Digitree Digital

Stay safe online: 12 online safety tips to boost security

How does one stay safe online amidst all the mayhem out there? Here’s a useful guide!

With cyber crime on the rise, it has become more pertinent than ever to take measures to stay safe online. For the average consumer it may seem like a daunting task to constantly adapt to new threats that present themselves everyday.

Staying safe online is easier than one might imagine. By understanding the way that cyber criminals operate, its just a matter of being aware of how we conduct ourselves online.

Here are a few online safety tips for your benefit!

Securing your browser

1. Ditch Internet Explorer and go open source

Although this may be the default browser in 1.25 billion Microsoft Windows machines in operation today, this browser has time and again proven to be a security nightmare. The main reason for is the proprietary nature of the software. New threats present themselves everyday and keeping track of them and releasing the required security patches is a herculean task. By the time the company analyses the threat, develops the patches and releases them for the multiple versions of the operating system, the damage has, in all probability, already been done.

The solution here is to go for an open source alternative. The rationale here is that open source software is updated and patched by a very active community which is much larger than the team at Microsoft. This means faster analysis of threats and rapid release of important security patches. This means that users of open source software are less likely to be prone to the latest security vulnerabilities.

Here are some great open source browsers

Chromium
Google Chrome
Mozilla Firefox

Keeping your browser safe

Even if you’re using a relatively safer browser, there are still ways you could be vulnerable while browsing the internet. This is because a large number of security exploits target regular browsing patterns to deliver malicious code that could lead to security vulnerabilities.

2. Blocking Ads


Many cyber criminals use ads to mislead site visitors and trick them into clicking malicious links that may compromise their computer and steal private information. Especially people who visit sites that provide download links or stream videos are exposed to this kind of attack. The download links are usually hidden behind legitimate looking buttons or popups that tell the user to install some software to continue may either lead to [Phishing Attacks]() or may install malicious software or extensions into the browser.

By installing effective ad blocking tools, the browsing experience can be made much safer and can prevent these kind of attacks.

One of the best ad blockers out there is UBlock Origin which uses a constantly updated list of ad servers and can stop them from being displayed on the the page. You can download it here –

Ublock Origin for Chrome/Chromium
Ublock Origin for Firefox

However it may be noted that this extension blocks all ads, illegitimate or not. Many websites rely on these ads for revenue and using this extension may deprive them of valuable revenue. Do consider [disabling the ad blocker]() for websites that you trust.

3. Preventing hijacked default search in the browser


Another way that a computer is compromised is when hidden extensions or plugins in browsers change the default search behavior of the browser. Since most browsers have the default search provider set to google, bing or yahoo, users tend to just type their queries into the address bar and hit enter. Compromised browsers will redirect them to a page that looks like a regular search results page but may throw up links to websites that may install malicious code or steal user data by way of a phishing attack. Exploits like luckysite123 are known to use this exploit. To disable this you can follow the following procedures:

Change the default search engine in the browser settings

Uninstall unknown extensions from browser settings

Use the Chrome cleanup tool to clean up any hidden exploits in the browser

Chrome Cleanup Tool

4. Protect your privacy while browsing

Most websites come with trackers that track user behavior and collect other browsing data from a session on a website. While a lot of websites state this fact upfront and inform the user about the exact data they collect, some websites may use this data for malicious intent like [Social Engineering](), blackmailing and other undesirable practices. To protect your browsing privacy, it is imperative to block trackers hidden in websites.


Ghostery is a plugin that helps plug this vulnerability. To ensure that you are always protected, go to browser settings and allow these plugins to work in incognito mode as well.

Ghostery for Chrome/Chromium
Ghostery for Firefox

5. Use HTTPS while browsing


When websites are accessed through a browser, they communicate through a protocol called HTTP. This is a standard protocol that allows websites to communicate between the browser and the server. The information transmitted through these channels may include requested site data, streaming data and usernames and passwords of the user. Therefore it is very important to protect this communication to prevent it from being intercepted by third parties and misused.

To do this, there is a version of HTTP called HTTPS. This creates a secure channel of communication that is encrypted end to end. This means that even if the data is intercepted, it is encrypted and its contents are secure. Many websites have this feature enabled by default but some websites may support both protocols. To ensure that your data is always encrypted, use a plugin that forces sites to use the HTTPS protocol.

HTTPS Everywhere for Chrome/Chromium
HTTPS Everywhere for Firefox

 

6. Safety when using an unknown computer

Sometimes we are faced with situations where we may need to use a public computer or an unknown persons computer. This may be unsafe as browsers may store form data, browsing history and login data including user credentials and passwords. To stay relatively safe in these situations, always put the browser into incognito or private mode. This prevents the browser from saving any data from the session and discards it once the browser window is closed.

To access incognito mode in Chrome/Chromium you can –

– Go to settings > New Incognito Window

– Ctrl + Shift + N

To access private browsing mode in Firefox you can –

– Go to Settings > New Private Window

– Ctrl + Shift + P

7. Using a VPN for secure browsing

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a service that allows users to route their browsing traffic through a trusted server through an encrypted connection. This means that the IP address of the user is hidden from the server that it is communicating with. This ensures privacy of the user while browsing the internet. There are many free VPN services available but it is not recommended to use them because the service providers cannot be trusted. It is totally worth paying a small subscription fee to avail of the service. Here are a few trusted and proven VPN providers.

IVPN

VPN Comparison Chart

  1. Securing your Operating system

Windows, being the most commonly used operating system in the world is a prime target for hackers and malware. To ensure that your system is always secured and protected from vulnerabilities, you can take a few precautions.

8. Always install an antivirus software

Anti virus softwares are operated by security companies that constantly monitor the internet for new threats and release security patches and malware detection ans removal tools. Here are a few trusted companies

Avira Anti Virus

Avast Anti Virus

9. Regularly install updates and security patches

 

Microsoft periodically releases updates to its operating system. While this may be a nuisance for regular users since the process takes a while to complete and often requires the computer to be restarted It is very important to install these updates as soon as they are released. This ensures that your system is always up-to-date and secured against any known threats.

10. Switch to Linux

Although this may seem like a scary thought but migrating away from windows to a Linux based operating system has many advantages. For starters, since these systems are far fewer in number compared to Windows and Macs, they are targeted much less frequently for widespread attacks like the wannacry virus. These systems also tend to be more secure owing to their rapid upgrade cycles which deliver operating system updates and security patches almost on a daily basis. Although this does mean quick updates to your computer almost everyday but the process is much smoother than on a windows or a mac PC.

Linux operating systems have become very user friendly and have become much more compatible with softwares and file formats than in the past. This is a highly recommended switch!

[Coming soon- our guide to switching to Linux]

11. Securing your passwords

The simplest way to deter any situation that may compromise security of your online accounts is to have a strong password. Having said this, it is very hard always maintain different strong passwords for every site. This is why we recommend switching to a Password Manager to do this job for you. These programs keep track of all you logins on various sites across the web and store them in a highly secure digital vault. All you have to do is set a very secure password for your vault and let the password manager do the rest. It can also generate secure passwords for you to save you the hassle of coming up with a secure password.

LastPass is a great password manager and is highly recommended.

LastPass for Chrome/Chromium

LastPass for Firefox

LastPass for Android

LastPass for MacOS

12. 2 step verification using Google Authenticator

Google provides a great tool to add an added layer of security to your social logins. By enabling this 2 step verification, the user is required to download the Google Authenticator app on a mobile device which generates a random key every few seconds, similar to a bank login device. Once the user enters the password for the social login, they are prompted for this key making the whole process more secure.

Google Authenticator for Android

Google Authenticator for iOS

Efforts to stay safe online are a journey rather than a destination

We hope that this has been a comprehensive internet safety information guide to beefing up your online security. We strongly believe its more of an attitude towards security and the tools themselves that makes all the difference. Safe browsing!