Cybercrime is, slowly but surely, edging its way into the public consciousness. Yet still perceptions are somewhat misguided on just how severe the reality of this risk is.
This has been highlighted in a recent study by ReportLinker who asked a cross-section of US citizens about various online security issues, with some worrying responses. Most prominent was the fact that whilst most people knew the risk of cyber-attacks was on the rise, most also believed they were not at risk themselves.
Why was this the case? Well, most people learn about cyber-attacks through the media, and therefore get the impression that they target big businesses or governments. They believe that the risks are held by companies like Yahoo! and Sony, not individual users like themselves.
The report also asked what steps people were taking to protect themselves online. Only 58% of those replying said they made use of some sort of encryption or privacy software and the majority of those were basic measures like using strong passwords or locking their smartphones.
This lack of knowledge, or even complacency in the general public to the risk of cyber-attacks is playing right into the hands of the cyber criminals. They are developing more effective means of accessing personal data or extorting money from average people, and new tools like ransomware are getting more and more common.
The most frustrating thing is that this is all so unnecessary. The means to protect yourself online are readily available and easy to use. With just a few simple steps, anyone can protect themselves online.
What's worse is when most people are moving their life abroad (or already have) — taking care of their online data protection is almost always a second thought, if considered at all.
With that said, here are my top 5 things to do to protect yourself online when abroad in 2017:
1. Use a Password Manager
Passwords are the Achilles heel of too many online users. As the same ReportLinker study found, too many people are still using simple, easy to crack passwords. They discovered that the two most popular passwords amongst US citizens were, for the fifth successive year, '123456' and 'password'.
Even a first time hacker will be able to crack those. Passwords have to be secure and should be different for each account you have. This can be hard to keep track of which is where a Password Manager can help.
They store all your passwords in a single place behind one master password. They can also help you generate secure passwords and offer a whole host of other features as well. Our pick is LastPass, but there are plenty of others on the market too.
2. Watch where you click
This seems like a simple one to remind people of, but a key rule to stay secure is to watch where you click. In your inbox, if you see a link in an email you don't recognize, don't click it. If you see an attachment from someone you don't know, don't open it. If you see an email from someone you do know with a suspicious title, don't open it.
Any emails asking you to input financial or personal details should be ignored. If they purport to be from your back, log into your online banking the usual way and check things out there. It's much safer that way.
3. Safe Browsing
Likewise, when browsing the internet, stick to safe sites that you know. If a site has just an http rather than https protocol, be wary. If it is popping up adverts and such things, get out of there fast.
Following links between sites should be done with care too, especially if you heading to places where you might have to input data. If in doubt, head to your regular browser and re-enter the site from there. If possible, look to use a secure browser or search engine. A little extra caution will do you no harm.
These last two are simple rules, but you would be amazed how many people fall for such tricks.
4. Keep your software up to date
Software updates can be often seen like a pain to download. They can take time and slow your system down.
But resist the temptation to close them because they are likely to contain vital security updates. Many companies will use updates to push out security modifications to patch flaws or counter the latest threats. Without these updates, your software, and therefore your data and system, could be at risk. Always be sure to consider all devices you regularly use that are WiFi connected. A perfect example of this is that many people neglect to make sure their digital cameras are kept up-to-date, which leaves a gaping security risk open to potential hackers. And you certainly don't want any sensitive photos hacked!
So always download software updates for all software as soon as you possibly can.
5. Use a VPN
Alongside a Password Manager, a VPN is the other bit of software you should invest in.
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, will encrypt all of your online traffic, meaning that everything you do online is secure. It will also reroute all your online traffic via a third party server meaning it is essentially anonymous too.
These two key features make using a VPN absolutely crucial for the security conscious web user. But there are more perks besides. With a VPN, you can get around online censorship, and also geo-restrictions, which many companies use to stop you accessing their service from overseas.
A good VPN will set you back no more than a few dollars a month and it will be the best few dollars you will ever spend on online security!
Ultimately, keeping your online information private and secure is a concern that 99% of people agree to be an important one. Where most people drop the ball is (like many things in life) actually taking action towards preventing any data hacking, rather than gambling on not being a victim of cybercrime and then only tightening up their device security after being hacked.
Be smart -- take control of your online data privacy protection, especially when living abroad, when many of us end up resorting to using unsecure public WiFi connections while settling into a new location.