Your phone, tablet and laptop know more about your life than you ever will. To understand that better do a small experiment. Do a quick scroll through all your pictures starting with the oldest ones; now do a search of all your private emails with the word ‘important’ and check their content, check how many passwords, ATM pins, online transaction codes and other such info you’ve jotted down as notes on your phone. Shocked? Well, it constitutes just one per cent of all the pieces that make up your digital life.
Now think of all that information freely available to unknown people. People who could suck all that away from you, lock down your phone or computer making it inaccessible to you, threaten you with publicly exposing all that information and finally demanding money to open your device again for you. Sounds far fetched? Well, it’s time to wake up to the reality of digital crime and making sure it doesn’t happen to you.
That webcam on your laptop and the one on your Smart TV, needs a small medical procedure. Take a piece of opaque tape (that leaves no residue) and stick it on the camera. Logging into your laptop camera without your knowledge and capturing your images and video is becoming very common and in the hacker world is known as ‘baby step 1’.
Despite warnings pouring in for years, people still use passwords for convenience and not security. The most common password in the world continues to be the 8 letter ‘password’! Using your dog’s name followed by ‘123456’ or your child’s name followed by ‘qwerty’ are as bad. Using password managers may seem like a good idea but isn’t. Here’s what you do. When you make up your password think of a vague object around you followed by a random series of numbers or the lyrics of a song followed by a number. Then write it down and put in a safe place. Change passwords once a fortnight and actually do it this time.
Encrypt it all
If you only use WhatsApp, iMessage or Signal for messaging, you’re good as they’ve pretty much encrypted it all. If you use other messaging systems, then it’s time to enable encryption there. Facebook messenger, Allo and a few others need encryption to be turned on, so do it right away. If you use something that doesn’t have encryption as an option, get off it now!
Two-step authentication may well be the greatest saviour known to digital mankind. It’s when you login, enter a password and the service sends a instantly generated second code to your phone. Almost every good email service like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook has it. Almost any digital service you use that has important personal information has it too, all you need to do is to enable it.
Nope, it’s not the incognito mode in Chrome and nope I’m not asking you to switch to Tor (the onion router). While Tor may well be the final solution to anonymous browsing, it’s not a very good user experience right now. The simplest way to achieve safety in browsing is to use a browser plug in called HTTPS everywhere. It’s the best way to encrypt most of what you do on the web and also thwarts hacking. Look it up, it’s available for almost all the browsers.
The last part of this is a combination of a few things. Make sure that your Wi-Fi router at home has double protection. A strong password for accessing the router itself as well as the modem and an even more strong password for accessing the Wi-Fi signal. Close to 99 per cent of all household routers have the default password ‘admin’ and that makes it really easy for anyone to access all your settings. And finally encrypt the hard-drive of your computer. Both MacOS and Windows have it built in as an simple option. Do it now!
Most of these steps need to be done just once and most of the follow-ups don’t need any significant time and effort. The payoff is massive! Unless you want all your devices locked down by some kid called iownyounow, it’s time to take your digital safety into your own hands.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch,November 27
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