Computer security is a fickle thing. It’s convoluted and difficult to understand and it’s so much so that even professionals have problems simplifying the information. Thanks to the constant and ever-changing stream of information, there are a lot of myths about computer security. Here is the truth about some of them.
1. No one wants to hack me, I have nothing worth taking
This is so not true. Believe it or not, hackers don’t select people based on what they have or who they are. Websites store passwords in big, giant databases. Don’t worry, they don’t store the actual password. What they do is encrypt the passwords. The encrypted passwords are what gets stored. When hackers steal passwords, they grab a giant batch of those encrypted passwords from the database and then use a mixture of software and hardware to decrypt them. That means when a hacker gets your password, it’s a stroke of bad luck and not generally a targeted attack.
Once they hack you, they can use your computer a number of different ways. They can use your hard drive to store questionable files, use your computer and your network as slave computers in a cyber attack (typically a DDOS), or even root around your temporary internet files looking for passwords to other websites like your bank. Just because you have nothing special doesn’t mean a hacker can’t use you and it doesn’t mean you’ll never be targeted.
2. Using a VPN and secure web browsers like Tor help me remain anonymous online
Friends, let me tell you the bottom line, ultimate truth about the internet. If you’re on the internet, there is a way to find out who you are and where you are. Granted, with VPNs (virtual private network) and Tor it makes it much harder for people to find out who you are and where you are. However, none of it is foolproof and if they try hard enough, government agencies and law enforcement can still find you. If you don’t believe me, just ask the world’s highest profile hacker group, ironically called Anonymous who used the latest in protection and still got caught.
3. Incognito Mode hides my privacy
We’ve all been there before. You want to look up something on the internet without leaving a trace so you use Incognito Mode. You check your internet history afterward and it all looks good. You’ve browsed the web without leaving a trace, right? Wrong! Incognito Mode wipes any traces of your browsing history but only from your computer. Your ISP will still know you went to those websites, the websites themselves will still have a record of your IP address, and trackers will still see that you’re there. Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode FAQ says so and so does does Firefox.
4. I don’t need malware protection because I don’t do anything risky
Just because you don’t go surfing around on porn sites, torrent sites, or other risky websites doesn’t mean that you’re free from malware risk. The reason why is because of advertisements. Some advertisements are from shady companies and infect your computer if you go to a page where ads are present. Since about 90% of the internet are supported by advertisements, that means pretty much everywhere (including Facebook and YouTube) can be a potential threat. In fact, YouTube has actually had this happen to them before. If you want to be the most protected, you’ll have anti-malware installed. It won’t protect from 100% of threats but it’s better than walking around unprotected!
5. My installed software is totally safe
Every single Java and Adobe Flash update ever proves this wrong immediately. All software has security exploits and when software companies update their software, they’re not just improving performance and fixing bugs but they’re also plugging up those security holes to make it harder for hackers to exploit them. Thus, you should always make sure to install updates to your software because they are not always totally safe. In fact, they’re never totally safe. When you update them, they become safer but eventually there will be other updates you’ll need to install.
No matter what you do, you’ll never be truly anonymous or safe on the internet. That statement isn’t meant to scare you but simply give you a perspective on how things really are. If you change your passwords, update your software, keep some anti-malware and anti-virus software around, and just be safe then you should be okay. However, you should always be prepared for the worst case scenario because as soon as you think you’re invincible, that’s when the bad things happen.
Featured photo credit: Open The Fridge via openthefridge.net