By | November 12, 2023
List: Surf the internet safely

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on 13 November 2023 – 19 November 2023

Surfing the Internet can be dangerous. Every day we face cyber threats such as hacking, cyber harassment, phishing, identity theft and credit card fraud.

Have you received an email that your account has been hacked, only to realize that the format is slightly different from what an official email would look like? Or have you fallen victim to scammers who seemed to know your name or pretended to be your friend on social media?

Cyber ​​security and data privacy are two sides of the same coin when navigating the internet. In this age of algorithms and targeted ads, many websites and companies track user data to ensure relevant ads are shown to each consumer, raising data privacy concerns.

Data privacy is as important as cyber security. If data, such as home addresses or phone numbers, is compromised, this can lead to data loss or identity theft.

Here are some key steps users can take to protect their data and counter cyber security threats:

(Photo by Freepik)

1. Use privacy-centric browsing

Although Google Chrome is still one of, if not the most popular, web browser, it is not the most secure. As part of its privacy policy released in 2022, Google tracks user data through not only its browser but also Google’s search engine.

This data enables Google’s advertising platform to provide targeted ads, but at the cost of user privacy. Although this tracking is not immediately dangerous, it has raised data privacy concerns, especially if a third party accesses this information.

There are alternative browsers that take user privacy seriously. Safari, Firefox and Opera browsers have built-in features to prevent websites from tracking users and storing browser information.

Then there’s DuckDuckGo, a search engine and browser that prides itself on providing data security for its users because it doesn’t track search history or store user IP addresses and user information.

(Photo by Freepik)

2. Do not reuse passwords

One of the first things a system will ask users for when creating an account is a password. While it is convenient to have one or a small pool of passwords that you can reuse across multiple platforms, the risk of doing so should be immediately apparent. A hacker only needs one password to access multiple accounts, and many may be tied to bank accounts.

Cyber ​​security experts recommend having different passwords – and not just variations of the same one – to reduce the risks of attacks and hacking.

Of course, it is not easy to keep track of many passwords as the average user has at least 10 accounts. As such, password managers, which are platforms that securely store passwords, are becoming popular.

Since the most secure ones, like NordPass and 1Password, charge a monthly fee, you can still store your passwords the old-fashioned way, written in a notebook, as long as you keep it safe.

(Photo by Storyset/Freepik)

3. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible

When setting up an account, you may have encountered the “one-time password” feature. This extra layer of security started to gain popularity in 2018. A device, or these days, a smartphone app, is tied to your account and will generate a temporary pass.

The one-time password, or two-factor authentication (2FA), has become the standard in account and user security. Either through a dedicated 2FA app or a phone number, many accounts have 2FA as an optional security measure or, especially in the case of banks, a mandatory step.

This not only adds another step to the process of accessing your account, but one that’s personal and tied only to your own device. So even if a hacker gets access to your password, there is another layer of protection.

However, 2FA is not foolproof. If someone steals your phone, they have access to it. SIM duplication, which creates a separate SIM linked to an existing number, is another method that bad cyber actors use to bypass 2FA.

2FA can also backfire. If you lose your phone or 2FA keys, you may lose your account.

(Photo by Freepik)

4. Use a VPN

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are one of the best ways to maintain security on the web. Your connection is routed through remote servers operated by the VPN host and hides your IP address to make it difficult for websites to find out where your device is.

Often, VPNs will route your connection to foreign servers, so websites treat your connection as if you are from that country. If you’re using a VPN and wondering why a website is suddenly in German, it’s because it thinks you’re in Germany.

Although there are many VPNs available, for maximum security, go with one you pay for. NordVPN, Express VPN and Surfshark are some of the best out there.

VPN service providers may monitor your browsing history, but reputable ones like the ones mentioned do not, and will ensure that they have no logs of your browsing history that can be handed over to third parties. However, free VPNs often generate revenue by selling this data to data brokers and advertisers.

(Photo by Freepik)

5. Don’t trust links you never asked for

To avoid falling victim to scammers or phishers, who try to trick users into giving up their account details, the general rule is to never click on links from people you don’t know and to always check links from people you do.

Emails, comments on YouTube or social media, or even direct messages that contain URL links to websites are often dangerous, as they can be disguised to trick users into providing their private or account information on a similar website, or the link can be a secret gateway to place a tracker, malware or ransomware in your device.

Even if the URL looks safe and legitimate, it can also be spoofed. Hovering over the link, viewing the source code, or copying and pasting the URL can reveal the true URL.

Please check each link before clicking on it. Make sure it comes from a reliable source. If you never asked for the link, it’s best not to click on it.

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