Top 5 Cyber-Security Tips for Protection Against Online Fraud

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Scholarship Winning Entry: By Sukhman Sunner

Today’s interlinked world makes everyone increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Whether you are fascinated by the relatively new world of cyber-security as a professional, or have picked up an interest in protecting yourself online and throughout social media, these five tips are the answer. The acronym “CIBER” can be used to easily remind yourself of what you can do to protect your identity: create a two-factor authentication, install antivirus software, buy a VPN, employ a password manager and reduce your digital footprint.

Create a two-factor authentication. You have a key to a door, but there is a keypad on it. To open the door, you must have both the key and the code to the keypad — the door cannot be opened without either. Digitally, it is set up in several ways using a password and another form of security to confirm that you are the owner of the account; it takes the form of a temporary code, security question, or another password you have to input. Hence, whenever you input your correct password, the database checks for your account and sees if it has Two-Factor Authentication turned on, and in what type, if it is a security question or additional password, you input the correct answer accordingly and, voila, you are in. As for the temporary code, it is a code sent to your account whenever you sign in; that code can be sent as SMS, or the site will tell you to type in your code, which you will find via an application like DUO[1].

Install antivirus software. We know that hackers are working around the clock to spread new viruses to steal personal information. Thus, it is important to install antivirus software that protects you. Viruses operate like any other program installed on your computer. The main difference, however, is that viruses are meant to harm or destroy important data on your system. Part of the problem is that viruses are sneaky; they can attach onto completely legitimate files. While it is impossible to be completely protected, the most effective method of securing your devices is prevention, which is the central purpose of antivirus software. One of the main ways an antivirus works is by cross-checking definition files in a database for known malicious software. However, it is a much more complicated process. Virus detection programs still do that, of course, but they also watch for suspicious behavior, like a program trying to replace certain files, or trying to connect to known malicious websites without your permission. Hence, downloading antivirus software like McAfee[2] can prove to be beneficial in protecting yourself from online fraud.

Buy a VPN. People use VPN connections to protect themselves against hackers and to browse the internet safely. First, we must look at how data travels over the internet without a VPN connection. To visit a website, your computer exchanges information with the internet. Your browser sends a variety of different data via your Internet Service Provider to the website you are visiting. Then, the website sends back the necessary information, and the website appears on your screen. During this process, your connection often is unencrypted which means that malicious parties can easily view your personal data. Your IP address is visible as well which essentially is your online postal code indicating your identity and location. With a VPN, this process unfolds a little differently. When you use a VPN, the VPN application encrypts all your data. The encrypted data travels through a secure VPN tunnel, via your Internet Service Provider to the VPN server. Then, the VPN server forwards only the necessary and anonymous information, accompanied by its own IP address. The VPN connection ensures your privacy is protected. So, for anyone who values their online safety, it is recommended to purchase and use a VPN connection.

Employ a password manager. It is impossible for the human brain to memorize tens and hundreds of unique passwords which forces people to reuse passwords on different sites. However, if one account is breached, it will lead to others using the same passwords being at risk as well. However, there is a secure alternative. Picture yourself making all your passwords unique and writing them on paper, which you subsequently place in a locked safe. Now, imagine if you could make it so that everything written on the paper is gibberish which becomes readable only to those who know the code for the safe. Hence, if someone broke your safe without opening the lock and grabbed the paper inside, it would be impossible for them to understand what is written on it. From this concept, password managers are born. Your data in them is the digital version of your paper. The safe can only be unlocked with your master password. Higher entropy makes the account more secure which is why password managers like Bitwarden[3] are the most secure model for managing your passwords. 

Reduce your digital footprint. If you want to avoid people learning about you on the World Wide Web, then it is time to do a few things to make it less easy to track you. If you do not use a service any more, cancel the account. Do not use social media to update your followers on your recent purchases and pit stops. Or, if you must, publish with the mindset that somebody hostile to you is going to read it. It is important to share carefully. It is 2022; nobody needs your home address on a resume. Make sure it is not on there if you publish to LinkedIn.

In conclusion, using the acronym “CIBER” can prove to be useful in protecting your online identity. Through the five tips of creating a two-factor authentication, installing antivirus software, buying a VPN, employing a password manager and reducing your digital footprint, an individual can best protect their personal information online and protect themselves from online fraud.

[1] https://duo.com/

[2] https://www.mcafee.com/

[3] https://bitwarden.com/

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