Imagine that one morning you try to check your email and discover your Internet access is gone. Soon after that, you get a call from the police, saying in vague but ominous terms that they have questions about your activity on the Net. How did this happen? Probably a criminal breached your personal Internet security.
In today’s world, security isn’t just a problem for businesses with websites and online stores. Everyone is a potential target. Many people use the Internet as a daily lifeline to their workplace. Almost everyone uses it for shopping or banking. An intrusion can be devastatingly expensive and disruptive.
Online security requires personal, internal, and external protection. On a personal level, you need to be on guard against suspicious emails and links. Internally, your computer or specialist tower server needs anti-malware software and a firewall. Also, you need protection in your Internet connection. You should protect yourself with a VPN against snooping and data injection in the data you send and receive.
Online banking and credit card management are very popular. They let you manage your money easily and resolve problems quickly. They’re very popular with thieves as well. If they get your account passwords, they can spend your money and move it into their pockets.
Identity thieves could obtain credit in your name. They do this by acquiring enough personal information about you to be convincing. Leaking personal data online, such as your birth date and Social Security number, puts you at risk.
Motley Fool reports there were 650,572 cases of identity theft in 2019. Increased use of online services because of the pandemic has accelerated the trend.
Access to your money could be frozen. You might not be able to get the money back. Even if you can repair the damage, you may be without access to your money for a while, usually at the worst time. Your credit rating is likely to suffer.
Controlling your Computer
Opening a malicious Web page or running a hostile attachment can let criminals install malware on your computer and take control of it. Vast numbers of machines have been drafted into botnets this way, while their owners don’t realize anything is wrong. The malware sends out spam, conducts distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, mines cryptocurrency, and pushes malware out to other machines.
At a minimum, the results are disruptive. Your computer is slower and less reliable. Software crashes for no apparent reason. It can get much worse. Malware can steal personal information from your computer, leading to identity theft. It can hijack your online accounts and grab copies of your files.
Ransomware scrambles the most important files on a computer. If you don’t have a current backup, you could face a choice between paying the perpetrator and losing valuable data. Even paying won’t necessarily get your data back.
If your computer sends out spam and malware, your Internet access could be suspended. In the worst cases, law enforcement might take an interest, seizing your machine or arresting you.
Email is more riddled with weaknesses than any other aspect of Internet security. The protocols are very old, and they weren’t created with secure communication in mind. Software and services have improved a lot since the early days, but a weak link anywhere in the communication chain can let a snooper grab information.
Forging an email address takes no effort. Messages can contain fraudulent information, dangerous links, and malicious attachments. If an email message looks suspicious, don’t open its attachments or links. The message could claim there’s an emergency, and you need to act immediately, but making a phone call or visiting the sender’s website is safer than trusting the message. Phishing attacks have risen sharply in 2020.
Strictly avoid putting sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and passwords, into the email. Sending or receiving email by public Wi-Fi is incredibly risky. Unencrypted messages can go over the air, and intercepting them is frighteningly easy.
The stream of a fraudulent email that you receive is just the most obvious part of criminals’ ongoing efforts to undermine your online security. You can’t afford to be complacent. To keep your risk to a minimum, you need:
- Safe Internet habits.
- Security measures such as anti-malware software installed on your computer.
- A secure Internet connection, preferably using a VPN.
Don’t be one of the many victims of malware, theft, and fraud on the Internet. Be as careful about your online security as you are about your health.