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Cyber Security Awareness: Simple Ways to Secure Your Personal Communications

21 June, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

Kihara Kimachia

The general cyber security awareness of the average African in the towns and villages is low when compared to other parts of the world. I am not out to disparage my African brethren, it’s a fact, from Cairo to the Cape and from Timbuktu to Zanzibar, the situation is the same; people generally have a cavalier attitude with regard to their online communications.

I have, on numerous occasions, walked into an Internet café and on launching the browser, found myself logged into somebody else's Gmail, Yahoo or Facebook account. On a few occasions, I have found myself logged into someone's online bank account …which I promptly logged out of.

Industry regulators in Africa need to carry our large scale campaigns to educate people on the importance of cyber security. In today's increasingly connected world, securing your online communications and data held in the cloud is vitally important. Being diligent will prevent your privacy being invaded and becoming a statistic in ever growing cyber-crime. Law enforcement agencies in most countries have conceded that cyber-crime presents a challenging new frontier for criminology.

If you are a total noob, the following are some simple non-techie ways that you can secure your personal communications and avoid getting hacked.

Browsing Good Practices
Other than making sure that you log out of your online accounts, there are other ways to enhance your online security. When using a public or shared computer, such as in an Internet café, go the browser settings and clear all your browsing data at the end of each browsing session. Read the documentation to do this for the main browsers Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer.

You should also implement two-factor authentication using your mobile phone anywhere this is offered when logging into online accounts. This adds an extra layer of security because a hacker would need access to your mobile phone text messages to complete a hack.

HTTPS Everywhere
Many websites offer secure webpages. You can tell whether a site offers a secure connection by checking whether the browser displays the site as "HTTP" or "HTTPS". The "S" stands for Secure. You can ensure that your browser always displays secure webpages when available on a site by installing the HTTPS everywhere extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers. The extension is free and is available at the Electronic Frontier Foundationwebsite.

Secure Your Computer
If you own your own computer, create a login password and configure screen lock after your computer is idle for a few minutes. You should also be diligent with software updates for your operating system and antivirus. Software makers like Microsoft regularly release updates to patch vulnerabilities and improve system security. Do not ignore software updates despite the fact that your bandwidth may be limited. Update at the earliest possible opportunity because the consequences may be grimmer than spending a bit more money on bandwidth. And, for heaven's sake, make sure you have antivirus installed which you update regularly. A good free antivirus is AVG free. Combine this with the free Spy Bot Search and Destroy from Safer Networking and your computer will be well protected from hackers. When you are not using your web cam, tape it with electrical tape or a sticky note to prevent a hacker from remotely accessing your camera and watching you.

Secure Your Phone
Phone's now have a wide range of uses. Many African countries are now using mobile phone technology to become cashless societies. Smartphones are now mobile wallets and need to be secured. Install antivirus software such as F-Secure Free for Android. This will prevent spyware and malicious applications being installed on your phone. Also, use a good screen lock PIN or password. Avoid patterns and face unlock for Android which can easily be hacked.

Browse Anonymously
Finally, if you really want to go high-tech while online, download and install the Tor browser. With this browser, you can surf anonymously and even thwart the snooping efforts of government agents. For more or Tor, please see the earlier article on Internet Censorship in Africa.


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