts, which is just asking for trouble. Others use a complicated password for the accounts they believe to be ‘important’ – like their bank or their email – but will use another, weaker password for accounts they consider to be ‘less important,’ like a shopping account. 

This is poor practice for several reasons – one of which is that details often overlap. You might not consider, for example, your Amazon account to be as important as your online banking service, but your Amazon account contains details of your credit and debit cards, as well as access to instant purchases. If you have accounts with online casinos or UK slots websites, an attacker could gain access, and potentially use your existing payment methods to pay for a day of slots UK gaming, with all the profits then being withdrawn to new bank details they enter – i.e., their own. You would be gambling with your data security, and they would be gambling with your money! Online casinos, shopping accounts, music or television subscriptions, and other sites may not have ‘direct’ access to your bank account or private data, but they do frequently have sufficient access to request payment from those accounts, or enough information for an attacker to use and try to gain access to something more important to you. They need safeguarding just as tightly as everything else. 

A password manager takes care of this for you. It will generate an unguessable, ultra-secure password for you, store it safely, and encrypt it. Only you’ll have access to it, and so only you can use it to log into your chosen websites and apps as you wish to. 

We didn’t have to worry about VPNs, password managers, or third backup options ten years ago, but that’s just the way technology has changed. Ten years from now we might be talking about how to avoid your fingerprint being stolen, or retina cloning. For now, have an audit of your security arrangements, and take steps towards a safer future.