The remarkable truth about how internet security works

internet security According to a PC Mag study from July 2018, 35% of people never change their online passwords. It’s not as surprising then that 36% of American consumers report that their online accounts have been hacked at least once, according to a Statista survey in October 2018. However, personal account hacking is just the beginning of American online security concerns. Cybersecurity attacks go far beyond someone stealing your credit card information.

internet security

For instance, in October 2016, America’s internet security was compromised in such a massive attack that broad swaths of the web went down for hours. Users reported sporadic problems connecting to more than 80 major websites, including Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud, CNN, PayPal, and The New York Times. And the result of all of this digital mayhem is that we can see just how vulnerable many businesses and homeowners are to cyber-attacks.

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What can lurk inside the web

What wiped out America’s internet that fateful day in October was what experts call a distributed denial-of-service, or a DDoS, attack.

A DDoS attack occurs whenever hackers flood the Internet servers that run a target’s site with excessive internet traffic until it stumbles or collapses under the load.

Bruce Schneier, a security guru, technologist and CTO of Resilient, wrote on DDoS: “These take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down.”

In fact, military agencies even think of DDoS attacks as tools in their cyber-war arsenals.

This sort of invasive activity and breach of internet security happens every day to thousands of internet users all across the world in multiple forms. Other types of internet security attacks include phishing, viruses, spyware, identity theft and other types of threats. Here’s why.

Internet security 101

Any computer connected to the internet can be exposed to a whole host of security risks from other computer users.

Even when you’re not aware of it, your computer receives information from other devices connected to the web. Sometimes this information comes in the form of viruses, hacks and other security threats with bits of malicious code that hackers have released into the wild of the internet to wreak havoc. That’s why computer security is so important.

PCMag defines computer security as the protection of data, networks and computing power. Oftentimes, people looking to breach your data and networks use the internet to steal information. Some internet security methods automatically protect your operating system, such as firewalls. Firewalls look at incoming traffic to your computer and determine whether the content is safe based on its source, destination, format and other factors.

Websites might also use a combination of encryption and “certificates,” a type of digital security “document,” to talk to each other in a secure way. This is called SSL/TSL and is shown in the beginning of your web browser address as “https://” with a green lock icon. SSL/TSL protects communications between websites and ensures that a site is indeed what it claims to be.

SSL/TSL and firewalls are two methods of automatic online security, but other security measures must be managed and monitored by you to be effective.

Security against email spam

We all know about spam email, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook emails that seem legitimate and are actually spammy phishing emails. In Episode 97 of Reply All, a podcast dedicated to the internet and weird things that occur online, the hosts explore how easy it is to get phished without realizing it. Opening one spammy email could expose your passwords, credit card numbers, addresses and more to identity thieves.

Emails are already filtered by your email service and sometimes by firewalls. However, you can take steps to amp up security against spam. To prevent email scams from hitting your personal inbox try the following:

  • Limit where you make your email address known (like not posting it on social media)
  • If you must share your email on the web, use a different email address for the purpose of sharing online
  • Try a top email spam blocker that filters email addresses, common spam language and more
  • Don’t just delete spam email if it comes through, report it to your inbox’s spam alert to train your email service to recognize spam

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Security against web browser spam

You can also get spammed via internet pop-ups. These scammers tend to be fraudulently selling products and trying to steal your money. They may also ask you to install special software on your computer, which could let them steal more information. According to Norton, they may try to install malware or backdoor Trojans on your system.

For instance, in the beginning of 2019, a Mac security company called Intego reported an uptick in Mac users getting web pop-up alerts telling them to call a company about a major security issue or that their browser had been locked.

To stay secure against browser spam, you should have a pop-up blocker on your browser. But security companies like Intego also suggest resetting your browser and removing all website data from your computer. Then, clear your caches and, if necessary, delete your browser preferences and uninstall the browser manually.

  • Delete user profile information in Chrome
  • Delete user data and settings in Firefox
  • Delete preferences and settings in Safari

Norton also provides a free virus and malware removal tool that you can download to scan your computer for risks and then remove them.