Tip tips to work securely anywhere - Part 2 of 2

Gary Christie, one of our Presales Consultants, shares more top tips for how to be cyber secure

We are living in unprecedented times.

On March 16th 2020, Boris Johnson urged everyone "to start working from home where they possibly can". The impact on all of us became even more dramatic when a complete lockdown was announced a week later. With very few reasons to leave our homes the whole nation has had to accelerate their learning in technologies to help stay connected. I want to share some practical tips to remain secure and keep those hackers at bay. These are best practices that should be taken by everyone, whether CEO's and sales managers, teachers and students or grandparents and grandchildren.

Change your home Wi-Fi name and default passwords

Have you left your home Wi-Fi name as "Netgear"? Or worse still have you changed it to your address "12 Abbey Road", to make it easy for your family and friends to remember? This also makes it easy for the bad guys to target. The trick is to make it really hard for anyone to match your Wi-Fi with your house. Much better to use a random word or funny phrase. If you just leave it as the original Wi-Fi name it signals that you have probably left the all the default settings the same including the password.

The oldest known vulnerability has been around since 1969 and it is simply that computers sometimes have the username ‘admin’ with the password also ‘admin’. In 2012 an anonymous security researcher created a botnet to map out the internet.  The researcher was able to find 1.2 million computers on the internet that had this vulnerability. They managed to scan over 3.6 billion IP addresses and create the very first map for the internet. You can see it here: https://darknetdiaries.com/imgs/carna.gif.

This was an example of a benign botnet but today over 30% of internet traffic is made up of bad bots used by cyber criminals to steal your data. They are taking control of your home router with default credentials.

If this is you, change it right now and do it for all your network connected devices. Cameras, thermostats, doorbell, locks, smartTV…

Delete redundant mobile apps

You definitely have apps on your phone that you don't use anymore. The average smart phone has between 50 and 100 apps on it. Some of these apps were developed with security in mind but many of these apps are developed by newly minted app developers with no security skills, and therefore riddled with vulnerabilities for hackers to use and get your person information.

Always use the official app stores, check the reviews are by verified users, and check app permissions to see if they make sense. If you are downloading a calculator app and it is asking permission for your location and the microphone, then it is probably not just a calculator!

Go through your phone and delete any apps you no longer use. For those that you do use then update them frequently or set your phone to automatically update to get the latest fixes for bugs and vulnerabilities.

Use a VPN

This one might not be as important in the current circumstances, but it is good practice for when are out of lockdown. Whilst you are connected to your home network or work network a VPN is less useful. Once we start moving around again connecting to free Wi-Fi networks in hotels, cafés and coffee shops you have no idea who is scanning, listening to and reading your personal information. There are people doing this all the time, with benign and malicious intentions.

VPN is an encrypted tunnel that fully encapsulates all of your online and network activity, so anyone scanning, listening to or trying to read your personal information only sees garbled text. It is a simple task for someone with malicious intent to set-up a Wi-Fi honeypot to get unsuspecting users to connect to it. Have you ever noticed when you get home that your phone automatically connects to your home network? This is because your phone automatically connects to network names (SSID) that it knows. Imagine sitting at your favourite cafe getting free Wi-Fi to check your email or bank account when really you are connected to a man-in-the-middle device and they can see all of your data. Even if you connect to your bank via HTTPS there are tools that allow the malicious attackers to strip this SSL and read credentials in plain-text.

In summary if you connect to open Wi-Fi, then it is wise to use a VPN on all devices, and have it turned on before logging into any accounts or sending emails.