Web-Wise

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After the big Equifax hack, I’ve become really interested in cyber security. I don’t trust the companies that hold my information online, and I’m very wary of the cloud – after all, Apple’s iCloud was already hacked once! I’m trying to get better at covering my tracks online and keeping social networks, apps, and other things from tracking my movements and personal information.

I was never great with technology, though, and when I ask my tech-savvy friends for tips on staying safe online, I get a flood of information and acronyms and very little in the way of explanation or layman’s terms. Can your experts provide some simple tips for staying secure online?

Web security is a hot topic lately thanks to incidents like the ones you reference. Americans are uneasy about the care their data is getting online, and it’s not hard to see why. Cybercrime and identity theft cost 15.4 million Americans $16 billion last year, and 43% of companies experienced a data breach of some kind in 2014. In terms of numbers of incidents, experts expect 2017 to be even worth than 2016 – and 2016 was already worse than 2015!

But, of course, companies care too. It’s not in anyone’s interest for bad guys to steal data, and security companies are hard at work to make sure that their clients are not the ones to be hit with the next big data breach. This includes the cloud services you mention. The “cloud” is just internet-connected storage that’s managed from afar, meaning that programs and data that were once stored on your personal computer or device are now in the care of the company providing the app or service. That raises security concerns, of course, which is why there are CASBs: cloud access security brokers, which are software programs that act a bit like bouncers between users and the cloud. It’s just one of many ways that companies are working hard to keep your data safe.

Of course, no matter how much you trust a company, there may be some things you’d prefer to keep private. When it comes to private internet browsing, it’s a good idea to take a look at your browser’s settings and uncheck any boxes that are allowing information sharing with your browser and websites you visit. You’ll also want to avoid installing Flash, which is a vulnerable program, and you may want to download browser extensions and other programs that help with privacy.

All of these are good ideas, but for the ultimate private browsing experience, you’ll want to use a VPN. You have a lot of options for good VPN services, but they all work more or less the same way: they’ll route your internet traffic through a server somewhere else, anonymizing it and hiding your true location and IP address. That may sound nefarious, but there are many legal uses for VPNs, and they’re an excellent privacy tool. If you want to seriously improve your privacy protections on the web, a VPN is a great place to start.

And then there’s one last thing you’ll want to do: keep your computer up-to-date! Counter-intuitive as it may be, being a luddite about your web habits will make you more vulnerable, not less. Hackers love to exploit out-of-date software, and sloppy update habits leave 99% of computers vulnerable. Time to hit “OK” on that update!

“We won’t sit idly by when a crime is committed in the real world. So why should we when it happens in cyberspace?” – Max Baucus

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