Cybersecurity concept

5 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy

By Kellie Davenport

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month in Canada—making it the perfect time to brush up on your online know-how. Though technology makes our lives easier and brings us together, hackers are always on the digital prowl, ready to nab your identity, loot your bank account or score a handsome ransom. But you can turn the virtual table on cybercriminals by avoiding these often-overlooked online blunders. 

We all know weak passwords lead to disaster. But simply avoiding “12345” or “password” isn’t enough. Good password hygiene goes beyond digits, letters and symbols. Use different complex passwords for your various online shopping, banking, social media, travel booking and government websites and apps. Employing the same password for multiple accounts allows hackers to compromise all your accounts by breaking into just one (a.k.a. “daisy-chaining”). To help keep track of log-in credentials, consider using a password manager. And when available, always opt-in for two-factor authentication—using your email or mobile number—as an added layer of security. 

How to
create passwords that are secure and hard to crack

Because webcams aren’t protected in the same way as other network-enabled devices, your desktop camera could be a gateway for virtual voyeurs. Using malware (i.e. malicious software), they can hijack camera controls—to listen, watch and record—and access your personal information. To prevent virtual eavesdropping, ensure the cam isn’t on or recording when you’re not using it; a light usually appears when in use. A piece of tape or purpose-built cover will block video, but not audio. Consider disabling the microphone (in system settings) and device permissions from apps you don’t use regularly. If an app is compromised, it’ll be more challenging for would-be hackers to access your microphone. 

It’s easy to tune out the never-ending stream of system updates. But they’re critical to protecting your online privacy. Updates are often issued to correct vulnerabilities—newly discovered bugs or security holes. Hackers can exploit the weakness by using malware, which could be triggered by simply clicking on a rogue website, compromised email or infected video. The malware swipes your personal data or allows a cybercriminal to encrypt your files and hold it for ransom. Avoid such pitfalls by constantly updating software, apps and operating systems as soon as updates are issued. 

Backing up and transferring files is essential, but be mindful about which flash drive or USB stick you use. External drives can be loaded with dangerous malware, which can infect not only your machine, but entire networks connected to it. If it’s not your stick, don’t use it. It’s also a good idea to regularly scan your flash drive for viruses to avoid infecting other devices you might connect to. 

Websites and social media are filled with shortlinks: clickable phrases or words used in lieu of long URLs to take you directly to a website or link. But clicking on that shortlink means you don’t really know where you’re headed—which means you might land on a piece of malware. Easily avoid this trap by using a web browser with link previews. You’ll see the page name, description and a thumbnail before clicking on the shortlink, so you see where you are going. If it doesn’t look legit, don’t click. 

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