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Posted on January 19, 2017

Must Know Tips For Online Privacy and Safety in 2017

Without a doubt, 2016 will go down as one of the worst years in the history of the Internet in terms of online privacy infringements, which included the biggest data breach ever with the Yahoo hack attack, the digital invasion of the Olympics in Rio and of the Democratic National Committee by Russian cyber criminals, the relatively new troubles arising with computerized “smart devices” in our homes and cars being co-opted by nefarious entities, and more. Some of these will inform issues in 2017, or develop into evolved versions of themselves.

For best online safety in 2017, some old, familiar advice is still relevant, but with added emphasis on some new bugaboos that are specific to the current moment. The standard caveats apply: users need to be careful not to click on unexpected and unfamiliar emailed links, avoid downloading from unofficial app marketplaces, exercise savvy password “hygiene,” and practice basic due diligence. But what unique advice might apply as we move into a new year?

Increased Mobile Ransomware

Ransomware is a malicious program that’s unintentionally installed on a computer. It functions by blocking access to the system or to certain files; this block remains in place until the cybercriminal receives the demanded ransom—usually in the form of Bitcoins. There have been successful fights against such attacks, and indeed, the prediction is that general ransomware will decrease as new technologies are created and law enforcement agencies cracks down on them.

But the criminally-inclined are not likely to give up. They will make an effort to find new, alternate footing, and as a result, ransomware that attacks mobile devices is expected to climb. Since mobile users generally have their data backed up in the Cloud, this brand of ransomware will likely aim to steal users’ financial information.

IoT Malware: Worsening Risks

Internet of Things (IoT) devices rose in popularity as 2016 progressed, but they will only become more vulnerable to attack as they’re more commonly used. People who buy these smart gadgets rarely replace or upgrade them, so IoT device makers often keep security features minimal in order to shorten the development process and reduce costs. Less security means easier backdoor access for the bad guys.

With smart devices, it is also the case that when one gizmo in an interconnected system is successfully breached, the hacker can easily overtake the rest. On top of that, newer smart devices being shipped out in 2017 may actually have malware already installed. This could potentially be a huge privacy concern.

The Issue of Passwords

Are you getting that question, “Would you like Google to remember this password?” Allowing the Chrome browser to save your login and password information for website accounts is definitely safer now than it was. Like a standard password manager program, the Smart Lock security feature that Google introduced last year saves and syncs passwords across the computers and mobile devices you use with your Google account. Using the browser’s password manager to remember your login information can be convenient and may help avoid security sloppiness (like overly simple, predictable, or repetitive passwords).

Google is not the only browser creator to offer a built-in password manager. Mozilla Firefox and Opera each have their own version of the feature, as do Microsoft’s Edge and Internet Explorer. Apple includes password-management tools in its Safari browser (as well as with its iCloud Keychain service and the Keychain Access software that comes with the Mac OS). If you opt to use Google’s, set up passwords or PIN codes to get into your mobile devices and computer, make sure to turn on two-step verification for your Google account, and encrypt the synced data you’re storing using a passphrase.

Some security experts still maintain the superiority of using a standalone password manager because many programs work across different platforms. They’re also the gold standard when it comes to providing the strongest passwords with their randomizing generators, and use higher levels of encryption for stored data. If you do not, however, want to use a third-party password manager or keep your passwords written down and in a secure location, Google’s browser does have one of the better-protected integrated password managers. But remember, hacks can always happen.

Government Surveillance, Censorship, and Net Neutrality

This may be the greatest threat to online privacy. Pundits posit that global Internet privacy will decrease further in 2017 due to issues around governmental policies. The UK now has an unprecedented surveillance law that allows for mass hacking, among other things—which could lead to massive data breaches. One piece of hopeful news: the recent EU court ruling that dealt a blow to that same law.

Some Americans fear that the incoming Administration may erode cyber privacy in the name of law enforcement and national defense. Close attention has been placed on past comments Donald Trump has made about net neutrality, widely considered a key issue in Internet freedoms, if not privacy per se.

What You Can Do

There are hardware and software choices you can make that will help your defense. Always keep your operating systems and applications updated, for example. (Hackers are thwarted by patch releases that inhibit previously-attempted attacks, among other benefits.) Use a comprehensive product like TrackOFF to prevent online identity theft by blocking the various forms of online tracking used by hackers and trackers, which helps prevent intrusive & predatory advertising and keeps your data safe.

In general, there is no reason to believe that privacy on the Internet will fare any better in 2017 than in dismal 2016. The criminal element at work online, governmentally-initiated mass data collection initiatives, ongoing hacking assaults from hostile Russian groups, and the relentless march of invasive advertising mean it may be worse than ever. But if you take the proper precautions, and are aware of—and alert for—the kind of very real dangers present in daily activities and in larger national and global concerns, it’s possible to mitigate the risks.