In light of recent news that your webcam could potentially record you without you even knowing, it's not surprising that people are worried about being spied on online. In fact, according to a new study from HP, as many as six in 10 people are so worried, they still physically cover their webcam with tape, post-it notes, or even Band-Aids.
In reality, online security needs much more than a Band-Aid.
So, it's probably worth reviewing the biggest threats facing individuals and businesses online. Here are a few of the things to look for, in no particular order.
Honestly, this is probably the least concerning privacy invasion, mostly because it's the least likely to happen--even though we just heard about a flaw in Zoom, the popular video conferencing software, which would have allowed a malicious website to activate the camera without your permission or knowledge (the company has since patched the flaw).
It just happens to be the most sensational and scary to think about. Obviously, no one wants to believe someone out there could be physically watching them without their knowledge.
The good news is some manufacturers now make computers with a physical "kill switch," meaning you can control whether the webcam is active or not with a button or switch.
This is still the most common online security issue, and despite the fact that the bad guys have gotten more and more sophisticated, it's also the easiest to prevent. Don't click on any links in emails from someone you don't recognize, and even if you do, don't click if anything seems even a little off.
Also, pay attention to the URL before entering any personal information like login credentials or passwords, and make sure you're using a secure connection like HTTPS.
Just yesterday, I told you about a report that many of the browser extensions people use are collecting your Web browsing history and selling it off as marketing research. That's right, the plugins you add to Chrome or Firefox might be selling your personal information.
Fortunately, Google and Mozilla are pretty much all over this one, but there are things you can do as well. The biggest one: don't install third-party browser extensions that require permissions to collect your data. Also, you might want to consider a more secure, privacy-friendly browser like Brave, or even Safari, which disable cross-site tracking by default.
Ironically, or maybe not, your personal information is probably most at risk when you use the software and online services that most people don't think twice about. Google and Facebook, for example, have made an extraordinarily profitable business out of knowing as much as possible about you and using it to show you ads they think are relevant.
They mostly do this by technology behind the scenes that tracks what you do, not only on their services but as you travel across the Web. This is what enables them to show you those kinda-creepy ads for the things you just looked at elsewhere. You know, the ones that make you feel like someone has to be watching.
In the same vein, your mobile device is another huge source of data that advertisers want. In fact, earlier I wrote about a report that showed that your iPhone is literally leaking information while you sleep. Or, at least the apps you have on there are sending out information at an alarming rate, often to services like Facebook, who then use it to advertise.
The short version of this one is this: turn off background app refresh.
Having your personal banking, credit card, medical records, or other sensitive data leaked is still the worst-case scenario at this point. It's also the one that's hardest to protect against since it's mostly out of your control. You depend on the service providers to keep your information secure because it can have catastrophic results when they don't.
As a business, however, you can consider using services that offer end-to-end encryption when you store your data, which means that even if your data leaks, it's extremely unlikely anyone will be able to make any sense of it.
Viruses and ransomware
These two are probably the biggest overall concern, especially for businesses. Viruses can wreak havoc on our devices and our information, and ransomware is when a virus takes over an entire network and requires the owner to pay a ransom in order to get their data back. Just last month, a town in Florida paid a ransom to recover their computer systems.
Attackers are certainly getting more sophisticated, but you can protect yourself by educating your employees on basic internet safety-- like don't click on unfamiliar links, never download files in emails from suspicious senders, and never run or install applications that don't come from a reputable source.