The internet is infinitely expansive, but that’s often easy to forget as we now have immediate access to it in the palm of our hands. We feel safe scouring the digital world from the comfort of our homes, offices, or local coffee shops, but there is real danger lurking behind those virtual walls. Cybercriminals using the internet to infiltrate the Internet of Things (IoT) and our mobile devices is no longer the stuff of science fiction movies. Hacks, phishing scams, malicious sites, and malware, just to name a few — this world of hyper-connectivity has left us exposed to far greater threats than we could have ever imagined. To combat these looming threats and highlight the importance of staying safe online, June was dubbed Internet Safety Month. Seeing as the internet gives us the opportunity to learn, explore, create, and socialize, we should be doing so safely and securely.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 77% of American adults own a smartphone, up from 35% just six years ago. Whether we’re traveling, working, or just having fun, our mobile devices — tablet, smartphone, or laptop — are within reach at all times. Our gadgets make it easier to connect with the world, but they also store tons of sensitive information about our lives. Yes, we may use our devices to talk and text, but we also use applications on those devices to access banking information, share our location, and check emails. This wealth of personal information on an easily hackable device should galvanize us to ensure that data stays out of the hands of cybercriminals. From ransomware to phishing scams, the numerous threats that can infect our IoT and mobile devices through the internet are ever-evolving menaces.
With the rise of IoT, the probability of a debilitating attack increases. Just like everything else online, IoT devices are one part of a massively distributed network. The billions of extra entry points that IoT devices create make them a greater target for cybercriminals. In 2016, this fact was proven and executed by the Mirai botnet, a malware strain that remotely enslaved IoT objects for use in large-scale attacks designed to knock websites and entire networks offline. The authors of Mirai discovered previously unknown vulnerabilities in IoT devices that could be used to strengthen their botnet, which at its height infected 300,000 devices. While this is an extreme example, it is very much a reality that could happen again — only this time worse. These ever-present threats make it crucial to maintain proper cyber hygiene while using the internet.
Internet Safety Month emphasizes the importance of staying safe while surfing the web, not just in June but all 365 days of the year. With new threats appearing every day, the time to be proactive about your online safety is now. Don’t find yourself on the wrong side of the most recent internet threat, follow these tips to stay protected:
- Secure your devices. Strong passwords or touch ID features are your first line of defense against cybercriminals stealing your sensitive information. With security measures in place, your data is protected in the case of your device being lost or stolen. And reset those default passwords — many of today’s exploits come from leveraging devices where the default settings were never changed.
- Only use apps you trust. Information about you is collected through the apps you use. Think about who is getting that data and if you’re comfortable with how it could be used.
- Be picky about what Wi-Fi you’re using. Hotspots and public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured, meaning anyone can see what you’re doing on your device. Limit your activity and avoid logging into accounts that hold sensitive information. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) or a personal/mobile hotspot.
- Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when not in use. Stores and other locations use this information to track your movements when you are in range. Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can also act as digital entrances into your phone. When it’s not absolutely necessary, consider turning it off.
- Keep your devices and apps up-to-date. Having the most up-to-date software and applications is the best defense against threats. If an app is no longer in use, just delete it to ensure your devices clutter-free and no longer housing unsupported or outdated apps.