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When you connect to the Internet you are opening a two-way channel from your computer to the World Wide Web. If you don’t secure that channel through a VPN connection, you are putting yourself at risk. Securing your Internet connection from within is also an important step. You may not think that your identity or the files stored on your computer are of any value to anyone else. But they are, and there are companies whose sole source of income is mining this and other data from everyday Internet users’ online activities.
Securing Online Activities with VPN Connections
The most popular tool for securing online activity is a VPN. VPN connections are affordable and simple to set up and use. You can have one set up on your router, or enjoy the versatility of having VPN connections on each individual device that you use to connect to the Internet. VPN connections will encrypt your data and traffic so that you will not be traced between your device and the VPN server. Then the VPN connections will reroute the traffic from each of your devices using an anonymous IP address. This protects your identity when you access websites and other online services.
VPN connections are great for staying private online because they remove the connection between you and your online activities. Your IP address contains a lot of information about you that most Internet service providers use to track user activities. VPN connections give you alternate IP addresses so that your real IP address will be hidden. As soon as your traffic reaches the VPN server, your ISP cannot follow you. Most other people and companies that track users do this using your IP address as well. The government, hackers, malicious websites and advertising companies identify you by your IP address. So when you use different VPN connections when you browse the net, you stay private and anonymous.
But VPN connections aren’t all there is to securing your Internet. You need to make sure that your connection is secure from within. Your Internet connection could be vulnerable from the source, especially if you have a wireless connection. Make sure that you follow these next steps so that people cannot get access and compromise your connection from the start.
A Wireless Connection that is Always On
It is certainly convenient to have your home wireless on at all times. You can get updates to all your software as soon as they come in. You can leave a page to go do something else and have it waiting for you when you get back. But this is very risky as you are leaving an open channel to all the computers in your home that are connected to the Internet. This includes your smartphones and other Internet enabled devices. The likelihood that your computer will be targeted by attackers or viruses scanning the network for available or susceptible computers becomes much higher if your computer is always connected. Having an unsecured wireless network can allow anyone within range to access your network. More than just neighbors using up your download allowance and running up fees, snoopers can intercept and read your emails and use your account to access illegal content and commit online crimes that will be traced back to you. So the first line of defense is to turn off your wireless connection when you are not using it.
Staying Logged in to Online Services
Having your computers connected to the Internet at all times usually means that you are also perpetually logged in to different online services. This is the most convenient of all, since you can get alerts as soon as friends post to your Facebook account or your boss sends you an email. But staying logged in to online services puts you at great risk for data theft and account hijacking. Services like Yahoo and Facebook have allowed the NSA access to their databases. It has recently been discovered that the mail services of AOL and Google actually open the contents of emails before sending them on to their intended recipients. But it’s not just about your privacy. Hackers are always on the lookout for open accounts that are not active. They use these accounts to stage attacks against your contacts and get to other users of the same services. They can also use this access to get into your other accounts by pretending to be you. These scams often result in huge financial losses, not only from bank account and credit card theft but from using your identity to sign up for other accounts that you will be billed for.
Secure Your Router and Wireless connection
Instead of wires or fiber-optic cable, wireless technology uses radio waves and/or microwaves to transmit data. The access point to the Internet communicates with your device by broadcasting your service set identification number, or SSID. Anyone within range of your connection can intercept the signal if it is unprotected. So you need to change the default SSID and administration username and password. These credentials are used on all routers for your Internet service provider and are easily hacked. They are standard names and passwords that any person with the intention of accessing your wireless connection is likely to know. Use a secure password that is not easily guessed by anyone who might know certain details about you or your family. You can also read more here about common passwords to avoid.
Once you have secured your wireless password, disable remote management. The settings for this will be on the same admin panel. The exact process differs for different ISPs, so contact them if you need help. Next, you should check your firewall settings and make sure that it is set to prevent unnecessary incoming connections.
Your wireless access point broadcasts its SSID by default. This makes it easy for your devices to access the network and connect. But it also makes it easier for other people to find and connect. Turn off the SSID broadcast to hide your network. Then you can manually enter the SSID into your devices so they can connect. When this is done, set your network to restrict access so that only the devices that you allow can access your network. Also check the programs that run on startup and disable any services that you don’t really need.
Some wireless access points will allow you to lower the power of your transmission so you can reduce the distance that the signal travels. You can tweak this so that the signal does not reach outside your home. This can affect how well your connection performs, but you can reset it if it does not work out for you. Finally, turn off any features that allow administration access to other people like your computer technician.