People are more connected to the Internet now than they’ve ever been. Once the only device that you’d access the Internet over was a PC or possibly laptop. Then phones, tablets, game consoles, and televisions got added to the network. Then the Internet of Things (IoT) happened and now there are chips in everything to connect it to the Internet; from the printer though to the refrigerator, security systems, air conditioners, and even the humble light bulb now has an app that you can use to control it over the Internet.
All of this connectivity has made life more convenient, without a doubt. The off-shoot of that is that it has raised new security challenges, too. Now that people are working from home in greater numbers than ever, and those home connections feedback to the office network, professionals need to take their security much more seriously than ever before.
What does a modern security environment look like?
Once, a simple anti-virus sitting on the computer was enough. If the computer got infected with malicious programs or codes, the anti-virus would wipe it clean and the computer would be fine again. This malicious code was primitive, limited in what it could achieve, and easy to protect against.
Now, though, things are much more complex. Malware often runs without the user having the slightest clue what’s going on, and it masquerades as legitimate software and processes, fooling most anti-viruses out there. What’s more, hackers have so many more ways to attack a home Internet environment, and often it’s those smart devices that provide so much convenience that is the target.
What’s more, the number of attacks and kinds of malware are escalating rapidly. COVID-19 resulted in a massive spike in attack efforts via email, for example. Even the best anti-virus in the world is struggling to keep up with that kind of proliferation.
With that being said, there are things that you can do to protect yourself and all of your technology online. Firstly, rather than rely on an anti-virus (and Windows PCs have an excellent free one pre-installed called Windows Defender, anyway), you should instead invest in an anti-malware solution. Don’t rely on the free ones, but considering the cost of replacing technology (or dealing with identity theft), anti-malware is a small investment that will throw a broader net to protect your IT environment.
Additionally, consider investing in firewalls and VPNs, particularly if you use your PC for work and connecting to the office. Firewalls block any traffic in or out that comes from untrustworthy sources, and a VPN provides encryption, meaning that the data that you sent to your work can’t be easily intercepted.
The most common passwords
The most common passwords are “123456”, “123456789”, “qwerty”, “password” and “1234567”. While these passwords are certainly easy to remember, they do highlight an ongoing problem with online behavior; people either don’t know security best practices or simply don’t care. For another example – the “Nigerian prince scam”, in which the hacker pretends to be royalty, emailing to offer a massive investment opportunity in which a person just needs to allow them to deposit an amount of money in the bank account.
When the victim provides their bank account details, the scammer drains the account. These scams have been a joke for over a decade now and yet, people still fall for them and lose hundreds of thousands of pounds or dollars every year. Just imagine how effective the more sophisticated scams are, when they look like legitimate emails from the user’s bank, a technology company they use, or otherwise. Even social media isn’t safe, with scammers using data mining to learn a lot about a person and then pose as family or friends in desperate need of money.
Understand that security starts with you
Technology like anti-viruses and anti-malware can help protect a person’s home network and valuable Internet-connected devices. However, there is an ongoing need for education in best practices online.
Learning how to create a strong password and then change it every six months, and how to identify, report, and avoid scams and other “social engineering” efforts to get access to a person’s assets are going to be all the more important now that working from home is exposing businesses to any vulnerabilities in the individual employee’s home environment.
Nick Brogden is the founder of Earned Media.