New Year, Safer You - 5 Security Habits To Take On In 2021
While our homes may be getting smarter, they’re certainly not getting any safer. The more connected we become, the more vulnerable we make ourselves. Just as our homes are getting smarter, so are cybercriminals and new technological innovations are making cybercrime increasingly sophisticated as well as prevalent.
Statistics indicate that internet-based crime is the fastest-growing security threat in the US with a malicious hacking attack occurring every 39 seconds. Unfortunately, while cybercriminals and homes are getting smarter, it seems we aren’t and most of us wouldn’t know a cyberattack or malware infection if it bit us on the proverbial bottom.
Online privacy is declining, and the freedom of the internet could soon be a thing of the past. While it’s still here, however, you can make the most of it by taking on the following five security habits in 2021.
1. Use a VPN
A VPN is a great tool for protecting your online privacy and giving you the freedom to access whatever content you want regardless of geographical restrictions. By creating an encrypted tunnel through which all your internet traffic passes, a VPN masks your IP address and hides your browsing history, giving you an extra layer of defense against cybercrime. A VPN also hides your activity from your ISP which can mean faster connections speeds and a happy end to bandwidth throttling.
While VPNs are legal to use in the US and most of Europe, the number of governments clamping down on their usage is increasing. Even within the US, there are concerns that the government’s anti-encryption stance could impact on VPN usage.
Not just any VPN will do, however, especially as some free VPNs do more to compromise your online security than bolster it. Before you rush out and buy the first VPN you come across, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the most important features of a VPN and make sure the one you opt for is up to the task.
The best VPNs offer the following features, all of which are essential if you want online privacy and peace of mind:
- The latest AES 256-bit encryption – this advanced cryptography is so complex it would require supercomputer technology (which has yet to be invented) and a few billion years to crack.
- A strict no-logging policy ensures that your VPN doesn’t store any information about your IP address, websites visited or browsing history, meaning it also can’t share that information with third parties.
- Supports OpenVPN – this may sound like the least secure protocol but it’s actually the safest. Because it’s open-source, anyone can check or modify the code. This means any security flaws that do crop up are detected and resolved quickly.
- A kill switch – automatically cuts all online communications the moment your VPN connection drops, guarding you against IP leaks and preventing the exposure of your sensitive data.
- DNS leak protection – the best VPNs use the latest technology to protect against DNS leaks, while some go beyond the call of duty and use zero-knowledge DNS to boost your security even more.
If you have a houseful of smart gadgets, you’ll also want a VPN that’s capable of protecting them all so one that works with routers is the best option.
Using a VPN means you can access US content even while you’re overseas, keeps your online activities safe from government spies and means you can bypass government censorship even in countries where online activities are heavily restricted.
ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs in the world and gives its users access to a global network of servers and 95 different locations for you to connect from. Not only does that mean you’re almost guaranteed a reliable connection, but it also means you can travel the world – in virtual reality anyway.
2. Install Antivirus Software
Antivirus software has been around for decades but that’s not to say it’s outdated – it merely means it has experience. Antivirus software evolves constantly, trying to keep up with the latest threats. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are part of its standard operating procedure, just as they are becoming increasingly popular amongst the cybercriminals that antiviruses are targeting.
Antivirus software guards against a variety of threats, including common ones like spyware, ransomware, Trojans, worms, phishing attacks, and identity. The best antivirus software uses advanced technology to defend users against such threats, and generally employ two different techniques for detecting and preventing viruses.
Heuristic analysis is used to prevent zero-day attacks from previously unknown threats, while known viruses are stored in an online database that antivirus software references every time it detects suspicious activity. Although free antivirus software is effective at a basic level, users wanting more tools with which to fight off infection should opt for a paid package that includes the following features
- Email and anti-phishing protection
- A firewall to prevent online infections and remote threats
- File shredding features so you can destroy confidential information
- Parental controls with which to protect your children online
- Virus removal features as well as virus-detection tools
- Emergency access features
That’s all well and good but when you consider that your antivirus is working so feverishly in the background, it’s also important to find an antivirus that doesn’t consume too many system resources and slow your computer down to snail’s pace.
McAfee has been around since 1987 which possibly explains why it performs so well in antivirus lab tests – after all, over 30 years of experience is nothing to be sniffed at. McAfee is a little on the greedy side when it comes to resources, but its impact is minimal, especially when you consider the level of security you get in exchange. It also comes with reinforced identity theft protection and a 30-day free trial so you can see if it works before signing up.
With different packages available for businesses and individuals, McAfee’s Total Protection includes a firewall and customer support, in addition to the features listed above, making it our number one choice for antivirus software in 2021.
3. Use A Password Manager
Remembering the password for your online banking app is one thing, remembering passwords for tens or even hundreds of accounts, however, is something else entirely. Although some are anticipating the death of the password, in our current reality, we rely on them for securing most of our devices and online accounts.
The trouble is, to save ourselves the trouble of trying to remember unique passwords for each of our 30 or so online accounts means many of us end up reusing the same passwords over again. This means that, if a hacker gets into just one of your accounts, the rest are liable to fall like dominoes. Assuming you don’t have super-powers or photographic memory, the easiest solution is to get a password manager.
A password manager not only helps you keep track of all your passwords so you don’t have to waste time and energy trying to remember them all, but it can also generate random passwords that you won’t be able to remember but that are also much more difficult for hackers to access.
Free password managers are, in many instances, as good as their paid equivalent, although the best password managers allow users to sync information across multiple devices, and even share sensitive login data with friends or colleagues.
Password managers are lightweight, simple pieces of software and the best ones, like Dashlane, for instance, also offer the following features:
- Auto-fill forms
- Auto-fill app logins
- End-to-end encryption
- Security alerts when a site is breached
- Updates passwords with a single click
When choosing a password manager, it’s important to look out for one that uses two-factor authentication, for reasons we’ll address in the next section and device-level encryption. This will provide the best security and will ensure your passwords can’t fall into the wrong hands. As you’ll probably want to sync passwords across multiple devices, finding a password manager that’s compatible with all common operating systems is also a bonus.
If you are one of those still using the worst passwords of 2019, it’s time to change your tune and start singing along with a secure password manager and no more 12345 passwords!
4. Activate 2FA Whenever Available
Two-factor authentication has been something of a buzz phrase this year and its growing popularity looks set to continue in 2021. Rather than simply using a password to access an account, 2FA uses a combination of a username, password, and one of the following three:
- Something you know: usually an answer to a secret question or a PIN
- Something you are: a fingerprint scan or facial recognition are the most common when it comes to biometrics
- Something you own: such as a credit card or a mobile phone
Think, for example, of how you regain access to your Google account if you’ve forgotten your password. First Google will send an email to your backup email address but, before it permits you to change the password, you first must enter a code that’s been sent via SMS. This is one form of 2FA.
Fingerprint scanning is becoming increasingly popular, especially on mobile apps that can utilize the inbuilt scanner. Windows 10 has also introduced three 2FA sign-in options, including facial recognition, fingerprint scanning, and PINs.
If you’re working on an older operating system, the likelihood is that these options aren’t available to you but that doesn’t mean you should settle for any less. There a host of 2FA apps available for both desktops and mobile devices, most of which are free, and give users the choice of push notifications, biometrics and QR codes.
Given that most of the network breaches and successful hacks involve stolen or weak passwords, it’s little wonder some feel our future is doomed unless we get rid of passwords altogether. At this stage, however, passwords are a necessary evil but using a password manager in conjunction with 2FA means your accounts are a whole lot more secure.
5. Create a Cloud Storage Back-up
Even with a VPN, antivirus, 2FA authentication, and a password manager, your device could still come under attack. Malware can hide in apps, websites and even software updates and, while your antivirus should protect you against most, as those attacks become increasingly sophisticated, it’s a good idea to have a back-up just in case.
Cloud storage isn’t a complete solution in itself and some cloud storage providers struggle to create a safe online environment for your files. The best cloud storage comes with, yep, you guessed it, end-to-end encryption. Automated back-ups also mean you don’t have to spend hours manually moving your important files to cloud storage – your service will do it for you.
There are a few legal concerns you should bear in mind when selecting a cloud storage service. It’s worth shopping around for a service based in a country with good privacy laws as this will ensure your data always belongs to you, regardless of whether it’s stored locally or in a cloud.
The best cloud storage solutions give users the option of using 2FA when logging into their account, by sending a code to their mobile phone. They also give the option of setting up security questions, the answers to which will give you access to your account even if you’ve forgotten your password.
A cloud storage service that can operate in the background without impacting too heavily on system performance is also key, although, in many instances, the initial backup will take several hours. Thereafter, however, automated backup kicks in and most users won’t even notice the impact.
The competition between cloud storage solutions is fierce and is expected to grow significantly in 2021 which is good news for users as competition keeps the prices down and encourages the implementation of best practice and stronger security measures.
On the other hand, some cybersecurity experts are predicting an increase in cloud-based cybercrimes over the coming year, saying, “the infrastructure of Cloud security is going to increase in complexity as the attacks on Cloud services also grow more complex”.
Browsing, streaming, or torrenting without suitable protection is just so Eighties and any self-respecting internet user these days has a VPN, antivirus, password manager and secure cloud storage. After all, who wouldn’t?
As cybercrime continues to grow and governments become increasing antsy about encryption, fearing that secrets are just a hair’s breadth away from being threats, making sure you’re as safe and private as possible is the only way to protect your constitutional rights.
While a VPN can give you anonymity and security online, an antivirus can protect you against any malware threats that may sneak past that VPN protection. A password manager is a simple yet critically important piece of cybersecurity software that goes a long way to protecting your sensitive data online.
2FA helps protect those passwords while encrypted cloud storage protects your files and photographs. When used all together, these cybersecurity tools form a robust shield that should keep most cyber criminals at bay.
Get 2021 vision without the hindsight by adopting these essential cybersecurity habits.