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Updated August 2, 2019

Safe Internet Browsing

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Most people think that browsing the internet is harmless. Sure, there have been a few horror stories—but that only happens to people who visit shady websites, right?

© CreditDonkey

Actually, the internet can be a dangerous place. Cybercrime is the fastest growing crime in the world. Experts predict it will cause damages of more than $6 trillion by 2021.

Although most of these attacks will be on large companies and organizations, they will likely affect you, too.

  • In 2016, the personal details of some 412 million people were leaked when hackers broke into the FriendFinder Network, an adult dating site.

  • The following year, Malaysia experienced its biggest data breach ever. More than 46 million mobile subscribers' data were stolen and leaked on the dark web. Experts believe that the whole country was affected, including foreigners using prepaid mobile phones.

  • In 2019, security researcher Troy Hunt discovered a massive leaked database (called Collection #1) on MEGA, a cloud storage site. Not only did it have 773 million email addresses, but it also had 22 million unique passwords collected from breaches dating back to 2008.

You can check if your information has been leaked here.

The fact is, there's no such thing as being too careful online. In this article, we've compiled the best ways of protecting yourself on the internet.

Ways to Protect Yourself Online

  1. Don't Use Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks
    A private wireless router—the device which provides your Wi-Fi signal—usually requires a password. This means that the network is encrypted.

    Although it's a hassle, it's an important security feature. This ensures that strangers can't join your wireless network and access your traffic. They can't hack into other devices connected to this network either.

    Public Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, are accessible to everyone. Although some may require a password, others are completely open.

    Hackers often exploit this security feature to spy on your activity, steal data, or install malicious software into your device.

    Of course, sometimes you have no choice but to use a public Wi-Fi. In these situations, you can still protect yourself by using a VPN service.

    Kaspersky discovered that over 7,000 public Wi-Fi spots in Russia are unsecured, and could have serious security flaws. They released this data for the 7.7 million tourists who went to watch Russia's FIFA 2018 World Cup.

  2. Use a VPN Service
    When it comes to online safety, everyone should use a VPN service. A VPN service protects you by encrypting all the data you send and receive when on the internet.

    A VPN also masks your location, so it's harder for someone to trace you.

    VPN services are especially important when using public Wi-Fi networks. Although public networks are unencrypted, a VPN service will still encrypt your traffic.

    If a hacker tries to spy on you while you're using a VPN service, all they'll see is meaningless code.

    To learn more about VPNs, read our best VPN reviews.

  3. Update Your Software
    Before browsing the internet, make sure your software is up-to-date.

    This includes your operating system, web browser, security software, browser plugins (like Java or Adobe products), and any other application you use regularly.

    When program developers discover a security flaw, the first thing they do is patch it. This patch gets released as an update to your software.

    Keeping your software up-to-date ensures that hackers won't be able to exploit any known security flaws.

    If you're a business owner, you need to make sure your employees aren't endangering your business with risky online behaviors. This article from SOS Cyber Security Blog lays out everything you need to do to make sure you, and your business, can also stay safe.

  4. Download Software From Trusted Sources
    There are all sorts of software you can download from the internet. Some, like Microsoft Office files delivered to your email, seem harmless. However, once you download them, they turn out to be malware that infect your computer.

    Microsoft Office formats were the most used file extensions to deliver malware, according to this study.

    Emails aren't the only method hackers use to install malware on your PC. A program from a cheap-looking website that promises to clean up your files can also be a threat.

    Always download software from a reputable or official source. If you're not sure whether a software is legit, don't download it.

    When in doubt, you can always search online and read reviews for that software. Online reviews can quickly tell you whether a software is trustworthy or not.

  5. Change Your Passwords After a Breach
    Have you checked whether your data is out there, floating on the internet? If it is, you should change your passwords. In fact, change them, anyway.

    Whenever an organization announces a data breach, it's safe to assume that criminals already have access to your data. To protect yourself, change your passwords ASAP.

    This study showed that it takes a company almost seven months (197 days) to detect a data breach in their system. Once the breach is found, it takes another 69 days to contain it.

  6. Use a Complicated Password
    If your passwords resemble anything like "password1" or "qwerty12345," you need a better password.

    A good password should:

    • Have at least 16 characters

    • Use a combination of numbers, symbols, uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and spaces

    • Be free from repetition, dictionary words, usernames, pronouns, IDs, and any other number or letter sequences

    Why? When cracking a password, hackers typically use a brute-force attack.

    This means that they use a specialized software which tries all the words from a dictionary or database. If your password is simple or commonly used, the software will crack it easily.

    Never reuse your passwords. Ideally, you should have a different password for each account. Using one password for many accounts is the worst thing you can do.

  7. Consider Using a Password Manager
    Password managers remember your credentials and fill it for you when you log in to an account. They also help create strong passwords for each site you visit. Instead of remembering all these complicated passwords, they save it for you.

    You only need to remember one password—the master password used to access the manager.

    Some people are concerned that password managers aren't secure. While some password managers do have security flaws, they're still more secure than using one password for several accounts.

    This is common since many people find it difficult to remember many different (and complicated passwords). However, that also means that a compromised password can give thieves access to multiple accounts!

    Password managers aren't perfect. But they're a lot safer than just using one password for multiple sites.

  8. Check a Site's Security
    While browsing, you may notice that a site sometimes begins with HTTP or HTTPS. You don't need to know what it stands for exactly, but you should know that HTTPS is more secure.

    HTTPS means that the site you're browsing is encrypted. Any information you give through an HTTPS site will be in code, just like when you use a VPN service.

    This is important when you want to submit personal data through a website. This could be things like your credit card information or a Social Security number. If a hacker is intercepting your data as it's being sent, they'll just see meaningless code.

    It's important to check whether the site uses HTTPS or HTTP. HTTP is fine if you're just browsing cat pictures on the internet. But if you're submitting personal information, always make sure that the site uses HTTPS.

  9. Use Real and Reputable Sites
    Some malicious sites are designed to look exactly like an original site, like Google, PayPal, or even banking webpages. These are known as phishing sites.

    It tricks you into entering your credentials, so that thieves can use it to log on to your account. These phishing sites even use HTTPS to convince you that they're real!

    When in doubt, always search for the original site by typing the URL directly. Also, check the URL address. An original site would look professional and not have any typos.

    On a similar note, always use brand-name ecommerce sites like Amazon. These sites have good security systems to protect their customers and their data. If something goes wrong during your purchase, they can refund your money.

    As an extra precaution, use your credit card. You can always reverse the charges if any problems turn up.

  10. Use Credit Monitoring
    Criminals often use stolen personal data to open new accounts. It's the perfect crime—you have no idea that you're a victim until collection agencies start knocking on your door. By then, the criminals would be long gone.

    Some services let you check your credit report for free any time you want. The best part is, it doesn't affect your credit rating. You also receive an alert if someone tries to open a new credit account under your name.

    Capital One and Discover Card both offer free online credit monitoring. Read our reviews of Capital One and Discover Card.

  11. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication Whenever Possible
    Most of the important websites, such as banking websites, Google, Facebook, PayPal, and even gaming platforms like Steam, offer two-factor authentication.

    This means that whenever there's a suspicious activity on your account, they'll first verify if it's you by sending a one-time code to your phone or email. Unless the hacker also has access to these, they won't be able to access your account.

    However, two-factor authentication isn't the default. You have to enable it, then set it up by giving your number to the service.

Bottom Line

Cybercrime is on the rise, but that doesn't mean you need to avoid the internet. The fact is, you can never be 100% safe online.

Still, knowing how and when to protect yourself is essential. Follow these basic tips and you'll be a much harder target for hackers and cybercriminals.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by Discover. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by Discover.

Disclaimer: The information for the Discover it® Cash Back has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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CreditDonkey does not know your individual circumstances and provides information for general educational purposes only. CreditDonkey is not a substitute for, and should not be used as, professional legal, credit or financial advice. You should consult your own professional advisors for such advice.