Simple ways to stay secure online

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Every South African with an email address will, at some point, receive a phishing mail or 419 scam email from either a bank claiming details have been compromised and need to be updated, or from some or other custodian or estate executor looking to transfer money from a hitherto unheard of benefactor in exchange for a fee.

Robot Pole DancersThe bulk of banking phishing mails are made to look like they come from Absa, whether or not the target banks there, because with it being South Africa’s largest retail bank, the chances of successfully hoodwinking someone are far higher.

There is no prince

When it comes to banking, if an email seems suspicious it almost certainly is, and with 419 scams – as with most things in life – if it seems to good to be true you can bet it is. In addition to common sense, there are other simple steps consumers can take to protect themselves online.

One of the easiest ways to check whether the site or service you’re using online is secure is too look for https:// (rather than merely http://) in the address bar. In some browsers this is accompanied by a small logo of a padlock, which indicates that the site is, in fact, what it claims to be.

In a move designed to encourage website owners to secure and protect their user search and advertising giant Google announced earlier this month that it will be giving preference to encrypted websites in its search results. In other words, sites that only use http:// and not the version with the added “S” will appear lower in search results compared to those that offer encryption.

Now, if you host your own blog or site there’s no need to panic. Google’s new stance only really applies to sites that require users to login in or otherwise deal with personal data. Many sites use an encryted login page, but then revert to an unencrypted connection thereafter. It’s this sort of practice that Google is looking to stamp out by dangling the biggest carrot is has to hand, the threat of online obscurity.

Bank on it

In South Africa getting people to pay more attention to security is a topic close to the hearts of the major banks. According to Standard Bank, South African businesses (in addition to individuals) are increasingly being targeted by cyber criminals for identity theft.

“Identity theft is not a problem that is restricted to individuals, who may find that their personal details are being used to make transactions they are unaware of,” according to Ethel Nyembe, head of transactional products and services business banking at Standard Bank. “It is also becoming an issue confronting companies that find their corporate information, both in the public domain and internally, being targeted and misused by cyber criminals. In these cases it is most common for a company’s identity to be compromised and used as a mechanism for perpetrating fraud.”

Nyembe says the problem is exacerbated by fraudster recruiting people in key departments at target companies to help them with access to key documentation, supplier information and other data that can help with identity theft or other forms of fraud.

We’re all becoming more reliant on technology, meaning cyber crime isn’t going to go away any time soon. The best way to beat digital deception, regardless of the form it takes, is by being vigilant. Whether that means paying attention to the addresses of the sites you visit, keeping your antivirus software up to date, steering clear of suspect looking sites, ignoring or reporting suspicious emails, or notifying your bank as soon as you detect something fishy. Vigilance now could save you time, money and heartache later.

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