None of us want to fall victim to hackers, but sometimes we unknowingly make decisions that increase the chance of this happening. Sometimes a tiny mistake can open a door for hackers, so it’s important that you know what you should avoid.
Here are the top nine things that make you more vulnerable to hackers.
1. Using Public Wi-Fi Networks
When we’re out and about in shops, restaurants, cafés, and hotels, we have two ways of connecting to the internet: using our mobile data or connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. Oftentimes, we don’t want to use up our precious data, especially if we’re streaming content, making video calls, or gaming. So, public Wi-Fi then becomes the seemingly wiser option.
But public Wi-Fi is not very secure and can be easily exploited by nefarious individuals. For instance, a hacker can intercept your connection over a public Wi-Fi network and view sensitive data, such as login credentials or payment information. Additionally, a hacker can create their own Wi-Fi network that’s named to look like an official free network, such as “The Cloud.” When you connect to this, you may think you’re using a harmless network, but the hacker is viewing all the information you enter while connected.
It’s best to use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi so that all your data remains encrypted. Note that using a free VPN to connect to public Wi-Fi is risky, as free VPNs themselves can’t always be trusted (more on this soon).
2. Not Running Frequent Device Scans
Many of us live busy and fast-paced lives, so it’s natural to put certain things off, including antivirus scans. You may think that avoiding a manual antivirus scan won’t do you any harm, but antivirus programs need to scan your device for dangerous files in order to keep you protected. Without these scans, malware can make its way onto your device and stay there, without you ever knowing it.
If you’re likely to forget about running an antivirus scan yourself, most programs offer automated daily scans. This will allow the program to conduct frequent scans in the background without your input.
3. Using a Free VPN or Antivirus Program
We all love free stuff. But there are certain things that are worth the price tag, including antivirus and VPN programs.
There’s usually one or more reasons why an antivirus or VPN program is free, as the majority of trusted and reputable providers charge an annual or monthly fee. When a given service isn’t charging you a cent, they often look for other profit avenues, such as advertisements and data sales.
For instance, a free VPN provider may litter its app with ads, making your experience both jarring and frustrating. If these ads happen to be part of an adware program, you could be at risk of opening a shady link or giving your information over to an illicit actor. What’s more, your personal information, browsing activity, and other highly sensitive data may be sold off to third parties if the provider you’re using has taken up such a venture to make a profit. VPN logs are commonly used in these data sales.
On top of this, free VPN and antivirus providers commonly come with lackluster features that simply aren’t capable of protecting you from malware and hackers. Maybe your free antivirus program can’t pick up on certain kinds of malware, or your VPN software uses a weak form of encryption. Whatever the drawback, it can put you at risk.
4. Using Old Software
Like antivirus scans, many of us like to put off software updates, simply because they’re time-consuming. This is understandable, but using old versions of software can leave you with various vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit.
During software updates, bugs and vulnerabilities are often ironed out or patched. In security terms, this seals up any loose ends that hackers may abuse to access your accounts or devices. If you frequently avoid updates, be it for your operating system or applications, the chances of falling victim to an exploited code vulnerability tends to increase.
Next time you’re tempted to avoid that software update, keep in mind what it may do for your security integrity.
5. Opening Unknown Links or Attachments
You may be able to remember a time that you opened a link a little too quickly and were thankful that it led to a trusted site. But not all of us will be this lucky.What many do not know is that malware can be spread via links and attachments, be it via email, social media DM, or a similar vector. Many shady links can also lead to phishing websites designed to steal any data you input. For instance, if you enter your login details into a convincing phishing site, the malicious operator can see exactly what they are and then hack the account being targeted.
This is why you should always verify the legitimacy and safety of a link or attachment before opening it. There are plenty of Iink-checking sites out there that you can use for free to scan URLs, and you also want to know how to spot and avoid malicious attachments if you want to dodge this kind of infection technique, too.
6. Using HTTP Websites
Back in the day, HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) was the standard protocol used for sending data over the internet. But now, HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is the widely preferred option, mainly because it is much safer. This is because HTTPS encrypts data, making it that much more secure.
If your chosen search engine displays two kinds of lock icons next to website addresses, this is likely related to the transfer protocol being used. Addresses with a locked padlock are using HTTPS, while addresses with an unlocked padlock are using HTTP. If you want to keep your transferred data secure, try to stick to HTTPS websites only.
7. Sharing Flash Drives
Flash drives don’t just store benign files. These small pieces of hardware can also be used to store, and therefore spread, malicious programs.
This is why you should be very cautious about the flash drives you plug into your PC. Sharing a flash drive with individuals you don’t fully trust can be risky, as well as using a flash drive that had a previous owner. It’s best to either use your own flash drive that’s brand new, or run a scan on any shared flash drives you use with your antivirus program.
8. Not Using Authentication Layers
Authentication, be it two-factor or multifactor, can be a great addition to your login process. Whether you’re signing in to social media, or accessing your online bank account, using either an authenticator app or an authentication feature can add an extra layer of security and make it that much harder for hackers to successfully target you.
Authentication requires you to verify a single login attempt from another device or account. For example, you may need to verify a login on a smartphone authenticator app in order to access a financial account on your laptop. Alternatively, you may need to confirm the authenticity of a login attempt on your email when signing in to Instagram. This only takes a few extra seconds, and can mean the difference between protecting and exposing your account.
9. Downloading Software and Files on Shady Sites
Can’t find anywhere to download a popular program for free? Finding it hard to access an app version that’s compatible to your OS? Such problems can often lead us to third party websites when we’re looking to install an app or download a file.
However, third party websites can have malicious operators that are looking to hack your device via a seemingly innocent download. Maybe an individual is looking to infect your device with a keylogger, or burden you with adware that floods your screen with ads. Whatever the goal, a cybercriminal could put you and your data at risk by targeting you via phony downloads. If possible, it’s best to stick to legitimate app stores and websites when you’re looking to install something new.
Make Sure You’re Avoiding These Common Security Pitfalls
It’s easy to make any of the above mistakes, but the consequences of such trip-ups can be dire. Run a quick check of your device and internet security to make sure you’re doing what you can to keep hackers at bay.