At the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, there were numerous reports of people’s devices and laptops getting hacked. Those reports have now been confirmed to be fabricated, with the only danger limited to visiting specific, remote Olympic-themed websites, no matter your location. Nevertheless, these stories are a reminder that it is still important to protect yourself online and keep your devices and information secure.
We spoke with Ric Messier, author of our White Hacking and Penetration Testing training courses to get his expert advice on how you can protect yourself online.
Ric’s tips for staying safe and secure online:
1. Encrypt your hard drive.
Using basic tools included with your operating system, you can effectively scramble your data so that it can only be read by authorized users. FileVault is included with all Macs, while Windows users can use BitLocker.
2. Use strong passwords for your user account.
Make it a password you use nowhere else, mix capitalized and lower case letters, and include numbers and/or symbols such as $,#, or *.
3. Be careful opening attachments that come in emails.
This has always been a threat, and you should be wary of any attachment other than simple documents and images from people you trust. Scan them before you open them if your email client does not already do so.
4. Always be careful about the websites you visit.
In many cases, rogue websites can take advantages of vulnerabilities in your browser or plugins to run malicious access your machine. These can be sites for free games or screensavers, software piracy, or other questionable content. Obtrusive popups and ads that take over your screen are a bad sign.
5. Don’t connect to wireless networks you don’t know.
This is especially true if there is no password required to connect. Beware of open unofficial networks in airports and populated travel hubs.
6. Make sure you have a good anti-virus.
Microsoft Security Essentials is a good program that includes anti-virus and anti-spyware, and it’s for Windows users. Mac users who traditionally haven’t had to worry about viruses as much (but have been susceptible to more recent threats) should consider using Sophos or ClamXAV 2.
Additional tips for mobile users:
Use a password to lock your devices, encrypt the storage, and don’t connect to wireless networks you don’t know.
Messier also advises people to refrain from keeping sensitive information on your mobile devices. And for those thinking about travelling, Messier stresses that the best thing you can do is purchase a disposable phone and don’t use it for any communication that you wouldn’t want intercepted, because there is a good chance it will be.
Lastly, while the hackings in Sochi may have turned out to be false, Messier states that it is important to note that in locations where security is of high importance, like Sochi, people should expect the government to be closely monitoring communications. “We can’t very well be okay with it here (in the U.S.), but not be okay with it there,” says Messier.