When it comes to the internet and its usage, there is no such thing as being 100% safe. Most people know this and accept this as a fact. Browsing and shopping on the internet at times feel as safe as walking down a poorly illuminated alleyway at night in a bad neighborhood. What doesn’t help is the news alerts around breaches of databases, the more recent story about card skimming on Magento powered websites and the ongoing privacy/cookie debate between the general public, governmental institutions and large tech companies such as Facebook and Google. The discussion has shifted to the internet (and its companies) from being a force of good to being a force of evil.
How do you navigate this? The internet is here to stay and to assume that all the bad press will culminate in people turning away from it in mass is just not a realistic idea. The benefits far outweigh the risks, especially if those benefits are considered long term. In that light, the current problems seem to become merely hurdles to overcome. Here are some examples of why it should be fine in the end.
Anonymous browsing is becoming easier and more (regular) consumer friendly. VPN browsing, the principle where you browse anonymously because you are shielded within a secure network going onto the wider internet has become easily accessible and workable for your average Joe. We are no longer talking about needing a computer degree to set one up, it’s as easy as signing up and paying a monthly fee to ensure that you can get on the internet reasonably safely.
A significant risk that has received less media attention of late is the threat of malicious code that piggyback rides on compromised sites/downloads and, without the user knowing, installs itself and runs in the background. This could be a ransomware programme, locking the computer unless demands are met, or basic key loggers or even bitcoin miners. The usual advice is to be aware of downloads, links, and emails from unknown sources and never install anything without consulting a specialist. The alternative is to go for a 100% secure browsing solution that shields the local client. This solution is basically accessing the internet on a remote client only providing a visual feed to the local client. Therefore no code is active on the local client making it 100% secure.
A fundamental weakness in most systems is the human factor. On the internet, this is evident in passwords. People tend to use the same password (sometimes very predictable ones) over and over again. Gaining access to a single email/password combination could compromise many other accounts held by that same user. This is why these data breaches are so impactful. There are ways to shield you from this danger though. The first one would be on the side of the websites, which is to implement a form of two or three-factor authentication. Meaning that the password on its own won’t grant access and you will need a code received via email or text message to complete the login process. Lacking this, the user could increase account security by making sure to have strong and unique passwords per site they are using. As no-one wants (and can) memorize 6+ passwords, there are software solutions out there that can take care of that. If you are on the Apple eco-system, you could use the Apple keychain feature to do just that.
With all the advancement and joys of the internet, one must acknowledge its new set of risks. But with these challenges come a new set of behaviors and improvement in solutions to make sure users are safe and confident.