Plug the leaks: 5 ways to stay safe online

  • Sneha Mahale, None
  • Updated: Aug 28, 2015 14:06 IST
Ashley Madison

If you haven't heard about the recent Ashley Madison data leak, you've been living under a mouse pad. The leaks from the site - which calls itself an "online personals & dating destination for casual encounters, married dating, discreet encounters and extramarital affairs (sic)" - has left thousands fretting about the consequences.

Several big names have supposedly been "outed" after the release of personal information, and it now faces a $578 million (roughly Rs 3827.5 crore) class action lawsuit. It is also a wake-up call to netizens, who spend hours online.

We list five simple ways to guard yourself from an online data breach.

1) Get the password(s) right: We've all done it at some point - used the same password to access multiple accounts. It makes you more prone to a hacking attack, if one platform is compromised. To avoid this, create strong passwords with at least eight characters - containing a number, a symbol, a lower case and an upper case letter, even misspelled words. You could also use a manager like LastPass or 1Password to make sure all your passwords are different. And remember to change them at least every 90 days.

2) Avoid public Wi-Fi: The thought of accessing the internet for free may be enticing, but you could get hacked in the process. Hackers set up networks that imitate the one a user has previously connected to, and use techniques such as protocol downgrade attacks to circumvent encryption-secure services.

3) Check for data encryption: A number of apps come with end-to-end encryption. This means that data sent can only be read by the intended recipient. Try to opt for one of them while sending emails, private messages or images. Several popular services, including WhatApp, Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, already offer this feature. But take time out to learn if other apps you may have downloaded, support it.

4) Take antivirus seriously: Install and use antivirus and antispyware software on all of your computers to protect against viruses and malware. Update it regularly, and renew annually. Don't open email attachments from untrusted sources, and switch the automatic media download option off on services like WhatsApp.

5) Keep your operating systems up-to-date: Get updates to security, web browsers or operating systems as soon as they are available. They contain "patches" which often address security vulnerabilities within the software, and act like your first line of defense. Also, enable your operating system's firewall or purchase it from a reputable company. It prevents outsiders from accessing data on your network.

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