It’s seems like not a day goes by without a major corporation, hotel chain, bank or retail store being the subject of an attack by some anonymous hacker group from a country, at least in theory, less technologically advanced than the US. It almost makes you think “if those organizations with their multi-million dollars can’t keep hackers away, how am I supposed to do that with my limited resources?” Well, although there’s no such thing as perfect cyber security, there are a number of things that you can do to keep hackers away or at least, add enough obstacles to steer them towards a more vulnerable victim.
This topic is especially interesting to me since I spend the majority of my time working from remote locations with my laptop and my mobile phone as my main working tools. If you too have a mobile lifestyle, you may also rely on Wi-Fi and hotspot connections quite a bit. In fact, nowadays, it’s customary for a lot of people to expect free Wi-Fi when they venture out, whether it be in coffee shops, restaurants, hotels or airports. All you have to do is look around you when you’re at one of these places and you will see everyone’s eyes thoroughly focused on their own mobile device screen.
So here’s quick list of things that you can do to protect yourself:
Protection Tip #1. Never Use Any Type of Public Wi-Fi.
No matter where you are or how secure you think the connection is, using a public Wi-FI connection is like allowing your computer to have unprotected sex. You never know what you’re going to walk away with. I always use my own phone “Personal Hotspot” feature whenever I need to be online from a remote location. I simply prefer to pay for the bandwidth I use rather than take avoidable risks by using a public (and free) connection.
Protection Tip #2. Use 2-Step Authentication.
“Step” No. 1 is your regular password. Step No. 2 is a one-time code that’s texted to your mobile number by the institution to verify your identity. All major institutions now offer 2-Step Authentication as do major Internet Service and App Providers such as Google (google.com/landing/2step), Twitter (support.twitter.com), and Facebook (facebook.com/help). If you’re active on any of these three services (and who isn’t?) this step is an absolute “must” for you.
Protection Tip #3. Use a 3rd Party Authentication App.
Apps such as Google Authenticator allow you to eliminate the need for a code to be texted to your mobile. The app syncs with Google’s servers and it automatically generates a code that exists only there and on your phone therefore eliminating the remote possibility of the sent code being intercepted. Another option is Duo Security, a third party app that is free for consumers and a monthly fee from $1 to $6 for various business sizes. In fact, some of the most popular social media and online retail companies already use Duo Security for their own 2-step authentication solutions. You can see their partners on their website.
Protection Tip #4. Secure Your Mobile Device and Your Mobile Account.
Of course, none of the above tips would be very secure if you don’t take care of securing your own mobile device and mobile account. In addition to using a strong alpha-numeric password to access your mobile phone, you should also set up a custom PIN to access your mobile account. With this PIN, if anyone tries to call in your mobile provider pretending to be you to access your account, unlock your phone remotely, etc. they will need the PIN to verify their identity to the customer service rep to access your account.
Protection Tip #5. Limit the Number of Password Attempts to Access Your Mobile Phone.
This one became very popular a few months ago with Apple defending its security feature against the FBI request to unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooters. Evidently, the FBI only had ten tries before the iPhone would ‘reset’ itself and wipe out all of its information. Regardless of your opinion about that particular case, YOU should also take any precautions available to secure your phone’s information when it’s take away from you.
Protection Tip #6. Use Messenger Apps that Use Encryption.
Today, most of the popular messaging apps already provide end-to-end encryption. My favorite one is WhatsApp that allows you to send text, images, audio or video messages fully encrypted so that, even the app employees, would only see jumbled code should they try to intercept your messages. There are other messaging apps that offer similar features.
Protection Tip #7. Protect or Shield Your Computer Screen.
If you’re working from a public location, try to find a spot where your laptop screen is facing a back wall behind you. You can also use a screen shield that only allows you to view your screen and people taking a peek from the sides or over your shoulder, will not be able to read it. By the same token, cover your fingers or disguise your typing when you’re typing your user name and password to log in to your accounts. It’s very easy for someone around you to be video-recording your keystrokes and get your password directly from your typing actions.
Protection Tip #8. Tape Over Your Webcam and Audio Mic Jack.
This may sound paranoid at first, but the reality is that it is not very difficult for hackers to access your webcam remotely and record any images or sound in clear view that they can later use to violate your privacy and extort you personally. In particular, a Miss Teen USA case comes to mind where a young man was convicted for using some of the contestants Webcams to secretly take videos and photos of them undressing or naked and extorting them over two years with a number of threats. A simple piece of tape over your webcam will take care of this issue.
Protection Tip #9. Do Not Broadcast Your Entire Life Via Social Media.
Ok, we get it. Your life is wonderful. You’re the happiest person on the planet and you can’t wait to post that selfie showing you enjoying a tasty umbrella drink at your favorite Tiki Bar in the Caribbean… and now just wait for all the “Likes” to roll in! But do you really need to tell the world what you’re doing every minute? Remember all those security questions that you set up to access your bank account online?… the ones asking you about where you went to High School, or your mom’s maiden name, or the name of your first pet, etc.? Well, hackers can get those answers too, right from your social media account. And not only that, they can call in any institution pretending to be you, knowing everything about your life, where you are, who you work for, and very much everything they need to steal your identity.
And I don’t want to get into Iris Recognition technology that scares some celebrities to the point that they always wear glasses in public places so that no pictures of their eyes can be used to hack into biometric authentication processes. That could be the topic for another article.
If you have any additional tips or if you’ve suffered from your information being stolen online, I’d like to hear from you. Feel free to leave your comments below with your own experience.
Thank you for reading. Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR).