Once a year you should take time to review and audit your digital hygiene to make sure you’re doing everything possible to protect yourself online. First, make sure you know what we mean when we discuss privacy and security online. Second, take control of your passwords. Third, use two factor authentication to add a layer of protection on top of your passwords. Fourth, you should make sure you’re always backing up your information and devices. Fifth, you should clean up your browser extensions to protect yourself from unseen threats. Sixth, you should examine the social logins you use for tools, apps, and accounts.
In this post, we’ll discuss ways to make sure your connection to the Internet is protected.
Your gateway to the Internet
Most times we don’t even think about how we connect to the Internet. At home, many of us use the cable or telephone company as our Internet Service Provider (ISP). We pay the monthly service for a connection to the Internet and just expect it to work. We hear the advertising about how fast the service is, and just expect things to work when we pay for them. Wi-Fi in the house is just something that is expected to work.
Likewise, we purchase mobile devices (phones/tablets) and expect that the service will be good, and we’ll be able to connect to the network when we need it, for whatever purpose. We have an expectation that we’ll be able to view web content, connect to social media, and communicate when needed.
As long as these services do not slow down, or disconnect, there is no concern. Strangely, there is also usually a belief that a slow connection may be expected. If there is a slow connection, or things bog down, we often do not know what to do about it. But, as long as things work, and they connect, we assume that everything is working correctly. We pay little attention to dangers that remain unseen.
As a regular user of these services, we need to pay more attention to our gateway to the Internet. That is, how do we connect our devices to the web. If you’re on Wi-Fi at work or at home, you have a router that is taking that Internet signal and broadcasting it to trusted devices in your home or office. If you’re on your wireless signal, you’re trusting that your service provider is protecting information going to, and coming from your device. If you’re out on the road, and on a public Wi-Fi, you’re trusting that the entity that is providing this Wi-Fi, is protecting you as well…and not harvesting your data. An example of this is stores, airports, hotels, or public spaces that offer free Wi-Fi for you while you are on the premises.
You need to understand that you are at risk in all of these situations. In fact, you may have already been compromised in any or all of these instances. The best course of action at this point, is to examine, and protect your connections to the Internet. These involve updating (or upgrading) your router, or using a VPN.
Update (or upgrade) your router
As detailed above, while at home we expect that our service to the Internet will be fast, and just work. This means that devices (a wireless router) is installed, you are given a password, and you log in to your wireless service. The technician will install everything for you, and test it before she leaves. Most times, you pay a monthly fee ($7 to $10) to “rent” this wireless router from your ISP. After the technician leaves, they usually only come back if there is an issue, or you are discontinuing service.
Your wireless router is one of the primary ways that you connect to the Internet, yet it is one of the most insecure. You can secure your router by making sure that you use a password with WPA2 encryption. When you log in to your router to check the settings…yes, you can do this and you should…you can select different types of encryption for your router. You want WPA2 encryption.
You should also make sure your router is always updated. Just like a computer or mobile device, your router needs to be updated if there is a security threat. Security threats are happening with more regularity, we need to trust that manufacturers are allowing you to log in and perform maintenance on your router, and this includes updating the software.
If you cannot figure out how to update or change the settings for your router, it may be time to upgrade your router. This means buying a new router and installing it to connect to the Internet. You can regularly find great deals on routers and install them to connect you to the Internet with relatively little effort. Many new routers have new features, and offer better Wi-Fi speed and strength than what you’re getting with the stuff you get from your ISP. Keep in mind, if you buy your own router, you can most likely return the router that you’re renting from your ISP.
Using a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows you to create a secure connection to the Internet. A VPN allows users to access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. In plain english, think of a VPN as a secure (private) server in between you and your connection to the Internet. When you want to use the Internet, you go to the VPN server and connect. From within the VPN server, you then connect to the apps, services, and spaces you want to access. The VPN server obfuscates and encrypts your data coming to and from the server.
For you this means that as you’re using the Internet, prying eyes see you connected to the VPN. While within the VPN, you might be off looking at social networks, banking, emailing colleagues, etc. Other people watching you will see you enter the VPN, and all traffic will be associated with the VPN. No one can easily identify you or your computer specifically as the source of the traffic. Finally, all data is encrypted, so if they do find your data, it will be garbled up content.
Finding and using a VPN can sometimes be a challenging process, but if you’re concerned about your privacy and security online (you should) it’s worth the (time and financial) investment. There are numerous options and services to select from.
If you want to try one out for free that is relatively easy to set up…try Tunnelbear. Tunnelbear has a free level that you can get you in the habit of using a VPN. You can also save the VPN for times when you feel like you need more protection. Tunnelbear has apps and extensions for all of the devices and platforms you use. Once you get the hang of it, I’d suggest finding a more robust option.
As heavy users of these connections to the Internet, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are protected and secure as we venture online. We cannot trust that the manufacturers of these devices and services are protecting our data. You also cannot trust that your ISP is protecting you. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are protected.
One of the key points of failure is often the very connections we make to the Internet. Secure this by updating or upgrading your router. If you’re out on public wifi, be careful and consider the use of a VPN. Finally, if you are on public wifi, and you are not on a VPN, consider doing basic, to no surfing that would share data that you want secure.
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Also published on Medium.