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12 simple ways to stay safe online

Simple ways to stay safe online

Only 62% of people check their devices or update their anti-virus protection at least once a year. Cybersecurity is now more important than ever, so follow these simple ways to stay safe online.

According to the Federal Office for Information Security, more than 800 million malicious programs such as computer viruses, ransomware software and espionage programs are already circulating on the Internet this year alone. Around 390,000 new variants are added every day.
In addition, unwanted advertising is constantly increasing: “Ad and malware is becoming more and more present,”says Kay Hallas, computer help expert at Telekom. 

Cybercriminals take every opportunity to steal data or smuggle malicious software into domestic devices. The figures are not surprising: thanks to smart homes and the Internet of Things, more and more technical devices are moving into the household: from remotely controlled bicycle locks to fitness wristbands to fully automated lighting with app control. “Protecting personal data and turning your home into a digital Fort Knox is easy: take care of basic tips for all devices and pay special attention to the configuration of the router,”recommends security expert Maik Morgenstern from AV-Test, one of the largest testing institutes for antivirus software and smart home devices. We have summarized exactly these tips for you. Here you will find all the important tips to better protect yourself from cyber threats in the future.

Simple ways to stay safe online: the 12 rules

1. Updates, updates, updates!

Keep operating systems, firmware, and programs up-to-date, including web browsers. “Updates often close security gaps. Even better than performing the updates directly when the manufacturer provides them is the automatic update function,”says cybersecurity expert Maik Morgenstern. Simply activate – so you have less work and never miss an update again. Important for smartphone, laptop and tablet: Be sure to hook up the devices on the power before an update. If the battery is discharged during the installation of the firmware update, there is a good chance that the device will not function as usual once it has juice again.

2. Reliable security software

Protect your PC, smartphone, tablet and laptop with anti-virus, anti-malware, and spyware software. Rely on well-known manufacturers such as Avira, Avast, Eset, F-Secure, G-Data, Norton, McAffee, Microsoft, Kaspersky, Sophos and Symantec. 

3. A strong password is crucial

A good password should be at least eight characters long, should not be included in the lexicon, and consist of uppercase and lowercase letters, special characters, and digits. Choose a separate password for each service, software, app, social network, and email address. Never pass the password on to third parties. “Manage passwords with a password vault like Keepass or similar. This is much more secure than the password storage function of the web browsers,” Morgenstern explains.

4. Back up your data!

You should make regular backups of the most important files. Ergo: perform regular backups – for example on external hard drives or in an encrypted cloud storage with server location in your country — not some sketchy place overseas.

5. The right browser

Use a browser with sandbox technology, such as Google Chrome, Opera or Edge to offer it. “This means that the software is disconnected from the rest of the computer or smartphone,”Morgenstern said. This makes it harder for cybercriminals to gain control of your device. You should disable plug-ins and any components. It is best to surf in “Private Mode”. Also, periodically clear the cache and history. It is best not to allow third-party cookies and use an advertising blocking program (“Adblocker”).

6. Restrict user rights for more computer security

All malicious programs have the same rights as the logged-on user. With administrator rights, you should only be logged in when it is absolutely necessary. So: Set up different accounts for all users with the permissions that each user absolutely needs for their work.

7. Beware of attachments and downloads!

If possible, automatic preview should be disabled for HTML mail. This way, any malicious programs from the network cannot simply be reloaded. File attachments should only be opened if you know the sender. Attention to fake mails: Neither telecommunications providers nor banks send mails with ZIP attachments or executable files (.exe or similar). Morgenstern’s tip:“No one asks you in an email to reveal your secret number or password. Check the browser address bar after hovering over or clicking on a link in a mail: Is the address also that of the sender or is it just similar? Fraudsters like to use domains that contain the real company name, but not exclusively and sometimes even misspelled.” Before downloading programs, make sure that the source is trustworthy. The most secure are the manufacturer’s pages or portals of well-known (media) brands.

8. Offer as little data as possible

The more individually you are addressed in a message, the more confidential the sender appears. With skilful personalization, the success rate of cybercriminals increases. Names from the address book, the browsing behavior, likes and so on are used to ganticipation trust. Beware of social networks: Not every friend request should be accepted unseen. It is also best to set data shares per contact or group.

9. Encrypting is everything!

You should only transfer personal data over an encrypted connection. You can see this by the fact that the address bar in the browser starts with a “https://”. Before that, a closed lock usually appears. It’s not just when browsing that you should pay attention to encryption: confidential emails should end up encrypting, as well as messages in Messenger. Similarly, your Wi-Fi should be encrypted.

10. Browse only on secured networks

“Data thieves or hackers like to create their own Wi-Fi access points (so-called hotspots) to trick users and spyon them,” says anti-virus tester Morgenstern. With official, secure Wi-Fi hotspots, such as from telecommunications providers, you end up on a login page when you access the browser. Checking the site is important! Do you see “https” in the address line? Is the address talking? Cryptic addresses point to a trap: you should be persuaded to enter your credentials, with criminals behind it. It is therefore a classic “phishing”.

In general, the following applies: In public Wi-Fi networks, you should avoid sensitive operations as much as possible! If this is not possible, a VPN software protects optimally: The software builds a secure tunnel, anonymizes the digital identity and protects against third-party access.

11. Cleaning up is half the effect to stay safe online

Programs that are not needed or are not used too much should be uninstalled. The less software is used, the smaller the attack surface.

12. Secure router, secure network

The router is the communication base of all internet-enabled devices – whether computer, smart TV or smart home technology for controlling light or heating. It connects the devices both to each other and to the Internet. The protection of the router is therefore particularly important and, on top of that, quite simple.

Simple ways to stay safe online: Secure the router

1. To access the user interface, enter the password from the bottom of the router only initially. After that, change it immediately. If the manufacturer offers two-factor authentication – i.e. logging in via two devices such as a laptop and smartphone – you should enable it.

2. If possible, enable the option to update the router’s firmware automatically: The router is up-to-date.

3. You should also back up services and devices connected to the Internet via the router with a strong password.

4. Back up your router’s settings to a configuration file and store them on an external storage. For example, a recovery is a breeze – for example, after resetting the router.

5. When accessing the router’s user interface, pay attention to SSL encryption. If you want to access your home network on the go, use a VPN connection.

Simple ways to stay safe online: Secure Wi-Fi

1. Encrypt the WLAN according to WPA2 standard or higher, if it is not already from the factory. Unencrypted traffic can also be read on the home wireless network.

2. For guests, visitors and your smart home devices, set up a separate WPA2-secured wireless network. This reduces the risk to your own network from foreign or compromised devices.

3. For most routers, functions for automatically connecting to the WLAN are often preset. Once you stop using them yourself because all devices are signed in, turn them off.

4. Each device has its own unique address – the MAC address. Most routers offer the ability to connect only devices to the Internet whose MAC address you have previously entered. Use this function!

Simple ways to stay safe online: Secure telephony

In times of smart home devices, the telephony function of the router is treated in a low-key manner. It is a popular destination for intruders,for example, to dial numbers from your phone line that will cost you extra.
Therefore, create a block list of phone numbers for outbound and incoming calls. Pre-selections of premium or service services should be listed there (approximately 0190, …). Important: It is essential not only to create the block list in the router, but directly in the customer portal of the provider. If the router has been cracked once, the attacker will not be able to manipulate the list so easily.