A recent study by Uswitch found that Brits are spending a whopping 384 minutes (6.4 hours) using the internet every day, yet even those who are ‘tech savvy’ are unaware of the extent to which their browsing and social media activity is tracked. Not only is this intrusive, extensive cross-platform tracking also makes it easier for cyber criminals to access personal information.
While most people are aware that there are risks associated with browsing the web, many are unaware of how their data is used, and of the severity of those associated risks.
Tom Gaffney, Security Consultant at F-Secure flags four common mistakes that even tech savvy people are making online, and provides top tips on how they can keep themselves safe.
Mistake 1: Using one browser for everything.
Tip: Most people use only one browser, whether that’s Chrome, Firefox or Safari etc, for all their online activity. However, Tom recommends using at least two – one for work and online banking and one for personal use – as not only will this be beneficial to privacy and security, but it will also give you separation in what you’re browsing and what you’re doing.
“Using separate browsers for casual browsing vs. ‘serious stuff’ like accessing online banking hugely minimises the risk of hackers getting to those sensitive accounts,” says Tom, “I personally never use the same browser to read news articles and browse social media as I would for online banking; casual browsing is generally how vulnerability issues arise — we click links that pique our interest without a second thought and hackers know this. Having a dedicated ‘serious’ browser enables you to shift your mindset into protection mode, you’re less likely to make risky decisions which could compromise your accounts when using your “serious-stuff browser”.”
Mistake 2: Ignoring important security settings
Tip: Despite spending more time with their apps and web-browser, most of us are unaware of the security and privacy settings. We should all spend just a few minutes to check and configure security settings within our browser to enable safer internet surfing. Regardless of which browser you use (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome or Firefox), each gives you options to disable cookies and block security risks such as malware that can sneak in through infected pop-ups, plug-ins and extensions, compromising your privacy.
Default browser settings leave your data exposed so at a minimum Tom advises you should:
- Disable pop-ups and redirections as cyber criminals could use these to spread malicious software.
- Don’t allow automatic downloads as these could contain malware and viruses. Ask to be prompted before downloading anything.
- Set your browser to ask permission before accessing your location, camera and microphone.
- Turn on “Send a do not track request” to help prevent websites from tracking you
- Think carefully before allowing browsers to save passwords as although it’s convenient it creates a security risk. Laptops and mobiles can fall into the wrong hands, it doesn’t take much for a hacker to find the stored password information.
Mistake 3: Not clearing cookies in your browser
Tip: Cookie banners pop-up every time we visit a website and most of us will click ‘accept’ without thinking. Cookies are small files that websites send to your device that the sites then use to monitor you and remember certain information about you i.e. what’s in your shopping cart, or your login information. Basically, cookies track you as you browse.
There are several reasons why Tom recommends deleting cookies such as:
- Over time you could accumulate a lot of cookies which will slow your browser down
- Cookies store your personal information and enable websites to track and follow you around the web, developing a profile of your online habits. In doing so they build a mosaic which maps your interests, identity, age, location, religious beliefs and even sexual identity. While this is used for providing you with targeted ads, this data is sold between organizations and has a more insidious target of knowing everything about you.
“Most browsers make it straightforward to view and delete cookies,” says Tom, “simply go to browser settings and look for the privacy or security section. It’s also worth noting that all browsers have a setting which allows you to browse the web anonymously, which you should have on by default. This will ensure that less of your personal information is shared with data brokers.”
Mistake 4: Not using a VPN
Tip: Even the most secure browser with the most advanced settings can’t always keep your browsing activities safe or private which is why you should consider a VPN such as F-Secure FREEDOME.
“VPNs offer you complete privacy for your activities online,” says Tom, “no one will be able to track you or see what you are doing, not even your Internet Service Provider. They can block harmful websites and hacking attempts, encrypt data to protect your real IP address and online traffic and protect you even when you’re using public Wi-Fi.”
Last word: Overall, it’s important that you exercise common sense when using the internet. Many organizations have made the web a simpler place to surf and shop with one-click purchasing. Sometimes we actually need to slow down, especially when shopping, banking or paying bills to allow our minds to engage critically. At the very least, make sure you update your browser regularly as using old software can provide a way for hackers to break into networks. Updates will address any security issues and help your browser run better.