"America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber attacks. Now, we know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private emails…. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems…. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy."
The above is an excerpt from President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. Now, obviously, the American president is speaking in the context of big companies, utilities and the government. But we’d be mistaken to not take this as a call for personal security as well.
After all, like a conventional war, collateral damage will certainly happen. So what can you do to make sure your data doesn’t become a casualty?
1. Keep your anti-virus software updated
In cyberwar, malware will be the weapon of choice. And while we will certainly see a plethora of zero-day attacks, updated anti-virus software will keep your system safe from fallout damage after the fact.
2. Use strong passwords
If your email password is “password”, “qwerty”, or any other cliché example of terrible security, you’re basically standing on Omaha beach in your undies. A strong password should be at least eight characters long, involve lower and upper case letters, have a couple numbers and preferably some kind of symbol. Any hacker-wannabe can crack a password made of simple words, but it will take even a supercomputer ages to crack a well-developed sting of characters.
3. Use encrypted email
This should go without saying, but a surprising number of people – especially those using desktop email clients – don’t have any built-in encryption when they send a message.
If you’re using a web client like Gmail or Hotmail, check to make sure there is an “https://” before the URL of your mail client. The “s” means you’re hidden behind SSL encryption – the same thing your bank uses to keep your account information safe.
Securing a desktop client like Outlook of Thunderbird can be a little more involved, but totally worth it. You’re going to want to secure the connection from your email provider, your messages in transit, and messages stored on your computer. Here’s an excellent write-up by PC World on exactly how to do that.
4. VPN your connection
If you hadn’t guessed, we’re big fans of VPNs. They really are the best option for securing your online activity. Whether you’re sending emails, banking online, or looking at cat pictures, a VPN ensures that nobody can see what you’re doing. It accomplishes this by establishing a private connection between your computer and the VPN server. Your data will be both encrypted and hidden in a secure VPN tunnel.
The best part is that it’s probably the easiest of the steps mentioned here. Just download the client, pick a plan, and turn it on. Boom. Done. Whenever you want to go under the radar, you only need to click a button.
There are a ton of great VPN options out there, but we think ours is pretty awesome. Plus it’s free. Can’t beat that.
Look, we don’t know if cyberwar is going to break out in the next few months or the next few years. But experts agree that it’s a matter of “if”, not “when”. So take our advice and be prepared!