Safety measures for the digital age

Laptops and PCs, everybody’s work essentials are vulnerable to hackers and viruses. In order to take care of our home planet, we need to look after our safety as well, writes Minal Sancheti  

At malls or public places when we use the common Wi-Fi, our personal data can leak. When lending our device to friends and colleagues, it can be easily hacked. It’s important to know how to take care of our devices so that they don’t fall prey to hackers or viruses.

When sharing PC and laptops with friends and colleagues, it’s important to be cautious. “So if you believe that you are at any point of time going to share your system with other people, create on your system a guest account. A guest account means that your friends or colleagues will be able to use the system. This has to be a paid and licensed version,” said Shweta Chawla, founder of Association of Women in Information Security.

Malware is a software that performs unwanted actions in the systems. It can get in our device from many sources. “This can enter the system when the user clicks on a link or download a file which contains a virus. It can also come through emails and messages,” says Dr Rakesh Goyal, the director General of Centre for Research and Prevention of computer Crimes and MD of Sysman Computers.

She further said, “Unless you know that the site trustworthy, avoid going to that site. When you are general browsing, like you would go to Huffington Post or you would go to Yahoo news or any such site, do not log into any other social media account at the same time. Also install what is called as Ad block.”

We use public Wi-Fi when we go to malls or any public place. The Wi-Fi could harm your laptop or cell phone. “The tendency that all of us have is that wherever we get Wi-Fi connection we plug in and we start browsing. But we can’t be sure that public Wi-Fi connection is legitimate. We are giving all our data to some person whom we don’t know,” said cyber security expert Shweta Chawla.

Smartphones can be easily hacked

“When using public Wi-Fi, don’t do any bank transaction on your devices. Don’t access any email account which might have your bank details or personal details stored on. When connecting your cell phone to it you need to be aware that your cell phone could be compromised and we also have lot of pictures on it. So, on your cell phone if you are using public Wi-Fi connections don’t allow any kind of updates to happen. This is because you don’t know whether the public Wi-Fi connection that I am using has the ability to force my cell phone to download an application that is malicious,” she said.

Be very careful of which applications you need to download. She further explains, “Remember, all applications take more permission than they should. That in itself is dangerous. So, on your cell phone the fewer applications you have, the less likely it is that your phone will be hacked. Also, these days we get too many pictures, videos and PDF files on WhatsApp. When you download them and open it, the malware enters the device. So change the WhatsApp settings so that pictures or videos or anything of that kind doesn’t download on their own.”

Cellphone could be hacked by injecting malware through links or by downloading them to a person’s phone. The person then can be the victim of Cyber-stalking.

“One can install software on the cell phone to stalk or track the other person. It can be installed by clicking a link that’s been sent. If your phone behaves abnormally like if the applications start on its own and there are pop ups on the screen, then it’s likely that your phone is hacked. If you have very good paid antivirus on your mobile phone, which is worth it because your phone is like your bank in your pocket, then there should not be any problem,” said Ritesh Bhatia, Cyber Crime Investigator, Cyber security Expert and Data Privacy Consultant.

Protecting smartwatches

“Smart watches basically contain three kinds of data. The first would be location. The second would be some extent of biometrics. By that I mean it would give you your pulse rate, may be your BP, pace of walking or running. If it’s linked to your cell phone, which is what most smart phone watches are, it gives you access to everything on you cell phone as well.

For your smart watch to be able to communicate with your cell phone, there has to be some wireless means to communicate between the two devices; which also means that your smart phone is broadcasting the information to your respective device. Now if you can capture the data that’s being transmitted between your smart watch and your smart phone and you can decrypt the data, you can also manipulate the data that’s being exchanged between your smartwatch and your device or vice versa,” said Chawla.

By giving a unique identity name to your device, you can protect it. Shweta Chawla explains, “The only way to protect your smart watch is to give it a unique name. A name that in any way does not say what kind of device it is. Don’t connect your smart watch to other network as far as possible. And if possible, use a higher end VPN (Virtual Private Network) between your smart phone and smart watch.”

Other IOT devices also need protection

Anything to everything connected to the Internet at some point of time is vulnerable to hacking. Even if you have physical access to the device, you can hack it.

“So all of these machines like your Amazon Echo or any IOT device, all need to connect to your residential network. Now the whole point of connecting IOT devices is that you can communicate through it via Internet which means that they all have an Internet phasing connection,” she said.

We cannot stop using these devices. So, we should learn to protect them. Your devices should be behind the firewalls. They should have a unique identifiable name. The username and password should also be unique and not an easy-to-find one.

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