Stay safe and secure online this summer

Source: A. (Andrus) AnsipĀ i, published on Thursday, July 20 2017.

With the summer holiday season now upon us, many Europeans will be travelling away from home and keen to keep in touch via their mobile devices - with family and friends, with the daily news or just to stream some music or video online.

Of course, all this will be a lot easier and more convenient for people now that roaming surcharges have become a thing of the past in Europe.

I would just sound one note of warning - stay secure.

Don't allow yourself to get hacked just because you're away from your usual environment.

This year alone, we have seen more unwanted cyber-activity than most experts had expected. Unfortunately, this has become a trend - and it's not going away.

It is becoming more frequent, more unpredictable and more sophisticated.

The WannaCry ransomware attack in May was a wakeup call for everyone. That was followed by the NotPetya/Petya attack just the following month.

These were not the first such attacks and they certainly will not be the last. Without being alarmist, I would advise everyone not to let their guard down.

This means practising what is known as basic cyber hygiene.

Hackers are looking for a vulnerability to exploit, an easy way to attack, control and abuse your data - or bank account.

Weak passwords are one of the easiest ways into your system.

The human factor is an exploitable weakness - and up to a point, this is inevitable. But let's not make things too easy for criminals.

There are some obvious and simple precautions that we can all take.

Change and strengthen your passwords - and don't use the same one for everything.

Back up important data before you go on holiday.

Try not to access any of your financial, banking or credit card accounts online while travelling and especially while connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

Update your mobile phone or tablet with the latest security patches - unpatched systems are one the biggest risk factors in attacks. Since not everyone buys the latest software, many people are still running old programs that might have unpatched flaws. That gives attackers a chance to find weaknesses in old software.

There is some good general advice in these educational posters (downloadable here) produced by ENISA, the EU's Agency for Network and Information Security.

ENISA cyberhygiene recommendations

They are part of the European Cyber Security Month that takes place every October - an EU-wide campaign that raises awareness of cyber-threats, promotes cybersecurity and provides resources for people and businesses to protect themselves online

On a related issue, since children tend to have more free time during the summer and spend more of it online - I would again like to stress the need for cyber-vigilance to protect younger people. This is about harmful content and the risks of online abuse, not just the threat of being hacked.

Here's a fun and accessible tool that can help parents and children alike.

European Commission researchers have developed an open source app - called Happy Onlife - to promote online safety awareness and skills for both children and adults.

You can download it here and also here.

I wish everyone a relaxing summer break. But please stay safe and secure online.

Another blog soon.