You are not safe online.

© rupixen

Over the next few weeks, all of us will spend a lot of time online — and that can be dangerous, too. Remember this other virus, the “computervirus”?

If you are an employer who sent their teams into home office and had one week to digitalise the whole organization: Have a (virtual) meeting with your IT department now and talk about cybersecurity, to make sure that the next big threat to your organization is not a digital virus. Cybercrime damages are estimated to reach 6 Trillion USD by 2021.

If you are an employee working from home, shopping from home, watching movies from home and doing pretty much everything online now — so basically any person these days — maybe you find some of the tips below useful. Easy to do, most of them free, all of them priceless.

Start by realizing that this is not about some “you having nothing to hide” nonsense, because unless you are willing to give your credit card information to every stranger on the street, have all your Facebook pictures and Messenger conversation, your emails and text messages, printed and send to your partner, your parents and your boss, it seems that you do have something to hide. Every 16-year old can download tools nowadays to hack their way into another computer while they watch an episode of Rick & Morty…

That means: If you are online, you are a potential target.

So start with these precautions:

-UPDATE your computer, your phone and the software you use. Not “tomorrow” or “remind me later”, go and do it now.

-Activate TWO-FACTOR-AUTHENTICATION wherever possible, so that when you log in with your password you will also receive a code via SMS or an Authenticator app. Even if your password gets hacked, this adds another layer of security. See e.g. here for Google or here for Microsoft

-SEARCH with DuckDuckGo or ecosia instead of Google. For a thorough assessment of different search engines, Restore Privacy is a great resource.

-BROWSE the internet with Firefox

- Use Telegram MESSENGER or Signal instead of Whatsapp: Telegram X for android or for iPhone. One aspect is to not feed ALL your data to either Google, Facebook or Amazon, so alternative services are already an improvement. Second aspect is data privacy and cryptographic security: For that one, Signal messenger might be the safer choice.

-Check the APP PERMISSIONS on your phone (and uninstall unused apps): See the guide here

And also do this:

-Buy an external hard drive to BACKUP /make a copy of your data! Right away. When was the last time you did a backup? …exactly!

-Get a PASSWORD MANAGER to clean up all your log-in information and create secure passwords: e.g. LastPass , Dashlane or 1Password

-Start using a VPN to protect your online identity, e.g ExpressVPN or NordVPN

If you want to see in which data leaks your email or other personal information is already travelling the internet, use this: HPI Identity Leak Checker

Please share these tips with your friends, parents, colleagues. These are just a few of the basics, feel free to get paranoid, implement even more safety measures and to radically change your online behavior.

You should assume that everything you put somewhere online is potentially public. Your data is transferred via different servers and cables and satellites around the world and along the way, several service providers and nation states get involved, NSA, GCHQ and Russian submarines tapping undersea cables, and even if your data is eventually securely stored and encrypted (which it probably isn’t), then as soon as your password to that service leaks, your data is vulnerable again.

If you need more good reasons why you should be careful and considerate online, read this NYTimes series, watch Zero Days, read this, or get a glass of red wine and dive into this thrilling article to understand how fragile and vulnerable our digital world is.

Or just search for “order confirmation”, “receipt”, “purchase”, “newsletter” in your email inbox and realize that all of these companies out there already have some of your information: email, credit card, address, phone number, age…

Take care — in the real world AND in the digital world.

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Interested in all ways to understand this world. Looking for questions, not answers. Curious about the human and the digital. — bjornb@mailbox.org

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Björn Behn

Björn Behn

Interested in all ways to understand this world. Looking for questions, not answers. Curious about the human and the digital. — bjornb@mailbox.org

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