In the modern world, digital security is becoming increasingly convoluted. How do we prevent data hacking? Is there any way to protect ourselves online?

Understanding the threats is the first step to protecting your personal data.

Phishing is a method that malice users employ in order to deceive people into providing their valuable information, such as passwords, or paying money.

Spoofing is falsification of a website, designed to lure users to disclose their personal data. In order to defend yourself, you should always check information from several independent sources prior to following instructions from a random email or pop-up.

Viruses are programs that need to be activated in order to permeate into users’ computers. Using antiviruses and only accessing websites that are encrypted with https are the two best ways to avoid digital infection.

Ransomware is used to make money off of users. An unfortunate user installs a software that seems to be legitimate, however, soon after the instalment, all files on the computer become encrypted, and the user is threatened with the exposure of personal files if a ransom is not payed. It is very hard to detect ransomware because malicious software is usually disguised as legitimate – commonly known as Trojan. Researchers at Stanford University are currently exploring what types of users are at the highest risks of ransomware attacks. Fortunately, there will be more insight into these attacks in the future.

Sometimes instead of employing tricks to access private data, malice users hack accounts directly. For example, in September 2018 Facebook experienced a major data breach, and 30 million accounts were compromised. In light of this event, it is highly recommended that you create strong passwords and use two-factor authorization, which is used to require two pieces of identifying information upon log-in. Furthermore, set up different passwords in different apps, so that if one app is hacked, your other information stays safe.

Something else to consider is cookies. When you access a website or log into a social network, your computer is assigned a cookie. This is a specific piece of code that stores information about your preferences, geographic position, and other non-identifying facts that make your Internet experience easier – you can log into relevant websites instantly. Unfortunately, cookies can sometimes be tracked to create a profile that could identify you and, therefore, imposes risk to your privacy. To avoid this problem, you should think carefully whether you trust a website or not. When in doubt, get familiar with privacy and cookie policies. Another more radical option is to disable cookies in your browser settings. You should also take social networks into account. Facebook, for example, knows what websites you visit, your activity on Instagram and WhatsApp due to cookies. The company uses this data to facilitate targeted advertising and thus, make money. If you wish to avoid digital exploitation, you should either use a browser extension, like uBlock Origin, or use such safe browsers as Tor and Epic Privacy Browser.

Nowadays, we can’t afford a lack of awareness or concern. Make sure you review the privacy policies on Facebook and other apps, and ensure you know what your favourite sites are using your data for and why. Be suspicious of emails asking you to click a link, or answer personal questions, or anything involving payment. When in doubt, do a quick Google search – or take a Computer Science course at UBCO!