20 Sep 2016

Online Security Basics

Recent high profile email scandals have heightened concerns about online security. Those who have seen the growth of internet, online applications, and social platforms; would vouch that the security tools had never been better. Tech companies have invested enormous time and talent in making their products and services secure. Yet, for a common consumer, remembering passwords, setting up home networks and keeping up with security patches continues to be a nightmare.

Here is a very simple approach to online peace of mind.

Let your browser work for you

Given the number of online resources we use on daily basis, and given that each of them have their own password conditions, it’s almost impossible to remember all the credentials you have created. A natural tendency is to write these credentials down. That is the most potent security hole.

Modern browsers have evolved in features as well as security. Firefox and Chrome can remember your user ids and passwords. That’s much better than writing them down in your diary or on a digital document. The best part is both of them sync these credentials across platforms including mobile devices. This, however, means that your browser is the all important security risk. Thus we need to have a really good password for your browser. It must be something no one could guess. Your dog’s name is the first thing hackers would use.

Use Dual Authentication

Even if you invented most complicated password for your browser, chances are someone with enough time and intent can crack it. That is where the dual authentication comes into play. Simply speaking, it means that now your browser gets unlocked with your password, only from those devices that you have authorized. For example, your work laptop, home Desktop, tablet or mobile phone. No one can log into your browser from any other device. Google’s implementation for dual authentication is among the best. Whenever you log into Chrome (or any other Google Service) from a new device, Google would send you a text message (or email)with a six digit code. You can have the device remembered for ever or use it to access only once. Google also offers an app for your mobile phones that can generate a pass-code for you in case you don’t have a mobile network access.

Your OS password is all important

Now that you have all your passwords in your browser and secured it with dual authentication, the next question is what if someone gets hold of your laptop. One way obviously is to have no permanent dual authentication on any machine but that is too much hassle because you don’t want a text sent to you every time you log into Chrome on your home or work machine(s). The best approach is to have a strong password for these machines. Most of the modern laptops allow finger scans. All the better but I would still stick to a solid password for the machines. Same is true about the mobile devices.

Windows 10 is difficult to crack unless someone could somehow get to the password. If you still need a more secure system, most of Linux distributions are very user friendly these days. And of course MacOS is quite impossible to crack.

Network is the biggest vulnerability

Assuming you have taken all the precautions with your browser and OS passwords, you can still get hacked thru the network. Home wifi network is very vulnerable but its very easy to secure. Let’s say a plumber visited your home, his phone network is slow, wouldn’t you oblige him with access to your wifi network? Now the wifi credentials are stored on his mobile for ever. Most people never change their wifi passwords (even after sharing the same with a stranger)

The best strategy is to have a router that allows setting a separate network for guests or visitors. Apple Airport extreme is very good at this. You can publicly share your guest network while keeping your personal network hidden. And yes, don’t broadcast the name of your private secured network.

Switch to Linux

Let’s say someone is still able to get access to your home network. Though Windows 10 is secure but Linux is your best bet. Simple reason- Security was built in the design for Linux. Unix (the mother of Linux) was created as a multi user operating system. Thus the security was planned at a very granular level. Every file on Unix based operating systems (Linux, OSX, Chrome OS) have read write and execute permissions at file level. This means that operating system can’t be compromised without user credentials. And since its open source, a vast community of developers, monitor the OS vulnerabilities. In addition , Linux is almost free from virus and malware.

Learning Linux is rewarding and fun. It took me less than two months to switch my home and work to Linux. I am still learning but I feel more at home with Linux now than I ever did in Windows or Mac. Check out my detailed post on my Linux learning drills.

Learning Linux on my own

Goes without saying, all this is not the end of discussion on security. It is probably the beginning. These simple steps, however, will ensure you satisfaction that you took right measures at your end and grant you peace of mind.