Everyone’s trying to be more secure online, and we recently highlighted Five Simple Ways To Improve Your Cybersecurity. But while there are a number of quick actions one can take to improve online safety, there are also many myths that seem to have gained a lot of traction. We asked computer security experts to identify a few of these myths that may be leaving internet users less secure than they imagine.
MYTH: Using incognito/private mode makes your internet activity completely invisible
The main benefit to browsing in incognito mode — which some browsers refer to as private browsing mode — is that it hides your internet activity from anyone else using the same device. It may be helpful if you want to look up some sensitive health information on a shared computer, or if you are viewing mature content on a family computer. However, it will not protect you from anything beyond that device.
Blase Ur, a computer security and privacy researcher at the University of Chicago, says that “Despite its name, incognito mode has almost no effect on the ability of companies, governments, and employers to track you, which lots of users find surprising.” You are still vulnerable to your internet provider, the actual website you visited, or your network.
MYTH: Files on the “cloud” are safe
Using the “cloud” essentially means using other internet servers to store information instead of using your own hard drive. Its convenience and accessibility has made cloud storage increasingly popular, especially for businesses. According to a 2017 analysis from Symantec, the average number of cloud apps used by enterprises as of 2017 is 928, an increase from the 841 found the previous year.
However, the increased usage of the cloud for data storage is accompanied by an increased threat from hackers, with data being vulnerable to weaknesses that exist outside of the company. Symantec found that about 76 percent of cloud websites contain vulnerabilities, and 9 percent of these vulnerabilities are critical. To be extra cautious when using cloud services, be sure that the cloud app you use regularly backs up your data, so that you still have it in the event of a breach. If you use cloud services as part of your business, utilize smart data governance practices, and closely monitor what specific data is being stored in the cloud.
MYTH: All hackers are ‘bad’
Many tend to associate the term “computer hacker” with criminal activity, and mainly see them as a threat to privacy and financial security. However, there is such a thing as an “ethical hacker.” Rebecca Slaytor, an associate professor and cybersecurity researcher at Cornell University, defines ethical hackers as “people who look for vulnerabilities in order to help organizations eliminate those vulnerabilities.”
Most governments, including the US government, employ hackers as a means of fighting cyberterrorism and collecting information against dangerous individuals. However, Slaytor notes that governments also hack into computer systems in order to “exploit them against the will of their owners and operators.” Edward Snowden made headlines in 2010 for famously leaking classified information to the public about the US government’s involvement in this kind of activity. The line between ethical and malicious can often be blurry, but there’s no reason to panic over the word “hacker” on its own.
MYTH: Small businesses are not as vulnerable to cyberattacks
When cyberattacks on businesses make headlines, it’s usually because a large, well-known company (think Sony or eBay) has been compromised. And it would make sense that a large corporation that oversees a multitude of sensitive data would be more vulnerable to cyberattacks than, perhaps, a smaller company that is seemingly invaluable in comparison. However, this is not the case.
According to Slaytor, several factors play into a company’s vulnerability. “Having resources to devote to security can reduce vulnerabilities, and smaller businesses often have fewer resources and thus more vulnerability,” she says.
And the damage isn’t small. According to a study conducted by First Data in 2017, the average cost of a data breach on a small business is $36,000. From the same study, First Data found that of those data breaches, about 31 percent of customers terminated their relationship with the breached company as a result. So while smaller businesses may not seem like an obvious target, they are certainly vulnerable — and they might have a much tougher time recovering from such a breach.
Regardless of what is true and what is fiction in the world of cybersecurity, you can never be too safe when protecting your data, so take every precaution possible and be smart about your internet practices.