To really understand how the internet poses a threat to your security, you need to know (in non-technical terms) how it works. The internet is, in its simplest form, one computer connecting to another computer located remotely (devices in the same home or office can be connected together “locally’, no external network system is necessary – you are protected on ‘local area networks’ because your data does not travel across telecommunication systems (like phone lines, cable and wireless systems) which are owned and maintained by 3rd parties. For the internet to work, each device (including personal computers, cell phones, corporate servers, etc.) connected to the internet must give and receive information from one another. That’s the whole point. The “information superhighway,” in other words.
The instant you connect your device to any external network like the internet, which is hosted, maintained, used (and often abused) by countless millions (people, organizations, companies and more), you are at risk in several ways. Unless you take real steps to protect yourself, 100% of the information on the devices you connect to the internet can be captured and misused by 3rd parties. Everyone understands that phone conversations are easily ‘tapped’. Unprotected devices on the internet are easily ‘hacked’ as well, but the damage done when it happens can be far worse than ‘recording a phone call’. Why? Because you probably don’t give people your social security number, credit card PIN, bank account passwords, or private financial information over the phone. But you DO store this information on your computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.
Bottom line, expert hackers are capable of extracting data directly from your computer’s networked devices. They can also read and capture any files you share in an unsecure fashion, as well as voice communications, video and email communications as they travel across the internet. Here is a short (scary) list of information regularly targeted by cyber criminals (and this does not include the general spying that goes on by many government agencies):
- Financial Data – When you access financial services via the internet, such as, online banking, if you send financial data and tax information to your accountant, your computer is sending valuable financial data over the internet. If your connection’s security is compromised, a hacker can steal your bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, etc., which can potentially cost you a great deal of money.
- Identity Theft – Hackers can also access the personal information information they need in order to impersonate you, such as social security numbers, address information, birth date and medical information. When conducting any sort of credit transactions online (such as home loan pre-approvals or online shopping), there is a chance that hackers might use that information to falsify transactions, using your name and credit to make high-value purchases. This doesn’t just cost money, it can damage your reputation and make you non credit-worthy in the eyes of lenders.
- Personal Pictures – Your personal files, such as emails, pictures, and address books are always at risk. If they are stolen and mis-used, your reputation and career may be at risk. It’s nearly impossible to repair this kind of damage.
Are there ways to keep your information safe?
There are a number of things you can do to help keep your information safe in the dangerous waters of the internet. Being vigilant is your defense against online abuse. Many common sense things, such as never giving out personal information to strangers or unfamiliar companies, keeping anti-virus and malware software up-to-date, and keeping track of your privacy settings on the applications you use and the social media sites you frequent.
In addition, you should consider using VPNs and Proxy services as well as strong encryption and proper password management. These are a great ways to protect your information.
What are VPNs and Proxy Servers?
Essentially, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) servers mask your IP address and encrypt your connection to the VPN server, allowing you to anonymously access various content on the web. Sometimes a certain stigma that goes along with internet anonymity, but as outlined previously, it is as valid and necessary for the common internet user as it is for the criminal internet user.
VPNs are ordinarily used in the context of a corporate business network, thereby allowing employees to remotely access their company infrastructure (and the resources needed to do business) while away from the office or outside of normal network range. However, more and more internet users are interested in VPNs as a means of connecting to the internet via a VPN server. This allows the user to keep their personal information private.
Proxy Servers are essentially middle men in the sea of information. With a proxy server, your computer sends the information to a proxy server, which then masks the personal stuff and sends the pertinent information to the other computer without compromising your online security. Currently IronSocket offers HTTP and Socks5 proxy servers. I prefer using a Socsk5 proxy myself, it seems to work better for me personally.
What about a DNS Proxy Server?
First, DNS is an acronym for “Domain Name System.” It is the network translation service that makes it easy for people to remember domain / website names as opposed to their IP address. Let’s say you want to visit google.com. To get there, a request goes out from your device to the Domain Name Server and gives back the IP address 126.96.36.199. Of course, if you could remember “188.8.131.52” (one of Google’s IP addresses), then you wouldn’t need to type in google.com. This system is made to make it easy for humans to travel the internet.
There is also a security concern when using public DNS servers. They record all of your activity of which websites you went to visit. Because you need the system to translate websites into IP addresses for your device to visit, the DNS server also makes a record of that activity. It is important to use a private DNS server to maximize your security and privacy. All of our VPN packages come standard with a private DNS Proxy Server.
What about public access points?
In the current digital age, internet hotspots, or WiFi access points, are everywhere we look. Most hotels, restaurants, trains, planes, and even buses, among other public places, have internet access. This access is sometimes free, while some WiFi spots require you to pay a fee for usage. But, how safe are these WiFi access points?
The problem with public WiFi is that many of these are unsecured networks, and even the ones that require some sort of log-in information may have the capability of gathering and storing your private information. Your network logs, web history, etc., may be accessible from other computers connected to the public WiFi, and your information might be stored by the routers and/or servers that are sending out that WiFi signal.
In other words, this is another instance where VPNs or Proxy servers may be a benefit to you. If you routinely access public networks, it would benefit you to use one.
What else can you do?
There are plenty of things you can do. Besides the points above, you might also consider a password manager, such as RoboForm. You should use a different password for every website or service you access online, and those passwords should never be shared with others. Keeping your passwords within a password manager means you don’t have to type it in every single time you access the website it corresponds to and you don’t risk some malicious virus program logging your keystrokes and finding out your sensitive passwords.
Another problem is email and internet links. Clicking on links you don’t know is like walking into the front door of the home of a stranger. You don’t know what’s on the other side of that door, so don’t step in until you’re sure that you and your information will be welcome and safe there. That’s how malicious software (like the previously mentioned key-logger programs) infect your computer. Unless you know where it came from and where it’s going, don’t click it!
Be careful of “piggy-back programs.” These are often in the form of toolbars or adware that are attached to perfectly normal or reasonable downloads. For example, during the installation process of a browser plug-in you are prompted to download a recommended add-on or toolbar. These are not necessary for the original program to operate correctly, so it’s usually best to pass on installing these nuisances. Our previous article How to Increase Your Download Speed also discusses the subject of toolbars.
Just be careful, all right?
In other words, be careful! Be proactive about your internet safety! There are options out there, and there are tools to help. In the end, it’s your choice, and your internet security is up to you, and we want you to be informed.