With huge improvements in broadband speeds and quality, nearly everyone in Ireland now spends time online. However, what can be overlooked is just how vulnerable we are are to viruses, hackers, spyware and phishing. We explain the most common security threats and explain how you can protect your connection.
Your home wireless network
If you have a w-fi wireless broadband router (and most people do), you should be aware that this part of your home network is probably the most vulnerable part of your internet access set-up.
You can easily see why if you click on the wireless network icon on your computer or mobile device. There you'll see not just the name of your own wireless network, but that of other networks close to you.
You may see a ‘lock’ icon next to most of the network signals that have been picked up by your device, which means that other users can’t access these networks.
Every so often though, you’ll see one that doesn’t. This means that the owners of the network have not followed the instructions given to them by their broadband provider to set up a simple WEP (wired equivalent privacy) or a WPA (wireless protected access) security tool.
This leaves them vulnerable to ‘war drivers’, or mobile hackers who drive around looking for unsecured wireless networks for fun, or professional hackers who are after personal information.
WPA - Wireless Protected Access
WPA2 is the latest generation of WPA security and is much more secure than a simple WEP key.
If your router was manufactured after 2006, it must support WPA2. Selecting WPA2 is easy too; just open your computer's 'Network Centre' (by clicking on the network icon on your computer), click on the wireless network you are connected to, select 'Properties', and then the security tab.
In the security tab you'll see a dropdown of security types, where you can select WAP2. For additional security, you can also select the AES encryption type which stands for 'Advanced Encryption Standard' and is considered very secure.
What are the main security threats?
Even if you have your wireless network secured, you can still be vulnerable to a variety of security threats, such as viruses, adware, malware, spam, trojan horses, spyware, and ‘phishing’ scams.
Viruses: Viruses are probably the most dangerous of all security threats. They are computer programs that can infect any computer or device and do a variety of damaging things, such as stealing private data, messing with settings and applications and even rendering your devices or programs unusable.
Cookies: Cookies are designed to put an identifier on your hard drive so that certain websites can remember you when you visit, or remember what you do when you are on a particular website. There are two main types of cookies: session cookies and permanent cookies.
Session cookies are usually used for individual browsing sessions and are common with shopping websites, for keeping track of items in your shopping basket for example.
Permanent cookies help retain user preferences for a particular website.
Most cookies are relatively harmless, but tracking cookies monitor your browsing information and this can be used by hackers to obtain personal details, such as bank account and credit card information. The good news is that cookies can be deleted via the settings menu of your browser.
Phishing: Phishing usually involves emails or texts that impersonate a person or institution that you know.
Amongst the most common are emails from banks explaining that there is a ‘problem’ with your account and urging you to verify your personal information or PIN number. "Verifying” this information provides those who are running phishing scams which your personal account data which is then used fraudulently. Oftentimes, phishing scams involve 'clone' websites that look just like the real thing, but a little careful scrutiny can often reveal them as fraudulent.
To avoid phishing scams, communicate personal information only via phone or secure websites (https) that have been verified by a third party security company, such as Symantec, that displays a Norton Secured symbol (like bonkers.ie).
Do not click on links or download files from suspect emails. Legitimate businesses and individuals will never ask you for personal or banking information by email or pop-up.
Adware: Adware is software that presents pop-up and browser ads on a computer. Adware can be downloaded and installed to your computer automatically while you are browsing and can infect Windows and Apple systems. To protect against Adware, you should install and run a good security program like Microsoft Security Essentials or Malwarebytes.
Spyware: Spyware monitors the websites you visit and notes personal information that you have entered, which means that hackers can use it to hack into your online banking or other online accounts. Spyware is usually installed unknowingly when you download other programs or applications. Spyware most commonly infects computers when freeware programs are downloaded.
Again, you can protect against spyware by installing a good security program.
What can I do to protect myself?
The two most important things to do in order to avoid one of the above infections is to install internet security software and set up your wireless home network so that is it secure. Instructions on how to do this will be supplier by your broadband provider.
Your broadband provider may have a security package as part of your contract, and some may have their own features particular to their products.
How can I remember all of my passwords?
Finally, as we all have multiple online accounts and logons, it’s worth looking at the passwords we use.
Try not to use the same passwords for multiple services, this increases your chance of being compromised. But remembering multiple passwords is difficult so a good password manager can be a godsend! Take a look at services like LastPass, dashlane and RoboForm to name just a few, and many are free too.