Security Technology

5 Ways to Change Your Digital Habits Now

Being online has never seemed more important. As the world goes into lockdown, trying to protect against coronavirus, for many the internet has become a portal to the outside world. Sometimes, it’s the only way we can communicate with others, stay informed, and continue to pursue careers.

However, taking your life digital can be a massive challenge, and carrying out everyday actions online can come with new risks that relatively few people are aware of. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to offer a run down of the ways we can change our digital habits to remain productive, well-informed, and safe throughout the emergency.

1. Become information savvy as fake news spreads

During an epidemic, it’s essential to stay well-informed about ways to avoid contagion, how to access vital services, and general developments that could affect how you respond. But finding accurate information isn’t always easy.

At one stage in the coronavirus epidemic, WhatsApp became flooded with fake messages stating that ibuprofen accelerates the virus. Other fake news “epidemics” suggested that the virus was a U.S. or Chinese lab creation, while smartphone users in India have been inundated with “advisories” making outlandish claims about the role played by ice cream in spreading the disease.

The right response to this is to be sceptical of unsourced rumors, especially those emanating from social media or WhatsApp, and to report such “news” when possible. Generally speaking, the WHO, governments, and reputable media outlets are the first sources to consult for accurate updates.

2. Learn how to work remotely and securely

For some people, the current emergency is the first time they have had to work remotely for sustained periods of time (or ever). And for most of us, there’s no alternative. We need to find ways to function away from our workplaces, so logging on from home is the only way to go.

If you’re one of the new army of remote workers, finding the right tools can help. Installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) should be one of the first things you do. These apps route traffic through third party networks, which encrypt your data and anonymize your identity. If you are communicating with work, there’s no better way to ensure that everything remains confidential.

Video messaging apps like FaceTime or Skype will also come in handy, as well as conferencing tools like Zoom. But when using those apps, remember to be careful about information that you share. Hackers can access your webcam fairly easily with some apps, while Skype has long been plagued with privacy allegations.

Then there are the physical aspects of working from home. It may be a good idea to order an ergonomic chair. The lockdown could last for weeks or months, so be sure to exercise a little at home and to stay comfortable with the right home office hardware.

3. Be aware that phishers are taking advantage

When people are anxious, criminals almost always capitalize, and coronavirus is no exception. Phishing is spiking as people take to their homes. So we need to be aware of how scammers work, and how to avoid becoming a victim.

According to analysts at cybersecurity company Proofpoint, scammers have posed as WHO experts. The emails offered plausible advice, followed by an attachment apparently containing additional information. However, anxious readers who click through to the attachment have actually been downloading a key-logger, potentially handing over all of their private details.

Normal anti-phishing practices apply here: be very cautious about attachments, check the email addresses of senders for any discrepancies, and also check for any spelling errors. If it’s not solicited, or from someone you know, it’s best not to open and to send those emails straight to spam.

4. Learn about safe online shopping

With supermarkets running out of key essentials and potentially acting as vectors for the coronavirus pathogen, millions of people are turning to online shopping. That’s great, providing you can secure a suitable delivery slot, and everything you need is available to order.

However, as online shopping booms, cybercrime is likely to thrive, and everyone should know how to safeguard their financial details when placing their orders.

Sticking to reputable ordering sites is a good start. If a site doesn’t have SSL encryption (the URL should have “https” instead of simply “http”) it’s not safe to use. And check any follow up emails from retailers for false addresses or fake links. Amazon is particularly vulnerable to phishers who create fake versions of the online retailer’s home page. If you use those sites, there’s no telling what might happen to your personal details.

5. Accept changes for the greater good

During quarantine, people will also need to find ways to be entertained. There won’t be scope to attend cinemas, bars, music venues, or sports events. Instead, streaming is taking center stage.

Services like Netflix, Hulu, the BBC iPlayer, and YouTube are taking up the slack left by the entertainment industry. However, some people may find themselves frustrated when accessing these platforms. Both Netflix and Youtube did announce that they are reducing the quality of the videos in Europe. The decision comes after EU industry chief Thierry Breton called on streaming platforms to help reduce their load on the continent’s infrastructure. 

Even though the streaming speeds we are used to might decrease, it should not stop you from exploring new box sets or kung fu movies that had never before featured on your cultural radar.

As we tighten up our physical lifestyles to protect ourselves and others, we also need to change the way we act online. It’s not hard to tweak your digital life to become more secure, productive, and better informed. There’s never been a better time to become more digitally aware.

About the author


Jan Youngren

Jan Youngren is a cybersecurity and consumer protection specialist at VPNpro focused on investigations that help readers navigate the complex infosecurity sphere. His research and commentary has been featured in Forbes, ComputerWeekly, PC Mag, TechRadar, ZDNet, The Mirror, Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications around the world.