Search engines, apps, social networks… With every click, we leave behind sensitive information. How to protect yourself online? Gisèle Fournier, author of The Internet Self-Defense Guide (First) advises.
At home, in transport, at work… The Internet is omnipresent in our lives and even more so since the advent of smartphones and 3G/4G! Fast and easy to use: we have the world in the palm of our hand and mountains of information (and brain games!) accessible at the touch of a finger.
Our way of life was turned upside down by the arrival of the Internet in our homes and the mobile phone revolution in the 2000s. But what seemed like a positive change quickly turned into a sweet poison. Cyberbullying, phishing…: these terms quickly entered our vocabulary before appearing in the dictionary.
In light of 2023, how can we protect ourselves on the web? What are the dangers that await us when we connect and how to avoid them? Gisèle Fournier, author of Online Self Defense Guide (First) with Daniel Ichbiah, enlighten us.
What are the dangers that can be encountered on the Internet?
Gisele Fournier: The more technology advances, the more connectivity options it offers, and the more the risks of stealing sensitive data online, it’s almost mathematical. Therefore it is really important that our vigilance is strengthened in the same direction. The danger comes mainly from the ease of use of all related objects delivered to our consumption, as well as from our impatience to get the desired information. Looking for quick answers, we pay less attention to the results that appear – and that’s it vulnerability exploited by cyber attackers.
By clicking on a search result link, you may encounter phishing (receiving confidential information, such as your credit card numbers, by pretending to be an official site), a Trojan horse (a code or program that takes control of your computer and causes damage ), a virus or a scam to extract money directly from you. Worst of all is ransomware, where all your digital data is ‘hijacked’ until you pay the hackers a ransom.
Our search engines are now well equipped to prevent corrupt sites from appearing, our antivirus hunts a lot of junk, but 100% protection is never guaranteed.
It is a real game of chess being played. Cyber security experts must tirelessly prevent attacks, finding countermeasures, closing loopholes… their objective is to be, if possible, one step ahead of the opponent. But the rest is in our hands, because these logins are often due to our negligence of security.
What are the ways to protect against it?
Education is the first way to protect yourself online. For example, what does your bank tell you about the emails it sends? It specifies that it will never ask you for your identifiers and Passwords. Each official site specifies what it can send you as email and what it will never ask you for. Next, it is important to have an up-to-date antivirus not only on your desktop or laptop computer, but also on various smartphones and tablets.
A VPN is a plus, as it makes it almost impossible to access your IP. When creating an account at a merchant or other site, favor the strong passwords sometimes (not always) provided by the site. Whenever you receive spam, report it as such.
Over time, it will eventually disappear and you won’t be tempted to click on it.
Last tip: never click on a link received by email, but go directly to the site you know by typing its address into your search engine.
What tools do you need to know to navigate safely?
Once you have a firewall, an antivirus, an antispam, and a VPN, all that’s left is human error. A good practice to remember is also to turn off your Bluetooth when not needed because your smartphone data can be stolen this way thanks to a program executed at short distance by a malicious person.
You should know that browsing in private mode is not a protection against viruses; simply, history is not stored locally and cookies are only kept for as long as the session is open. But you remain visible to the sites you visit and their ads, to your ISP, and to search engines.
Which apps to use to communicate safely?
WhatsApp was for a while a reliable app for secure communication, but the fact that it was acquired by Facebook in 2014 somewhat damaged its reputation. With no real proof of what happened to their data, many people preferred to go back to Signal in 2018. For the record, Brian Acton, one of the two co-founders of Signal, is the same one who sold WhatsApp to Facebook. However, WhatsApp continues to be widely used. Proton Mail is, in my opinion, the most reliable app for securing your data.
Is using signal and telegram a good alternative?
The signal is end-to-end encrypted, so it is a priori a reliable application for the security of its data. You can also route calls through a Signal server to avoid revealing your IP address to your contact. Telegram and WhatsApp have become the favorite applications of Russians since the censorship of their social networks Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube (Facebook and Instagram were simply banned for “extremism”).
Telegram was created by two Russian brothers. The application provides encryption of text, audio, video, photo messages. It is these encryption tools that intelligence services and the justice system complain about. A guarantee of reliability?
When it comes to email and search engines, which should you prioritize?
Qwant, DuckDuckGo are good search engine regarding the security of our private data, although DuckDuckGo is American and probably does not value protecting our privacy as much as Europeans. Qwant is a French search engine which therefore supports GDPR, but this does not guarantee your security. We are only in the management of private data from the search engine. It does not provide any additional guarantee against computer hacking.
On the messaging side, Proton Mail is an end-to-end encrypted webmail. Contacts are also encrypted. What we like here is that it is open source (ie no one has exclusive control over it) and that the data servers are located in Switzerland, thus legally outside of France, reaching US or European authorities. There is also Thunderbird, also open source, but currently trying to get addresses from Yahoo.
Are they more secure than traditional Google and Outlook?
For data protection, Qwant ranks above Google, but all search engines go to great lengths to stay safe from cyber attacks. Outlook mail will always be less secure than Proton Mail, for example. In addition, Outlook is shunned by Gmail and Yahoo, which consider it insecure and often block authentication. Truth or Dare, Outlook nevertheless remains the most used messaging software by professionals.
How to prevent online data theft in a simple way?
To err is and always will be human. The best way to avoid data theft online is to save as little as possible on it, use it all security tools provided by sites and never click on a link from an email you have received. And of course, always have an updated antivirus. While there is much more to learn about online security, it’s a good start.
Do you have any tips to avoid unpleasant surprises?
Checking the spelling in the message is still (hopefully for a long time) a fairly reliable means of identifying whether or not you’re dealing with a scammer. Don’t rely on logos, they are now often well reproduced. Examine the page address in the search engine address bar: is it really the right one? Sometimes it shows the dot symbol on or under certain letters – which is the new sneaky way to steal the address from an official site. If you find such a dot in the address, you are dealing with a fake page.
A very simple trick to spotting scams is to have an email address different for each activity. For example, you create an address for all the purchases you make online, another for everything related to your work, another for friends and family, another for administrative records, etc. So when you get an email to your work address telling you that you’ve just won a cruise to the Canary Islands thanks to your purchases, you’ll know right away that it’s a scam.