Recently, hackers launched a massive attack on the internet and they succeeded. They took down Twitter, Netflix, Amazon, PayPal, Reddit…and pretty much every site we use to connect and live online. So far it looks like it wasn’t state sanctioned (by us or any foreign governments) but it is absolutely normal to feel worried. We store our information and data online so easily these days. We’re more likely to save something to the cloud than we are to print it out and store it in a filing cabinet. In light of recent events, it’s good to ask what you can do to protect yourself. Here are some tips.
Understand How it Happened
First, before we get into the practical, we need to make sure you are up to speed on how the attack was even possible. The hackers used what is called the Internet of Things. These are machines that connect to the internet–not just your computers and mobile devices–but your smart televisions, your smart refrigerators, and a dozen other manufactured goods that connect to the internet seemingly in the background of their primary functions. The hackers exploited a built in code error and used it to unleash all of those devices in a single coordinated attack.
Experts are still figuring out a way to keep your specific devices safe from this type of manipulation in the future. For now, let’s look at some practical steps you can take on your own.
Choose Your Backups Wisely
We have no doubts that you did your research before choosing a cloud server on which to store backups of your systems and your important files. Even so, it’s good to keep copies of your important documents and your most recent system backup file on a device that doesn’t automatically connect to the internet. For example, storing them on an external hard or flash drive outfitted with flash key encryption keeps them safe from hackers and prying eyes who might try to sneak a peek should that drive be left unguarded.
Build Your Network Wisely
With the Internet of Things growing every day, more and more devices are going to need access to your home network to function properly. This does not mean, however, that you should be linking them up with all of your devices. Create your home network groups wisely. It is possible to set up multiple personal groups in a single home. Use this ability to separate your smart devices from your personal computing devices.
Note: This won’t mean that you can’t connect to your devices via the web. You’ll still be able to manage subscriptions, etc. It simply means that your devices won’t be able to connect to each other without your express permission.
Protecting Your Identity
By now you likely know the basics of online identity protection: don’t share your passwords, don’t use the same password for every site, create difficult passwords, don’t save payment information or personal information, always use HTTPS not HTTP, etc. Here are a couple of extra steps that you can take to keep your personal information and various accounts safe.
A Secret Email
We give out our email addresses so freely and then we wonder why we get messages about failed attempts to log into our various accounts. If you only have one address that you use for everything, stop that right now. Create a new email address that only you know about and use that for your account login for your bank, your credit cards, etc. This creates an extra layer of protection between your personal life and what someone might be able to access through nefarious means. If you really want to go all out, create two secret accounts. Use one for the more secure accounts like your financial accounts and use the other for accounts that frequently get hacked like Groupon, iTunes, Amazon, etc.
For one-off visits that require you to enter your email to access specific content, use a throw away temporary email address. These are easy and free to create through a number of portals. Plus, they’ll help you reduce the amount of spam you have to deal with.
Passwords for Clues
Anybody who knows you well will likely be able to guess the answers to your account “secret questions.” This is why it is a good idea to use passwords in those spaces as well. Create a unique passcode for each question instead of a straightforward answer. Use letters, numbers, special characters, the whole nine yards. You might want to write down these codes in a safe place to keep track of them all. Do not store them on your hard drive.
Hacking is becoming more and more extreme. Take these steps to protect yourself and your home from being manipulated in the next attack.