There’s no doubt that we live in a super-connected world. It’s even getting to the point that our washing machines have a capability of connecting to the internet. Why is this important? The recent introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation replaced the general consensus on Data Protection legislation, which had its roots firmly placed in the mid-1980s as governments and businesses around the world began to computerise their workflows and records. It’s a very complicated piece of writing – pages and pages long – and it has to be … there are so many nuances for the way our data is collected, stored and exploited. But what holds true in all of it, is you just need a bit of good old fashioned common sense. Your data is valuable, so look after it.
If it just doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
Protecting your data falls into a few categories and crafty operators crave to know things about you. This could be for something as innocent as tailoring a web experience for you, to things that are a lot more sinister – stealing your identity, racking up debt in your name, or exploiting your computer, internet and electricity costs to mine Bitcoin.
It’s a big world wide web out there, so do your best to stay safe.
When is an email not an email? When it is a phishing scam. These have a number of hallmarks. Do you know the sender? Does the link look right? When you hover the cursor over the link, is it the same as what the text actually says? Is it pressing you to do something urgently? Are there spelling or grammatical mistakes? Think, before you click.
The important thing to bear in mind, is that if you do make a mistake and fall for something you shouldn’t have, saying nothing is the worst possible thing to do. If it’s at work, alert your IT department. If it involves your banking details, contact the bank immediately. And so on. The longer you wait or hope it goes away, the worse any repercussions are likely to be. Scams work on the law of averages – the culprits tend to move on quickly to the next victim before disappearing …
Sometimes, it’s not just email based. Scammers also use phoning or texting in the hope they get a bite from the person at the receiving end of the call. NEVER, EVER give out password details in full, nor memorable identifiable information on the phone. If the call is real, they’ll only ask for certain characters. And if it’s a text, no bank or financial institution will ask for account numbers or passwords by way of messaging.
Passwords are your last line of defence against hackers and scammers. Everywhere you use a password – be it social media or banking – has a slightly different policy for how passwords should be configured. What they all share, however, is making the password as randomised as possible, and usually 12 characters or more. Use a combination of letters, numbers and characters. Alternate capital letters and lower case. Above all, don’t keep your passwords written down on a Post-It note on your computer monitor. And if you do have autofill set up on your home computer, make sure your computer logon is itself password protected (same for smartphones and tablets – make sure it’s at least 6 digits on the lock screen). 1Password is a cross-platform solution to not having to remember your most robust, random or artistic passwords. If you use iCloud, iCloud Keychain does a similar job. And don’t – above all – use the same password for everything. It WILL end in tears!
Some accounts have the option for setting up something called “two-step authentication”. This is a further protection against any one of your online accounts being compromised and is highly recommended. It usually works by texting a one-time code to a trusted mobile phone, but varies ever-so-slightly between technology companies.
It’s easy to wifi hunt when out and about to keep data costs for browsing down as much as possible. But do you know if the public wifi you’re using is secure? If possible, use a virtual private network (VPN). There are some great ones out there that work across devices and some come with an initial free amount of data. TunnelBear and ExpressVPN are worth looking at. If you aren’t sure it’s secure, anyone could be snooping in on your browsing. If you’re doing anything that is sensitive, always look for a closed padlock or https URL. The s stands for secure.
And here’s a tip – the autocomplete function some email apps offer can sometimes throw up the wrong contact entirely. ALWAYS check the address is who you think it is.
Remember the days of really long emails from pals who were travelling around the world? Complete with embryonic digital photos that took an age to download on dial-up? Well, if you do, bet you’re glad those days are no more and if you don’t, you dodged a bullet. Things like Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing photos, memories and keeping in touch with friends and family all over the world. However, this comes with a caveat. There’s a thing called jigsaw identification whereby if you reveal too many personal details, purely innocently, scammers can build up a profile of you and do untold damage to your reputation. That new house you’ve moved to? Maybe not have the door number visible. Your birthday? Perhaps hide the year or how old you are. Also, pet names can be a big giveaway for passwords and where you went to university, or where you work now, can all contribute to a scammer’s canvas of your life. Again, it’s worth doing two-step authentication for social accounts. Even the threat of someone hijacking the account and posting nasty things can be distressing enough.
This quick guide isn’t meant to be the be all and end all on cyber security – but remember, if it just doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.