15 things you might not know can endanger your Internet safety

The Internet has come a long way since the early 1990s, after tech pioneers like Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf first created the World Wide Web and the Internet, respectively. According to the International Telecommunication Union, more than 3 billion people used the Internet in 2015. It has vastly changed the way we communicate and the way we interact socially. It has also created new threats to our privacy and personal information. Let’s take a look at some of these threats and how to get around them.


Botnets are a largely undetected security threat. Botnets are software robots that infect computers, which are then remotely controlled by the originator. According to Norton by Symantec, some botnets maintain key Internet infrastructure, but others are used for illegal or malicious activity. Some people unknowingly download botnet software, and its creator is then in control of their computer. The botnet may send out spam email in your name or use your computer to shut down websites. To avoid botnets, Norton suggests getting security software, keeping your computer up to date, and not clicking on links or downloading files from unknown sources. You can also use a firewall when on the Internet.


Cybercriminals can use Wi-Fi eavesdropping to steal personal information. Make sure your home network has a WPA2 encryption and a hard-to-guess password in place; older encryption setups such as WPA or WEP are easier to break into.


“Pharming is a common type of online fraud,” according to Get Cyber Safe, involving redirection to malicious and illegitimate websites. You may type an accurate URL into your browser and get redirected to a fake site. Since the fake site resembles the real thing, you may unwittingly enter personal information that could be used in identity theft.


Malware is “malicious software that infects your computer,” according to Get Cyber Safe. Malware can send you notifications that there has been a security breach on your computer, make you lose all the information on your computer, alter or delete your files, steal private information, send emails under your name, and take control of your entire computer. To avoid infecting your computer, Get Cyber Safe recommends installing anti-spam programs, keeping them up to date, and never trusting update pop-up ads or emails from software programs you didn’t install—these could just be malware in disguise.


According to Get Cyber Safe, a Trojan horse is a malicious program that’s disguised as, or embedded in, legitimate software. It can hack other computers from yours; record usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information; track keystrokes; delete files; and even spy on you through your webcam. Avast says Trojan horses, like other malicious programs, can spread through email attachments or links that seem to be “something useful, helpful, or fun.” If infected, your computer will probably slow down. To avoid a Trojan invasion, keep antivirus software up to date and don’t open unknown files in email attachments.


Ransomware is malware that blocks access to your computer or to your files and demands payment for you to be able to use them again. The WannaCry attack in 2017 attacked 300,000 computers in 150 nations and affected hospitals, businesses, and banks. If a ransomware attack hits your computer, Get Cyber Safe advises you to not pay the ransom, contact a trusted computer technician, and call your local police or anti-fraud centre.


By 2020, the number of social media users is expected to get as high as 2.95 billion. Sharing information like your exact address and your phone number on Facebook or on a similar site could leave you vulnerable to identity theft or burglaries. Experts recommend not sharing any information about your children or your personal financial situation to avoid attracting people with bad intentions.


If your smartphone has a geolocalization feature, you may want to deactivate it. “Broadcasting your location can sometimes expose you and your family to risk of theft or physical harm,” California attorney general Kamala Harris advised in 2014. According to Forbes, “Companies can sell geolocation data to data brokers, further filling their dossiers with information about consumers’ medical conditions, religious affiliations, and more.” Thieves can also use geolocalization data to learn when you’re not home, and break in in peace.


Keep an eye on your computer’s cookie jar. Norton describes a cookie as a “packet of data that a computer receives, then sends back without changing or altering it.” Cookies keep track of activity on websites, which is not always a bad thing—they allow users to store passwords, for example, or maintain “carts” on online shopping sites. Computers store cookies in a file within a web browser (usually called Cookies). Normal cookies are not a security threat, but some viruses and malware might be disguised as cookies. Each browser has different tools to allow users to restrict and, if necessary, delete cookies.


One easy way of protecting yourself from hacking or misuse of your online accounts is to create strong passwords. In 2016, some of the most common passwords were still “qwerty,” “123456” and “111111”, according to a compilation. In fact, 17% use “123456” as their password. In an experiment for the website Ars Technica, hackers were given a list of more than 16,000 hashed passwords (which are passwords passed through a mathematical function that transforms them into a unique string of numbers and letters); one hacker was able to crack 90% of the passwords in less than an hour. PCMag recommends using a variety of numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and special characters to make a strong password.


How well do you know your Facebook friends? A 2011 study from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found that around 20% of Facebook users were willing to add a complete stranger as a friend. These “strangers” were in fact bots with fake accounts that harvested huge amounts of personal data from users, including email and postal addresses. In a 2010 experiment by Provide Security, professionals in the Department of Defense unwittingly revealed military operational details to a new “friend”—who turned out not to be a real person. This makes it very easy for strangers to monitor your online and offline activity.


Free public Wi-Fi has become commonplace in airports, restaurants, cafés, libraries, and a long list of other public places. However, Norton recommends not accessing sensitive information or authorizing transactions over public Wi-Fi. “The average free public Wi-Fi isn’t secure,” Norton warns. Some Wi-Fi networks use older encryption standards that are more vulnerable to attack.


Millions of Facebook users enjoy taking and sharing online quizzes. In some cases, according to BBC News, the quizzes give developers access to huge amounts of information, including names, hometowns, birthdates, and “everything you have ever liked.” Some quiz apps continue collecting data long after the quiz is over. Experts are concerned that this data could be theoretically sold to third parties.


The Internet is not just for computers anymore. More and more objects are able to store and exchange data, including thermostats, cars, and refrigerators. Smartwatches and smart home products like the Amazon Echo are also examples of what industry observers call the Internet of Things. However, connected devices like these can be vulnerable to cyberattacks. In 2017, Wikileaks revealed that the CIA may have extracted recorded conversations from “smart” TVs; in February of 2017, parents were advised to destroy a “smart” talking dollnamed Cayla in Germany after researchers found an “unsecure Bluetooth device embedded in the toy” that may allow hackers to “listen and talk to the child playing with it.”


Authors of these scams sometimes claim to be “a government official who wants to share a percentage of millions of dollars being transferred illegally out of Nigeria,” a New York Times article explains. Victims are often asked to provide banking information or send money. If you receive one of these scam emails, the FBI recommends not replying and reporting the message to the authorities.



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