When your home should be your Cyber Castle
Words By Duncan Reid
Technology is undoubtedly a boon to our lives. How did we ever live without wall-to-wall Netflix, YouTube, email, Social Media and endless videos of cats doing silly things?
Yet that very same ultra-connected society has made it both easy for criminals & predators to move silently amongst us whilst isolating us from normal interactions. Big Corporate is very keen that we should do all our businesses with them through web portals, it’s cheaper for them – but is it better? That’s something we’ll explore in a future article but for now, I’m thinking about the nasty folk out there. The ones that swim silently through cyberspace looking for their victim – So let’s make sure it’s not you!
Crime. Thievery. Banditry. It’s always been part of us. One of the oldest professions after Lawyers and ladies of negotiable virtue; It used to be little old ladies collecting their pension that were the victim of choice but these days you’re more likely to be targeted by a cybercrook sitting at a laptop many thousands of miles away, living the high life far from the long arm of Dixon of Dock Green.
Here at fiftyfiveUP, we feel very protective of our readership. We know you’re out there in sheds, garages & spare rooms up & down the country, guarding your pennies like slightly grizzled, greying dragons curled around their cave gold and as a GCHQ certified CyberSecurity Auditor (which can be as boring as it sounds) I’m going to give you a few easy-to-do tips to help keep you safe from those nasty Internet sharks.
So what is it that they actually do to part you from your savings? Quite a few tactics actually and it’s not uncommon for people to be scammed out of tens of thousands of Pounds. There’s viruses and other nasty software that can infect your computer, that could then open up a backdoor so they can find out your credit card details or your bank logins. Or it could be that their infections try and redirect you to their sites selling fake sunglasses or dodgy Viagra cut with anything from flour to rat poison.
Ever had an email promising you untold riches from a Nigerian Prince? Admit it, of course you have, we all have! We’ll look at how that one plays out in a moment but I’ve yet to meet anyone who ended up with more money than when they started. And if you get a message from a stunning young lady offering to move into your spare room and keep you warm at night then you really need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and work out the odds…
Start at the Castle Walls. If your home is your castle, then let’s start with the walls themselves, your Internet Router. Your router does many wonderous things, it takes that lovely, high-speed Internet connection and distributes it in turn to all your devices. The Tablets. The phones. The laptop. The Firestick and maybe even your doorbell.
It’s probably got wi-fi built in and some nice flashing lights. But the great thing is that it will also contain a firewall. A pretty basic one to be sure but perfectly good enough for home use. And what does a firewall do? It maintains those castle walls, only letting people in & out through certain doorways (called Ports) and making sure that no-one sneaks round the back of the castle and gets in through an unlocked kitchen door.
One of the things that bad guys do is look for insecure ports so by having a firewall, you’ve made a good start but improve on it in five minutes by logging into your router and changing a couple of things. Change the Wi-Fi name to something that doesn’t say which internet provider you use, their routers will have known vulnerabilities so don’t make it easy for the crooks to know which one you have. And change the passwords for Wi-Fi & admin access. They should be random from the factory but always change default passwords to be sure.
It goes without saying that only you & your family should use your Wi-Fi, no matter how much you like your neighbour, don’t give out your passwords otherwise all their browsing could come back and point to you.
The good news is that when your antivirus software tries to sell you a firewall service, you don’t need it! The router will do just fine.
Call out the Guards! That’ll be your antivirus software. Think of it as the guards on top of your castle wall, all ready with the boiling oil & pitchforks should anything nasty be spotted. Lots of free ones for home use with AVG, Avast & Bitdefender amongst the most popular. McAfee comes bundled on lots of high Street computers. Get rid of it, it’ll only slow you down and don’t rely on Windows Defender either, just don’t.Safe Surfing. Remember those heady days before lockdown when you’d head into town on market day? How happy would you be handing over your card to some scruffy looking bloke who nips off to his van with it to take payment? You simply wouldn’t do it so why do so many people persist on doing it online. Take a look for the little padlock symbol although that only stops eavesdropping – retailers using PayPal are good if in doubt as they’re good at refunding buyers and do use a credit rather than a debit card, there’s more protection in case of disputes.
Should your browsing take you to the seamier side of the web, use large well-known sites otherwise be prepared for the websites to try very hard indeed to infect your computer with trojan horse software that could really ruin your day.
Don’t tell ‘em your Password Pike! Birthdays. Pet Names. Kids’ names. All commonly in use as passwords as is the most widely used password on breached accounts according to the UK's National Cyber Security Centre; 123456! Don’t get me started on how many times I’ve seen post-it notes with passwords on next to the keyboard. It’s not big & it’s not clever so please don’t do it!
So pick a password. Make it unique and make it strong. Here’s a couple of ideas.
Three simple words. Look on your desk. Look around you. Easy to remember but very hard for brute force attacks to get through. BookPenBeer makes a good password – so what can you see?
How about an easy to remember but nonsense word? Can you remember the phrase “I went to Paris in 2017”? Use the initials and make it Iwtpi2017 – that works!
But the really important bit about passwords is not to use the same one everywhere – and you all do it don’t you? But just think… You use your favourite password to set up your account with an online shop to buy your long-suffering other half something nice. You forget about it but months later, their server gets hacked and a list of email & password combinations is sold on the black market.
A week later, a computer expert working for a criminal gang in Eastern Europe uses your email & password to try logging in to anything they can think of. They get lucky and promptly order a camera, to be sent to an address you’ve never heard of. In a different country. They try to log in to your email with it – and it works! They’re overjoyed and promptly change your banking passwords. Looks like it may be baked beans on toast for you until you get this all sorted out…
So always use a unique password for each site, that way if they’re compromised, the damage is controlled. But it’s hard to remember so many passwords I know, so rather than a black book, consider a Password Manager like LastPass.com which you secure with one strong, unique password and then it remembers – and can generate – all the others for you.
It’d be remiss of me to sign off without mentioning our old friend, the Nigerian Prince promising you a cut of the deal for helping him get his hands on a bank account that happens to be available after a mysterious accident. Ever wondered about the bad spelling & grammar? It’s deliberate and acts as a filter so they don’t waste their time on people who might be clued up. Instead they prey on the weak, elderly & vulnerable and once they’ve suckered them in, the requests for money to ease the passage of items through Customs will appear and if paid, will just keep on coming – preying on naivety, vulnerability & greed in equal measure.
If some shifty bloke came up to you with such a tale in the pub, you’d not give it a moment’s notice so don’t do anything different online. As Grumpy Old Men (& Women), such cynicism should come naturally…
The Internet is a wonderful place. It’s like a majestic City full of parks, leisure centres, communities, art galleries, story tellers & museums. But like any big city, there’s also the odd dark alleyway that you really shouldn’t wander down late at night, by accident, on your own! Now get out there & start exploring!
Words By Duncan Reid, a self-professed Internet Geek earning a living in the virtual World when not advising on cybersecurity & information.