Cyberattacks, ransomware and scams: follow this checklist to boost your privacy

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It’s never a bad time to upgrade your online security.

Angela Lang/CBS

As The Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies, the risk of global cyberattacks intensifies. The FBI recently warned private industry and US infrastructure officials about the threat of ransomware and other online security attacks resulting from the military conflict, per CNN.

There is no similar warning for individual citizens, but the increased global risk marks an opportune time to assess and upgrade your own online security practices. Whether you’re new to online privacy or a seasoned security software veteran, run through our cybersecurity checklist to make sure you’re optimally protected.

For more on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, see how the war might affect the american economyto find reliable Twitter accounts reporting on Ukraine and learn how cyberattacks in Ukraine could have an impact on the whole world.

For the newcomer

Use a password manager

If you’ve heard any internet security advice, it’s this: create unique strong passwords for each of your online accounts, change them regularly, and never reuse old ones. Most browsers automatically offer to store your passwords when they see you logging into a new site. Don’t take the bait and waste your time trying to memorize them all. Instead, put a secure password manager to work.

A great option for securing your passwords is Bitwarden, CNET’s pick for the best free password manager. Bitwarden works on all major platforms and web browsers. Its free version includes a random password generator and allows you to store unlimited logins, notes and cards in an encrypted vault available for as many devices as you want.


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Bitwarden also provides a breach feature that scans your stored accounts and sends alerts when security breaches occur on any of them. Spotting a website or e-tailer hack early and updating your account credentials can put your mind at ease and save you potential headaches.

While Bitwarden is a great free option for password management, it’s not the only player in the game, CNET’s list of the best password managers can bring you up to speed with the best products to keep your information secure. authentication.

As you strengthen your login practices, consider enabling two-factor authentication for your social media and email accounts. For sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Google, enabling this extra layer of protection means you’ll be prompted upon login to enter not just your password, but a secondary form of authentication, often a security code. One-time SMS sent to your mobile phone.

Adopt encryption

Simplified encryption apps on your cell phone provide privacy by scrambling your communications so anyone intercepting them can’t read them – as long as both the sender and recipient of the message are using encryption correctly. Although there is some debate about the comparative security strength of different encryption apps, the perpetual quest of governments and intelligence communities to crack or ban them speaks to their overall effectiveness. You don’t need to understand exactly how end-to-end encryption works to benefit from it; you just have to proceed to the installation.

start with Signalthe free and open-source desktop software application, android and iOS. You can use it to make encrypted phone calls, send texts, videos and images. To use it, you and the recipient of your message must have internet access on your mobile device. And Android users have the option to make Signal their default messaging service.

And why stop at your phone when you can encrypt your messages on all digital fronts? There are possible application sequences providing degrees of privacy for video chats, hard drives, emails and more. But remember: Suspicious files can still end up in an encrypted inbox. Run suspicious attachments via online antivirus like VirusTotal before releasing them on your device.

Stop web browsers from spying on you

Google’s ubiquitous Chrome web browser makes it easy to access your personal information to everyone, not just you. A DuckDuckGo December 2019 Report found Google trackers installed on 86% of the most popular websites. While changing your chrome settings can helpthe thing is, you need to be vigilant to prevent Chrome from spread your data all over the internet. In Chrome or Firefox or most other popular browsers, you can use private mode or incognito mode to protect your browsing sessions.

If you really want to take privacy seriously, Brave is a browser equipped with nuanced controls to block ad trackers, third-party cookies (which track you around the web via social buttons on a webpage), and third-party fingerprinting. Since Brave is built on the same open-source Chromium technology as Chrome, you can take advantage of most Chrome extensions without dragging a nasty trail of Chrome trackers behind you.

Intermediate level

Get a VPN

A Virtual Private Network is an essential layer of browser-based security that creates a private network between you, the websites you visit, and any wireless devices you’ve connected to. While using VPN does not guarantee absolute privacy, it generally works by blinding your ISP to the websites you visit and blinding the websites to your IP address. And it’s absolutely essential if you’re on public Wi-Fi and someone could potentially be spying on you, or worse.

The prices of VPNs vary as widely as their security, which largely depends on the protocols used. A longtime favorite like IPVanishfor example, may cost $89 per year, but it keeps no logs of user activity, lets you pay in bitcoin, and offers a login kill switch.

CNET’s side-by-side comparison of the best VPN services we found in 2022 can keep you off the rocks.

Learn Tor

Similar to a VPN, the Tor Browser works through an ever-expanding network of servers. In the case of Tor, every request made from your computer bounces through an encrypted relay system of intermediaries to keep your identity hidden and make tracking your activity extremely difficult. Relays, or nodes, are volunteer-run and open.

Unfortunately, there are no official Tor browsers for iOS, but Tor offers installation options for Windows and macOS, as well as an official app for Android. Security is slow business, however. Don’t expect to stream movies through Tor browsers.

Head to the official Tor download page for installation and configuration instructions.


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Your cybersecurity checklist

To sum up, here are some quick tips for online safety best practices:

  • Never reuse passwords across multiple sites.
  • Never allow a web browser to save your passwords.
  • To permit two-factor authentication for your accounts whenever possible.
  • Never connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot without connecting to a VPN.
  • Use incognito mode or a privacy-focused web browser whenever possible, or switch to Tor.
  • Run a virus scan on email attachments, even those from friendly sources, before opening them.
  • All sensitive text messaging conversations should always be conducted through a secure messenger such as Signal.

Advanced training

If tutorials on privacy and dodging surveillance have whetted your appetite for cybersecurity, there’s no reason to stop with these apps. Here are some places you can go for more free or low cost training.

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