Digital Security: Your Online Privacy Guide for 2023

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Andra Zaharia

Host, Cyber Empathy Podcast

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    Digital security is a confusing and overwhelming topic for the average person. 

    Between all the industry jargon, vast selection of online privacy tools, and regularly occurring data breaches — it’s easy to feel disconnected from this space. 

    After reading this guide, you’ll have a clearer understanding of digital security and how to defend yourself against the endless array of vulnerabilities and online threats that exist today. 

    What Is Digital Security?

    Digital security aims to protect your devices, personal data and online identity from external harm on the internet. It includes all the tools, techniques and security training that keeps you safe online.

    Your life online is an ecosystem of information systems, data, behaviors, and tools which are constantly interacting with each other. Ultimately, this is what makes up your digital footprint

    Cyber security experts and innovators around the world are developing advanced digital security solutions to fight back against the overwhelming volume of cyber attacks happening on the internet.

    What Should I Expect from a Digital Security Suite?

    1. Device protection
    2. Network security
    3. Identity theft protection
    4. Credit monitoring
    5. Antivirus software with VPN
    6. Secure password manager
    7. Dark web monitoring
    8. Social security monitoring
    9. Parental controls
    10. Family protection

    The goal of comprehensive digital security is to provide you with an easy-to-use solution that safeguards all aspects of your online activity.

    Take action: If scammers have your personal information, your bank account, email, and digital identity could be at risk. Try Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution free for 14 days to secure your identity and finances against scammers.

    Cyber Security Vs. Digital Security: What’s the Difference?

    Cyber security incorporates every proactive and reactive method of preventing illegal access to a person’s devices, data, accounts, identity, and finances. 

    It’s a complex field that ensures information security for all technical components and their interactions with humans. 

    This includes computer networks and systems, devices connected to them, the sensitive information on those devices, and many other layers of technology we (mostly unconsciously) use every day. 

    As a subsection of cyber security – digital security focuses on protecting your digital identity, meaning your online activities and the data they produce.

    Why Is Digital Security Important?

    The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 791,790 complaints in 2020, with associated losses of over $4.1 billion. Phishing scams alone led victims to lose over $54 million. 

    There are over 2000 cyber attack complaints/day on average. The number of total complaints from people affected by cyber crime jumped by 69% since 2019.

    Unfortunately, we see, once again, that people over 60 suffer the most from internet scams and cyber attacks. 

    Because senior citizens are so vulnerable to fraud, digital security is absolutely imperative for their stability and wellbeing. 

    Source: Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

    Hackers view your digital identity as a source of income (e.g. online shopping, social media activity, browsing history, etc.) Scammers will isolate targets with weak or nonexistent security systems to steal (or extort) your money. 

    Repeatedly, we’ve seen people realize the importance of investing in their digital security through new tools and safer habits. Unfortunately, this change in attitude and behavior often comes after falling victim to a data breach

    According to a Survey by Propeller Insights, after a cyber attack:
    • 61.6% of people become more cautious about the information they share online.
    • 50.8% of people become more cautious about using new payment technologies.
    • 48.6% check their credit report.
    • 40.7% sign up for an identity theft program.
    • 35.6% investigate who they do business with online.

    What Types of Hackers Are After My Data?

    Believe it or not, there is something called ethical hacking

    Ethical hacking involves using specialized techniques to find and test vulnerabilities in computer systems so they can report, fix, or adequately protect information systems from bad actors with malicious intent. 

    Here are a few helpful distinctions between different types of hackers:

    • A white hat hacker uses ethical hacking to help secure computer systems and keep technology safe.
    • A black hat hacker (also called bad actor, threat actor, and malicious hacker) uses their hacking knowledge and skills to gain illegal access, data, or money from systems and people they victimize.
    • A gray hat hacker, as the name suggests, operates in a gray area, sometimes combining good intentions with not-quite-legal methods. 

    Ethical hackers (white hats) assume the attacker’s perspective and pass on remediation details to those tasked with fixing the issues—from software developers to business executives. That’s because they share the same responsible objective: keeping the internet safe for everyone. 

    Black hats, however, have more nefarious motivations. They often seek to get large amounts of money fast or pull off ego-boosting hacks that inflate their reputation in the cyber crime world. 

    Some of them create, sell, or rent malicious hacking software and infrastructure to launch cyber attacks. Certain malicious hackers even work in state-run cyber warfare operations such as WannaCry or Petya and NotPetya

    Take action: If you accidentally give scammers your personal data (or its leaked in a data breach), they could take out loans in your name or empty your bank account. Try a digital security service to monitor your finances, protect your identity, and alert you to fraud.

    What Are the Main Types of Cyber Attacks?

    There are three main types of cyber attacks that can affect you and your loved ones.

    Spray and pray attacks 

    • These attacks target a huge number of people (i.e. millions) and are mostly automated. 
    • Spray & prey attacks guarantee “good coverage” even with a tiny percentage of victims.
    • Tactics include phishing emails, malware attacks, websites that distribute malicious code, and links that trigger ransomware infections.

    Targeted attacks 

    • This type of malicious hacking focuses on a specific asset and uses personalization to extract access, data, or money from unprepared victims. 
    • A common example is smishing, which targets people with infected or phishing links through seemingly authentic texts that incentivize the victim to share their financial information (i.e. credit card details).  

    Advanced persistent attacks 

    • APTs, as they’re abbreviated, use detailed research and planning to gain access to a big target with multiple goals that all end in a big payout.
    • These may not target you directly, but they affect the organizations whose products and services you use. 
    • While inside the network, attackers collect data about how the organization works and plant malicious software that enables them to launch attacks at a later time.
    • The ultimate goal is to sell the data (including yours) for a big return or extort the company by threatening to expose it.  
    • These types of cyber threats have both immediate and long-term impact on your digital security.
    • In the short term, you either lose data or money (or both), and sometimes get locked out of your accounts and devices. 
    • Long-term consequences come from how scammers use the data they gather about you from voluntary and unintentional personal information sharing.
    • Digital identity theft is one of the most taxing repercussions, both financially and emotionally.  

    📚 Related: Have I Been Hacked? How To Recognize & Recover From a Hack

    Common Digital Security Threats

    Unlike driving, using the internet doesn’t come with any form of security training that teaches proactive protection.

    Unsecure access

    There are two things that make it ridiculously easy for attackers to access your online accounts:

    1. Using weak passwords and reusing them for multiple accounts.
    2. Not enabling two-factor authentication.

    Without these important forms of access control, it’s substantially easier for malicious hackers to breach your accounts. Once inside, they collect more data, use your contacts to find additional victims, and even take over your accounts to sell them. 

    For example, a Netflix account with a one-year subscription gets traded for $44 on the dark web

    Dangerous exposure 

    Your digital identity enables hackers to form a very clear image of who you are, what you do and when, what you like, and how much money you might have.

    Imagine your privacy is like a puzzle. The more pieces of your personal information that are found on a public domain, the easier it is for cyber criminals to put them together. 

    The average person has over 100 online accounts[*], which means your information spreads on the internet and well beyond — in systems that store your personal data for long periods of time which you have no control over.

    Plus, the volume of information we deal with on a daily basis erodes our ability to pay attention to details and correctly assess risky situations. The less attention you pay to these safety gaps, the more detrimental this becomes.

    So, It’s a good idea to do a personal data exposure test to get a sense of how far-flung your confidential information is. 

    📚 Related: How To Protect Your Personal Information on Social Media

    Too many devices

    From laptops and smartphones to IoT devices like smart doorbells and home assistants, all sorts of internet-connected devices have become part of our lives. The data on these devices, along with their operating systems and apps, expand your attack surface (the total number of points an attacker can use to gain illegal access). 

    Without proper security measures and maintenance, even less skilled attackers can trigger a devastating domino effect. One of our employees went through a terrible ordeal in his pre-Aura days, when someone stole his smartphone and took over all his main accounts, costing him $12,000.

    Psychological manipulation 

    Malicious hackers are not just adept at exploiting technology and personal data. They also know what triggers people to react, including fear and surprise. 

    That’s why you should be aware of the common warning signs of typical online scams, like:

    • Suspicious login attempts
    • Unrecognized devices
    • Data breach email alerts
    • Unfamiliar charges on your financial statements
    • Unfamiliar remarks on your credit report

    How Does Digital Security Work? 

    We’ve created a checklist for building a strong personal protection and online privacy ecosystem, including timeless principles for enhanced digital security in 2022 and beyond. 

    1. Prioritize
    • Make a list of your most important digital assets.
    • Review your personal exposure levels on mobile devices, online accounts, and apps. 
    • Determine where your social security number, healthcare insurance details, driver license info, etc. may be revealed.
    2. Protect
    • Invest in products and services that cover both your digital security and online privacy.
    • Consider solutions that protect your local data (on your devices) and on the internet (publicly available personal information).
    • If you want to easily extend that protection to your loved ones, look for family identity theft protection.
    3. Monitor
    • Set yourself up for success with fraud alerts that notify you of suspicious activity.
    • Use alerts to keep track of your exposure, gradually limiting it with caution or by expressly deleting data to which you have access. 
    4. React
    • Take swift and decisive action to protect your privacy and security when you receive alerts.
    • Be vigilant when you buy new devices or sign up for new services.
    • Regularly review your credit report and financial statements for suspicious activity.

    The Aura Digital Safety Ecosystem

    Protect Monitor React
    Antivirus software for all your devices. Identity monitoring. Lost wallet remediation.
    Wi-Fi Security for your home network. Credit monitoring. White glove fraud resolution.
    VPN for encrypted communication when you connect to public Wi-Fi. Dark web monitoring. $1M identity theft insurance.
    Password Manager for strong and secure credentials. Transaction monitoring. 24/7 U.S. based support.
    Identity theft protection extended to your whole family. 3-credit bureau monitoring. Instantly lock your credit.
    Social security number protection. Home title monitoring. Dispute fraud immediately.

    Which Digital Security Tools Can Protect Me from Getting Hacked?

    • Device security (i.e. antivirus software) to ensure your smartphone, laptop, tablets, and other gadgets are safe to use, no matter their operating system (iOS, Android, Microsoft Windows, etc.)
    • Internet traffic filtering and encryption that automatically blocks cyber threats posed as legitimate data transfers.
    • A password management feature to make creating and using passwords substantially easier and safer.
    • Dark web monitoring to get alerts when scammers and malicious hackers try to trade or use your personal details in the farthest corners of the internet.
    • Identity theft protection for extensive monitoring of your personal information, accounts, IDs, and other sensitive data that bad actors can use to defraud you.
    • Financial fraud protection, including credit monitoring, to get near–real time alerts when new inquiries on your credit file pop up (e.g. new credit cards or bank loans) or when suspicious spending activity suggests your financial assets may be in danger. 
    • Parental controls that limit the amount of time your kids spend online. Parents need the ability to restrict screen time, block certain apps and websites. 
    • Great customer service to help navigate a critical situation such as losing your wallet (and the sensitive documents in it) or just making sure you’re maximizing the benefits of your security suite.
    • The option to extend all of these features to your entire family and their devices.

    Ultimately, your digital security toolbox is more effective when a single, trustworthy service provider supplies the various security layers you need.

    How Do I Protect My Sensitive Data & Personal Devices?

    The short answer here is to delegate most of these complex tasks to a digital security solution.

    Do I Need Digital Security Software? What Can I Do Myself?

    What to handle yourself What to offload to a security tool
    Choose a comprehensive security suite with 24/7 U.S. based security experts. Identity monitoring, Wi-Fi security protection, fraud remediation.
    Use strong, unique passwords for all online accounts. Centralized password manager to store and manage all your unique passwords.
    Install applications only from safe, reputable sources. Scan files for threats and block harmful pop-ups.
    Limit the personal information you share when making online purchases. Monitor sensitive data (e.g. SSN, home title and address, etc.) across the internet and alert you of suspicious activity.
    Make sure security software is up to date across all devices. Traffic filtering and threat blocking on all your protected devices.

    How Can I Tell If I’m Being Targeted by a Phishing Attack?

    • High urgency: Phishing emails threaten you with a penalty if you don’t click, call, or open an attachment. 
    • Unrecognized sender: If you open an email from outside your organization or from unknown senders, be cautious and avoid clicking unfamiliar links. 
    • Bad grammar: Legit companies won’t risk their reputation with poorly-written emails. 
    • Unusual salutations: “Dear [Name]” is an obvious sign of a phishing scam. 
    • Out-of-place links: If you have any doubt that a link or attachment might be a scam, trust your gut and don’t click it. 
    • Misspelled domains: If the sender claims to be from a company but the email address doesn’t match their claim, that’s a warning sign, too.

    Never Recycle Passwords on Multiple Sites

    Keeping track of your passwords gets more difficult as your online accounts multiply. Trying to remember them will lead you to choose weaker passwords. Recycling weak passwords heavily increases your risk of getting compromised. 

    Instead of recycling, use a dedicated password manager to store and manage the credentials for all your online accounts in one place. A secure password manager will automatically choose long, complex passwords that are truly random — and more difficult for hackers to crack

    With a dedicated password manager, you only need to remember a single password which unlocks access to all of the usernames and passphrases you need. You can even use biometric identity verification, like Face ID, instead of this master password. 

    The password manager auto-fills your credentials across websites, apps, and devices, protecting them with the strongest encryption available and multiple advanced security layers.

    Take action: Protect yourself from the risks of identity theft, fraud, and online threats with Aura’s $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance. Try Aura free for 14 days to see if it’s right for you.

    Quick Tips to Safeguard Your Passwords:

    • Set your smartphone to auto-lock after 30 seconds of stalled screen use. 
    • Don’t store any sensitive passwords in Google Chrome or Safari Keychain. 
    • Use Google Authenticator or Okta for two-factor authentication instead of SMS, when possible. 
    • Use Face ID for as many online services as possible. 
    • Use a secure password manager that creates a strong, unique password for every online service you use.
    • Add a backup trusted phone number to your Google or Apple account - this way, if your iPhone or Android ever gets stolen and your account is compromised, you can recover it.
    • Always keep your OS updated to the most recent version. When you are prompted to update your software, always DO IT. 
    • Be vigilant when it comes to data security — and that starts with online services that you use. For example, the wedding site Zola was recently hacked, which impacted thousands of customers. 

    How Can I Spot a Scam Website?

    • They use http which means the SSL certificate tasked with protecting your data through encryption is missing.
    • They have strange URLs with suspicious combinations of letters and numbers and odd domains (e.g. .xyz instead of .com)
    • They prompt you with unexpected pop-ups which ask you to share personal data or carry out an action you did not initiate.
    • They have poor usability and low-quality graphics with matching inferior content.
    • They prevent you from going back to the previous page, essentially locking you into their website.
    • They have slower loading times or can even cause your browser to crash.

    Unsafe websites usually have these common red flags. However, even if a website does not present all these warning signs, it can still host malicious content. 

    That’s why it’s a wise choice to use a digital security tool, which automatically filters the internet traffic coming into your device. If a malicious website attempts to trick you into believing it’s a legit website, your online security tool will block it. 

    There are also alternatives such as Google’s Safe Browsing which integrates into your everyday experience with Chrome.

    However, it’s unrealistic to manually check every website you visit. Instead, an all-inclusive solution like Aura does this for you automatically 24/7, so you don’t have to worry about this as an extra step in your daily routine. 

    📚 Related: Was Your Email Hacked? Here's What To Do About It

    How Do I Protect My Smartphone from Getting Hacked?

    • Always lock your phone using biometrics (face ID or fingerprint). 
    • According to a Microsoft study, biometrics reduces the risk of your phone getting hacked by over 90% — including all the online accounts connected to it.
    • Beware of SIM swapping attacks, where scammers will call your cellular provider pretending to be you, to request a new SIM card.

    The FBI explains how criminals carry out SIM Swapping attacks —

    "Once the SIM card is swapped, the victim's calls, texts, and other data are diverted to the criminal's device. This access allows criminals to send 'Forgot Password' or 'Account Recovery' requests to the victim's email and other online accounts associated with the victim's mobile telephone number."

    📚 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your SIM Card?

    Top Precautions for Enhanced Personal Digital Security

    Your personal protection is a combination of staying educated, remaining vigilant and deploying intelligent security tools to keep you safe on the internet. 

    Keep it simple 

    • Keep your digital identity small by providing the minimum amount of personal data.
    • Delete what you don’t need (accounts, apps, files, direct messages, emails, etc).
    • Start keeping track of your online accounts with a password manager. 
    • Reduce your online footprint and minimize your online presence as much as possible. 

    Verify, then trust 

    • Evaluate the company that’s going to be protecting your most sensitive data. 
    • Read reviews and customer testimonials to ensure they are trustworthy and transparent.  
    • Seek out a reliable expert to talk to about the online safety and privacy issues that bother you.
    • If you don’t have someone who knows their way around internet security, Aura provides 24/7 US-based customer support

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers