Securing your online identity

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Around a quarter of all PCs are at risk of a malicious virus attack, by not running the latest security software updates. This could lead to data loss, or a user’s information being stolen. Computer viruses are a big contributor to identity fraud, there are around 4 million cases of identity fraud in the UK alone. In this article, I will explain some of the necessary steps in order to protect your data and your online identity.

Email

Viruses are commonly spread through emails by hiding within attachments. A virus can scan through the infected computer and steal personal information by tracking keystrokes, or can corrupt data. The software could be disguised so the victim is less suspicious that the attachment contains a virus. This type of software is known as a Trojan Horse.

In order to protect a PC against email viruses, it is important to check what the attachments are before opening them. Dangerous attachments include files ending with .bat, .reg, or .vbs, if you see any of these types of files, or are unsure what the attachment contains, avoid opening them. Another check is to determine the sender’s email address. If you do not recognise the sender, don’t open any attachments from them.

This method can also be used to avoid phishing scams. This type of scam is where a thief guides a user to a non-genuine website in order to steal their information, like a fake bank account website for example. It is important to remember that a bank will never contact you by email to confirm passwords or card numbers. If you see an email like this, mark it as unsafe spam and delete it so future messages won’t reach your inbox.

Virus Protection

The most effective method of stopping virus attacks is to block them before they can harm a system by installing an up-to-date anti-virus. The anti-virus will scan incoming files to check they aren’t harmful. A home user may choose to install a free programme such as AVG, McAfee or Avira. A business user could install more advanced virus protection like Sophos or ESET, these programmes allow a user to manage the anti-virus over a network, to more effectively track down and block malicious files.

Passwords

A strong password policy is the best method to protect a user against identity fraud, to make it more difficult for passwords to be guessed and broken into. Not only is a strong password important, but a variety of passwords over different user accounts can provide extra security too.

A name, place or common dictionary word should be avoided when creating a password. The more common the phrase or word in your password, the easier it is to break into. A strong password should also contain at least 10 characters, so there are more combinations of characters to sort through. Character substitutions could also be used, but avoid using common ones like changing “a” to “@” or “s” to “$”. Instead, more obscure symbols such as hash, colon, asterisk or underscore can be used to make the password stronger.

In order to create a strong password, a good method is to memorise a long, meaningful sentence or phrase. An example could be:

This is my very secure password to log into my PC

The phrase can then be abbreviated to first letters, and by using extra symbols, numbers and upper case, it can be changed into a seemingly meaningless string of characters. Here’s an example of what the phrase could be turned into:

T:mvspw2limPC

This final password is now very secure, it has a variety of characters and no common meaning, yet it’s still memorable. According to www.howsecureismypassword.net, it will take millions of years for a computer programme to guess it.

 

You should now be equipped with the knowledge to secure your data and online identity.

 

Sources:

http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2013/04/17/latest-security-intelligence-report-shows-24-percent-of-pcs-are-unprotected/#sm.001lfw4411aoodnjq1s1hvkjl18it

http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/Identity_fraud_continues_to_rise_with_4_million_victims_in_UK_alone