There is a lot of talk lately about how technology will benefit different areas of our lives. Here in Zimbabwe, preparations are being made to begin the rollout of 5G mobile communications standards. This will speed up the already fast-paced developments in banking, retail, entertainment, and other industries that are using the internet to deliver better services to more customers.
Today, we store much of our lives online. We manage our finances through smartphones, communicate through emails, and store files in the cloud. This makes it much easier to go about our daily business, but it also creates new risks.
With so much data online about us, our finances, our relationships, our work, and our health, it’s very easy for bad actors to compromise it and use it for their own nefarious purposes.
In May 2021, messages went viral among Zimbabwean social media users. This “crime alert” drew people’s attention to the fact that identity theft had become a much bigger threat recently. In addition to warning internet users, the viral posts called on companies in the country to do more to protect the identity of Zimbabweans.
Of course, these companies have a very big role to play in this, but users are not exempt from taking some responsibility too. Thankfully, there are some easy things we can do to protect ourselves.
Set Better Passwords
Passwords have been used to secure our computer accounts for almost the entire history of computing. However, the entire history of computer passwords has been littered with examples of people using weak and easily guessable ones that leave their accounts and systems open to attack.
The most common passwords today are “123456”, “qwerty”, and “password”. Some people try to mix things up with passwords like “qwerty123” and “1q2w3e”, but these are still no better. Other popular choices are the names of loved ones, memorable dates, and favourite sports teams. However, again, these are not secure.
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Hackers can easily crack these passwords by using a “dictionary” attack where they use a computer program to repeatedly try commonly used passwords and words from a dictionary.
Today, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre recommends using a password that is comprised of three random words. This naturally makes a password longer and easier to remember while simultaneously making them harder to crack. The organisation also suggests users should use a password manager to securely store their passwords so that they can use unique ones for every website they visit.
Use Two-Factor Security
Even with secure passwords, your accounts aren’t secure. That’s because hackers could learn your password through a keylogger, watching over your shoulder, or finding vulnerabilities in a program.
To protect against this risk, cyber security experts recommend using two-factor security on every account that supports this. This means you’ll need a one-time code that’s generated by a smartphone app or physical key, or sent to you by SMS, before you can log in.
Two-factor security is used by many different types of companies today. For example, in the gaming industry, customers of PokerStars Casino can use a physical RSA Security Token to generate one-time codes while Epic Games offers email, app, and SMS options for two-factor security.
The banking sector has developed some proprietary systems. Here in Zimbabwe, card transactions are protected by the VISA 3D Secure system which prevents transactions without a one-time password, while business customers can’t access online banking without using a verification code.
Using Security Software
Another important step when protecting yourself in the digital world is keeping your devices secure. For the most part, smartphones and tablets that run Android and iOS are protected by default, as long as you don’t allow applications to be side-loaded. However, Windows computers are more prone to attack, so you need to take a few extra steps.
Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender enabled by default; this offers protection against viruses and other malware and also includes a firewall to block unauthorised connections in and out of your computer.
However, you may want to take this further by installing an antispyware application like Spybot, using a VPN when connected to public WiFi networks, and installing a script blocking extension in your browser.
In summary, technology has made our lives much easier in many ways, but as we put more and more of our information on the internet, it is becoming more and more important that we protect it. The companies that run these services have a role to play but so do we, therefore, we should use strong passwords, turn on two-factor security, and ensure we have adequate security software on our devices to keep us protected.