A Guide To 2014's Newest Online Threats
As January 2014 grinds up a gear, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s already broken most of their resolutions – note to self: dieting when there are still Christmas goodies in the cupboard will NEVER work. But I say most, as one resolution I am definitely keeping is the one about upgrading my Internet security software.
Sounds paranoid? Far from it. As families spend more time online than ever before, the risks from hackers, malicious software (malware) and other web nasties just keeps on growing. Here are a few things to watch out for in 2014.
If your computers are still running Microsoft Windows XP or Office 2003 then now’s the time to upgrade. From April 8 2014 Microsoft will no longer be publishing security updates for them, making both systems an easy target for hackers.
It’s estimated that around 31% of PCs still run Windows XP, so there’s a good chance that this will affect you, especially if the kids’ homework computers haven’t been updated for a while. Microsoft have recently pledged to provide some patches until mid-2015 and to support users in upgrading their systems, but if you want to stay the right side of safe you’d be wise to upgrade before April.
There are now over 1 billion Android devices in use, so it’s no surprise to discover that Android smartphones and tablets are a growing target for hackers. Two of the biggest threats in 2013 were the Ginmaster Trojan Horse, which took control of devices via apps, games and image downloads, and Android Defender, a piece of malware that sounds like it protects your device, but instead locks it until a ransom is paid.
If your family is anything like mine then the biggest users of devices in your household will be the kids, which makes threats like these even more worrying. To help stay safe protect all your devices with anti-virus software, update software as often as possible and only download apps from reliable sources. Upgrading to Android 4.3 will help too as the latest version doesn’t allow automatic app downloads. Finally, don’t use shared family devices for financial transactions. That way if your details do get compromised, you’ll have less to lose.
Hacking the Internet of things
Soon it won’t just be computers and smartphones that are online. Fridges, sportswear and even toothbrushes will be smart and connected to the web too.
Whilst all these connected devices offer opportunities for us to monitor and understand a number of issues, from how well we work out to how effective our dental hygiene is, the downside of this connectivity is that it leaves them open to the risk of hacking threats. OK, so it’s unlikely that someone’s going to want to waste time hacking your fridge to discover what’s on tonight’s menu, but taking your freezer offline until you pay a ransom could well be something to watch out for.
Hackers aren’t the only online threat that web users are facing. Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations about NSA surveillance revealed that the US National Security Agency had access to systems such as Google, Facebook and Apple. And it’s not just the US that’s watching us; revelations from around the globe have made the concept of online freedom a thing of the past.
There are a few simple steps you can take to make it harder to trace your online identity. Use a password manager so you can create unique strong passwords for all the sites you use. Disable GPS and Wi-Fi on your devices when you’re not using them. Rather than using your real name on social networking sites, use pseudonyms and try not to tie your social networks together too much. Also don’t publish your full date of birth or phone number online, as these details are commonly used for verification purposes. And beware of over sharing, these days there’s no such thing as too much information.
Trolls and haters
Another online threat that became big news in 2013 came from online trolls and haters, those nasty people who seem to think that typing into a comment’s box on a website gives you the anonymity to say whatever you like. Even the most innocuous things, like campaigning for Jane Austen’s picture on a bank note, seems to stir up hatred in these bizarre people.
Ignoring comments from trolls is the best strategy. Block, report and move on. But it’s not always that easy. In the Jane Austen case above, Caroline Criado-Perez, the woman who campaigned for Austen’s image on the UK £10 note, received hundreds of rape and death threats from Twitter users. If you receive serious or repeated threats then make copies immediately, as many trolls will remove their posts at the first signs of trouble, contact the moderators of the site you’re using and, if things continue or get worse, the police. In Ms Criado-Perez’s case two of her tormentors were caught and recently pleaded guilty to sending menacing messages.
By Sam Wright
Sam Wright is a journalist based in Norwich, Norfolk.
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