Just last month, the United States was attacked, and you probably felt it online. On October 21st, 2016, America’s Internet security was compromised by assailants even the FBI hasn’t discovered yet, and broad swaths of the web went down for hours. Users reported sporadic problems connecting to over 80 major websites, including Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud, CNN, PayPal, and The New York Times. And the result of all of this digital mayhem is that we can see just how vulnerable many businesses and homeowners are to cyber attacks.
What Can Lurk Inside the Web
What wiped out America’s Internet that fateful day in October was what experts call a distributed denial-of-service, or a DDoS attack. These occur whenever hackers flood the Internet servers that run a target’s site with excessive internet traffic until it stumbles or collapses under the load.
As security guru, technologist, and CTO of Resilient Bruce Schneier recently wrote on DDoS, “These take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down.” In fact, military agencies even think of DDoS attacks as a tools in their cyber-war arsenals.
But what makes it even worse is that the attack appears to have relied on millions of internet-connected devices, like the ones inside your own home. These included cameras, baby monitors, and home routers that were infected — without their owners’ knowledge — with software that allows hackers to command them to overwhelm a target with traffic. And this sort of invasive activity and breach of internet security happens every day to thousands of Internet users all across the world in the form of phishing, viruses, spyware, identity theft, and many more security threats. Here’s why.
Internet Security 101
Any computer connected to the Internet can be exposed to a whole host of security risks from other computer users. Even when you’re not aware of it, your computer is receiving information from other devices connected to the web. And every one of these viruses, hacks, and other security threats are simply bits of malicious code that hackers have released into the wild of the Internet to wreak havoc.
And while some protective Internet security tasks are automatically performed by your operating system, others must be managed and monitored by you, the user, to be effective. And you, dear web browser, are far from defenseless.
7 Things You Can Do Right Now to Enhance Your Internet Security
For as awesome as it can be, the Internet can also be a scary place at times. But, you can take a number of measures to ensure that your devices and the dark side of the web never meet.
- Be smarter about your browsing
Don’t open those suspicious-looking emails, don’t download files from unknown senders and untrusted websites, and clear your browsing history on a regular basis.
- Change your passwords regularly, strengthen them, and use encryption
Everyone knows that person whose password really is “password” and who uses it for all of his accounts. Don’t be that person. The longer and more complex (with numbers and odd characters) your password is, the longer it will take to crack in a brute force attack. And for an added layer of security, use data and password encryption software.
Firewalls are preventative measures that block malware and viruses from even touching your computer. It works by monitoring connections made to and from your computer, and any connection not part of a pre-defined or custom “white list” of approved connections is aborted automatically. A good firewall can also prevent unauthorized users from accessing your network.
- Be proactive and install anti-virus software
Should any malware slip past your firewall, anti-virus software works by periodically downloading small components known as “definitions” to identify viruses on your computer. And once it identifies them, it can also remove them. Plan to run regularly scheduled sweeps of your system.
On the plus side, many of the Internet service providers that we partner with include free internet security and virus protection from well-known companies such as McAfee, Norton, Symantec, and Kaspersky as part of their Internet plans.
- Download a pop-up blocker
Pop-ups are intrusive ads and other bits of unauthorized code that often deliver viruses. Modern pop-up blocking software, such as AdBlock Plus or uBlock, integrates with your browser of choice as an extension. These help stop pop-up windows at the source, before they have a chance to appear and possibly infect your computer.
Spyware is a specific type of malware that installs itself on a computer without the knowledge of the owner in order to collect the owner’s private information. Typically, spyware infiltrates a computer when a user installs a piece of free software that her or she actually wanted. It piggybacks on the installation and starts tracking data from the user’s activities, redirecting web browser searches, changing computer settings, or even completely disrupting your network’s connection ability. Similar to anti-virus programs, you can also install anti-spyware software to prevent this.
- Secure your smart devices on the Internet of Things (IoT)
As the world and the web grow evermore connected, the Internet of Things is growing exponentially. And while that can make life a lot easier for humans, it also means that hackers have more potential entry points into your home and personal data. And since these smart devices really are small computers, you need to treat them in a similar manner to keep your smart home from being hacked.
And as you’re going about the process of bolstering your home’s internet security, keep in mind that things may still slip through the cracks. New Internet threats appear daily, and they can evolve as quickly as hackers can code new ones. But being as smart and proactive as you can will lessen the blow of some cyber attacks and prevent others entirely.