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How to Identify and Remove Android Viruses

How to Identify and Remove Android Viruses

The growth of the smartphone industry has been nothing short of amazing. Just a decade ago, mobile phones – and smartphones in particular – were luxury items owned by a small group of early adopters. Today, 5 billion people around the world own smartphones and these powerful devices have become intertwined with our lives. Everything from banking to emails to online shopping can be completed on a smartphone.

The popularity and usefulness of these devices have also made them targets for hackers who want to take advantage of the opportunity to access the information we store on our smartphones. Many smartphone users are lulled into a false sense of security, often incorrectly believing that their Android device cannot get a virus in the same way a home computer or laptop could. This misconception has been driven by marketing efforts and the perceived security offered by the official app stores. But make no mistake, your Android phone is just as much a target for hackers as your computer and there are countless Android viruses that could infect your phone, compromise your privacy, and ruin your experience.

In this article, we will outline some of the most common Android viruses, how to identify them, and how to remove them so you can take back control of your own device. In addition, we will also provide some helpful tips to improve your smartphone’s security so that you can feel confident using your device in the future and avoid many of the reasons users find their device has been infected.

Are Android devices more prone to viruses?

There is a sense among many that Android devices are more prone to viruses than iOS devices. Part of this is rooted in an effective marketing campaign by Apple that advertises iOS devices like the iPhone as being more secure than their competitors. It is also true that Android viruses are more common than iOS viruses. Much of this is due simply to the market share enjoyed by Android devices worldwide. 75% of smartphones currently in use run on the Android operating system which makes targeting Android devices a much more fruitful endeavor for hackers. A viruses designed for the Android operating system has the potential to infect many more devices.

The freedom offered to Android users is also another reason it’s more common to see viruses on Android devices. Apple provides a very locked down ecosystem whereby users can only download approved apps through the official app store. If you’re an Android user, however, you have the ability to install and uninstall apps from outside the official Google Play app store which increases the chances an app may contain malicious code. It’s also important to recognize that download apps from official channels are not immune to viruses, either. There have been many examples of popular apps being hijacked by hackers to distribute code to users.

It’s definitely possible for Android users to be disproportionately affected by viruses but much of that boils down to the popularity of the app store and the freedom given to users rather than a flaw in the design of the operating system. Regardless, if you’ve been infected with a virus, your sole focus becomes identifying and removing the virus to take back control over your device.

Identifying and removing ransomware on your Android device

Ransomware is a particularly devastating form of Android malware that has become much more common in recent years. Users are left feeling helpless and hackers use that emotional response to force users into paying money. So, what does ransomware on an Android device look like and how can you manage it?

A ransomware infection may go largely undetected until a hacker chooses to launch the attack. After the malware has been installed on the device, hackers have the ability to encrypt and lock a smartphone’s data. This will display a message to you on your screen with payment instructions and render your device entirely unuseable. In many cases, you won’t even be able to power off your device or turn down the volume if the message is playing a loud tone to grab your attention. Unsurprisingly, in their panic, many people choose to pay the hackers in order to gain back access to their important information. If they don’t pay, the hackers have the ability to wipe the device and cause the loss of all data.

If you have been infected by ransomware, here are some steps you can take to resolve the problem:

  • Try performing a soft reset of your device to see if it clears the message, if only briefly. The method for doing this will vary from device to device but usually involves holding the power key along with another key like the “volume up” key for 10 seconds. Your phone should reboot after doing this. However, some hackers are able to disable this function and it may not work.
  • The next thing to try is booting your device into recovery mode. Again, this method will vary from device to device but many devices will then allow the option to boot into “safe mode.” Using safe mode, you can power on your device as normal but it will prevent apps from automatically launching. This gives you the opportunity to delete any recently downloaded apps that may have infected your device. Once done, try powering on the device normally to see if the ransomware message has disappeared.
  • If this fails, you will likely need to wipe your device and start from factory settings. This will cause the loss of all data on the phone which is why you should regularly be backing up important things like photos, contacts, and more. Booting into recovery mode should allow the option to restore data to factory settings. This cannot be undone so be sure to try all above methods before proceeding. Once the reset is complete, your device should function as normal and you will have to set it up again as if you had just purchased it from the store.

Is adware interrupting your day?

Nothing is more annoying than unwanted popup ads. If your phone has been infected with adware, then you may find constant popups on your display, even when not using an app. These ads often advertise adult content like gambling websites, pornographic websites, or dating services. Not only can they be annoying and embarrassing, they can make using your phone normally a nightmare. If you suspect you are a victim of adware then there are some steps you can take to remove the virus.

  • First, try installing a well-known Android virus scanner security app. Avast Mobile Security and Kapersky Mobile Security are both popular choices that have been trusted by countless Android users. These apps can scan your device for malicious software, identify the culprit, and help you remove the infection. If the anti-virus scanner does not find anything, however, it may be more challenging for you to identify the source of the problem.
  • Your next step is to work backwards through the Android apps you have installed. Begin uninstalling new apps to see if the problem fixes itself. When you feel you have found the offending app, you can begin installing other apps to see if the adware infection has been resolved. Take note of where you downloaded the app, the creator of the app, and file a report against the app if possible.
  • In some cases, apps are able to install malware directly onto the phone’s system storage which means deleting the malicious app will not actually remove the virus. In this case, you may need to consider a complete factory reset of the device data. This should only be done if the above steps have not worked. Luckily, unlike with ransomware viruses, adware viruses still allow some usability of your device. Use this opportunity to back up any important data before wiping the device. This can be done through the recovery mode function or the settings menu. On an Android device, you can tap on the “Settings” app, then select “General,” then tap “Reset,” and finally select the “Factory Data Reset” option.

Spyware snooping on your stuff?

One of the most difficult to identify forms of virus on an Android device is spyware. This type of malware lurks behind the scenes and steals your valuable information like passwords and messages. Since this type of malware isn’t in your face like ransomware or adware, it can be difficult to realize that your device is infected. One red flag that spyware may be present on your device is if you find that accounts like your social media profiles or email addresses are being accessed without your knowledge or consent. In some cases, these services will send an alert email if they detect an unusual login. This could be the sign you need to tip you off that something is wrong and your device needs spyware removal. If this happens to you, here’s what you need to do:

  • Like with adware, one of the first steps to take is to install a mobile virus scanner on your device. Choose a trusted name with positive online reviews. These apps can often find and remove malware from your Android device and, in many cases, this single step will solve the problem.
  • If the virus scanner fails to detect anything, you will want to begin deleting any new apps that you may have installed, especially ones that weren’t from the official app store. The challenge with this is that you may not be aware the spyware has been removed because it’s not immediately clear that it was present in the first place.
  • The sure fire method of removing spyware is to do a complete wipe of your device. Before doing this, you will want to backup any important information that you don’t want to lose. Then, to wipe the device and reset it back to factory settings  you can tap on the “Settings” app, then select “General,” then tap “Reset,” and finally select the “Factory Data Reset” option.

Where did all of these apps come from?

If you’re scrolling through the app drawer on your device and you notice a few suspicious apps that you don’t remember installing, then your Android device may have a virus. Some malicious apps have the ability to download and install other apps without a user’s knowledge. It isn’t until you see these apps that you will realize something is wrong. Worst of all, fixing this isn’t as simple as just deleting the unwanted apps. There are a few steps you’ll need to take for virus removal to ensure your device is safe and secure.

  • As with many other Android viruses, one of the best and most simple solutions is to install a trusted Android antivirus app. Once this had identified the offending app, you may still need to delete the other unwanted apps as they may not be marked as malicious.
  • The next step to try if the virus scanner doesn’t identify an issue is to begin deleting new apps and working backwards. Anything suspicious or apps that have been sideloaded (installed from somewhere other than the official app store) should be deleted as well. Once the problem is resolved, you can test other apps by installing them again to see if they were the culprit or not.
  • Your last resort option is to wipe your entire device. Hopefully this is not necessary after removing the app that is allowing new apps to be installed without permission. However, if the problem persists then it indicates that the virus has installed itself into the system files. Failing detection by a virus scanning app means that a factory data reset is the only option. Open the “Settings” app, tap “General,” select “Reset,” and then confirm you would like to complete a factory data reset.

Prevention is the best protection

Finding a virus on your Android device can be alarming and make your privacy feel violated. Luckily, there are some best practices that you can follow to help ensure your device remains free of viruses and, hopefully, you will never need to perform the above steps ever again.

First, avoid installing apps from untrusted or unknown sources. While it’s not completely foolproof, the Play Store does an effective job of screening apps for malicious code and removing those that may introduce malicious code even after they have been initially approved. When you go outside the secure garden of the Play Store to install an app, you are taking a risk. There is no opportunity for Google to verify the quality or security of the app.

You may also wish to download a virus scanner onto your device. This is the first step we recommend for removing a virus but it can also be one of the best ways to prevent a virus from being installed in the first place. Be sure to read reviews and choose a trusted virus scanner that offers regular updates to identify new forms of malware being developed to target Android users.

Finally, never click on links or download files that you’re not sure of. If an email comes with a suspicious link, avoid it. If a file is sent from an unknown sender or if it has a strange file type extension, don’t download it. When in doubt, reach out to the person or company sending the link or file to confirm that it’s legitimate.

These small steps can help protect your Android device from viruses and save you a lot of time, headache, and stress.

How to Delete Your Google History in 2019

How to Delete Your Google History

If you are one of the people who participates in over 3.5 billion Google searches per day,then you likely rely on the popular search engine to answer a wide range of questions. With the growth of things like personal assistant devices and voice search, it’s incredibly easy to get an answer to almost any question that may enter your mind.

What happens after you have processed a search, though? Does it simply disappear into the ether, never to be seen or heard from again? It may come as a shock to many that Google search history can linger on your devices and profiles long after you have received your answer. With privacy concerns becoming top-of-mind for internet users around the world, Google search history has become a popular topic of discussion. This is especially true if you have ever searched sensitive, personal questions like medical or financial topics.

While others can’t easily see what topics you have searched in the past, if you are using a shared device then this search history is readily available for anyone to see. That can be an alarming wake up call. Luckily, there are several methods to purge your Google search history and keep your searches between you and Google.

This article will break down some of the methods you can use across various devices and browsers to clear out your Google search history and take back control of your own privacy. The good news is that these methods are very easy to follow and, with our step-by-step guide, you can delete your Google history in just a few minutes.

Clearing browser history

One of the first steps most people think of when trying to delete their Google history is to delete their browser history. This is a good first step to take but it won’t fully take care of the job if you were hoping to make your Google search history appear empty to others who may be using your device. After you have cleared your browser history, you will want to follow some of the steps further below in this article to make sure you have done a complete cleaning of your Google search history.

One of the most popular browsers is the Google Chrome browser. Here is how you can clear your browser history if you are using Chrome:

  • Near the top right of the browser window, click the three vertical dots to open a selection menu
  • Click on “Settings” to bring up some more advanced options
  • At the bottom, there is a drop down arrow called “Advanced Settings.” Clicking this will offer more options.
  • At the bottom of the “Privacy and Security” menu, there is an option called “Clear Browsing Data”
  • The window that pops up will provide several options. You can choose to clear browsing data from when you began using the browser or select a custom period of time. You can also check off which types of data you would like to be cleared. Clearing cached files will log you out of any accounts where you have asked to remain logged in so please ensure you have all logins saved in a secure password keeper before moving ahead or uncheck this option.
  • Once you are ready, click the “Clear Data” button

If you’re on an Apple device, you probably use the default browser created by Apple called Safari. Here are the details to manage your browser history with Safari:

  • At the top of your browser window there is a “History” option to click on
  • A selection window will pop up and, at the bottom, there is an option to “Clear History”
  • Another window will appear that allows you to select dates, specific browser data, and more
  • Click “Clear History” to confirm your selections. The popup window will also give you the option to delete top sites.

For Firefox users, these are the steps you will want to follow to clear your browser history:

  • Click on the “Library” button that looks like four books stacked against each other
  • Select “History” and then “Clear Recent History”
  • The popup that appears will allow you to set a date range from when you want to clear browser history and you can also select specific types of data you would like to keep or delete
  • When ready, click on the “Clear Now” button

It’s important to keep in mind that this simply deletes the local browser history which may include some searches entered directly in the address or search bar of the browser. However, this is not a clean sweep of Google search history and you will have to take a few more steps to complete the job if you want to truly secure your privacy.

Also, some browsers provide options to automatically clear history at set intervals. If you want to save yourself from regularly performing the above steps, you may wish to take a few minutes to configure your settings to automatically delete browser history as you see fit.

Deleting Google search history and data

Now that you have cleared out your browser history, you have done half of the work required to secure your privacy. The next step is removing your activity from Google. While this information isn’t readily available for anyone to access, people that share devices with you or have access to your Google account will be able to find this information rather easily. The great news is that clearing out this activity history is just as easy.

If you are using a browser, here are the steps to follow:

  • Type this into your browser: https://myaccount.google.com
  • If you are using Chrome, you can also get to this page by using the three dot menu button at the top right of the browser window, selecting “Settings,” and then selecting, “Manage your Google Account”
  • Select “Data and Personalization”
  • Under the “Activity and Timeline” menu you will see a selection called “My Activity” that you can click on
  • There will be a “More” option at the top right which is shown by the three dots
  • Now click “Delete Activity By” and you will see options where you can set a date range to delete your search activity
  • When you have your settings configured the way you want, click on “Delete” to confirm

If you’re on an Android device, you can also delete your Google account activity right from your smartphone or tablet with these steps:

  • Open the “Settings” app on your device
  • Select “Google” and then in the following menu select “Google Account”
  • Now select “Data and Personalization”
  • There will be another window that shows you the option “My Activity” which you can select now
  • At the top right, you will see three dots that offer more options and selecting this will show the option “Delete Activity By”
  • From here, you can set specific date ranges to delete your activity and confirm your choices by selecting “Delete”

If you’re on an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, Google also allows you to manage your search history with these steps:

  • In your browser, go to: https://myaccount.google.com– Gmail users can also access this option by opening the Gmail app, tapping on the menu icon, selecting “Settings,” then “Your Account,” and then selecting “Manage your Google Account”
  • Now you will want to tap on “Data & Personalization”
  • From here you will see the “My Activity” option
  • Three dots will appear at the top right which you can tap on to reveal more options and then select “Delete Activity By”
  • Using this window, you can set date ranges to delete your Google search history and confirm your choice by tapping on “Delete”

If your Google account syncs across multiple devices, you will only need to perform the above steps on one device. As your data is synced with your account, this process only needs to be performed once. There is no need to do it on every single device you own unless each device is connected to a different Google account.

Protecting your privacy moving forward

Now that you have successfully deleted your browser history and Google search data, you’re probably wondering how you can streamline this process in the future and ensure that your data isn’t being seen by the wrong people. There are a few things you can do to protect your privacy and Google search history in the future.

First, if you want to automate the processes outlined above, Google provides options to do so. When you get to the “Manage Activity” tab in the steps for deleting your Google activity history, you can tap on the three dots to reveal advanced options and you will see “Keep Activity For.” This option allows you to set regular intervals where your activity will be cleared out. For example, you could have Google automatically delete your activity once per week if you feel that suits your needs.

If you would prefer that Google didn’t store your activity at all then there is also an option to have them stop altogether. Under the “Data and Personalization” option in the steps outlined above, you will see an option called “Activity Controls.” Within that menu there is another option titled “Manage your activity controls.” By selecting this, you can determine which types of activity you would like Google to save to your account. Turning off various options means that the data you have opted out of will no longer be stored on your Google account.

Using a VPN is also another effective way to secure your privacy when doing Google searches. Because a VPN encrypts your data between your device and the remote VPN server, no one who may be monitoring your web traffic can see what kind of information you’re sending including Google searches. This is especially important for those who tend to log into public wi-fi networks like those found at airports or coffee shops. Hackers with a little bit of know-how can easily monitor these open wi-fi networks for unencrypted data being sent over the network. Using a VPN makes this data impossible for hackers to analyze and, in turn, keeps all of your data secure. This include Google searches, banking information, online shopping history, emails, private messages, and more.

To keep hackers out of your Google account, you may also wish to enable 2-factor authentication. This is an extra step used for logging into your Google account that requires a code to be entered after logging in before any information is available for viewing. The code can be texted to your mobile device or generated using an authenticator app like Google Authenticator. Even if a hacker were to steal your password and username, they would be unable to access your information without the generated code that is delivered to your mobile device.

Sharing devices can also compromise your security. In many cases, for someone to access your search history, they would have to have access to your password. The exception to that rule is when you share devices where you may be logged in with your Google account. A family computer or shared tablet is a good example of this scenario. If you’re concerned about someone accessing your data on shared device then you may wish to create a separate Google account for the device or, if possible, use different devices entirely.

Finally, if you’re very concerned about the amount of data that Google is collecting about you then you could opt to stop using Google services altogether. This is far easier said than done due to the amount of reach that Google has online and with products like Android smartphones. DuckDuckGo is an alternative search engine that markets itself as the privacy-friendly competition to Google. They give users greater control over their own information and their website claims that, “getting the privacy you deserve should be as simple as closing the blinds.” Their search engine offers private searching and a number of privacy tips to help you take complete control over your data in our connected, digital world.

Understanding SSL and Its Importance in 2019

Understanding SSL and Its Importance in 2019

An introduction to SSL and why your website should use this important security feature

Website security has become a hot topic for businesses and consumers alike in recent years. High profile breaches and sensitive information data losses have caused PR nightmares for big names like Equifax, and the damage to their trustworthiness in the eyes of the general public will take years to repair, if ever. It goes without saying that avoiding these types of breaches and security issues is incredibly important if you have a website, especially one that collects customer data, processes online transactions, accepts payments, and shares private messages.

SSL, short for Secure Sockets Layer, is the standard for website security today. Most people interact with websites using an SSL connection on a daily basis and don’t even know it. The simple, tried, tested, and true solution is easy for website owners to implement, and doesn’t change or alter the end user experience.

Of course, while SSL may be simple to use, the technology behind it is anything but. It’s important for you to understand the features, benefits, and potential drawbacks of implementing SSL on your web server before you proceed with the process. This article will help you gain a basic understanding of SSL, as well as why you need to it include it as part of your website’s security technology, and how to move forward with implementation.

What is SSL?

Chances are, if you have done any browsing online today, you have used a website with SSL and you may not even have realized it. The simplest way to tell if a website is using SSL is to look at the address bar. Every website address begins with either “http://” or “https://” and, as you may have been able to guess, that little “s” indicates that the website is using SSL. There is no need for someone visiting the website to do anything to initiate SSL – it just happens.

But what does that little “s” in the address bar actually mean?

Simply put, it means that the data that you are submitting and sharing with the website you are visiting is encrypted and secure. That’s a very important distinction, especially if you are sharing sensitive information like you would on your bank’s website or while purchasing an item through an online store.

When data is encrypted through an SSL protocol, it means that only you and the website owner can read the information. Hackers that are monitoring open wi-fi networks, for example, will not be able to see if you’re submitting a password, credit card number, or private message. In other words, that little “s” near the beginning of a website’s address is a big deal if you’re at all concerned about your privacy online. If you’re operating your own website or multiple domains, people will feel more confident when it comes to sharing information with you if you use SSL. If you don’t use SSL, people may look elsewhere since they won’t feel as though their visit is a secure session.  

2 other ways you can tell if a website is secure are if there’s a green address bar and/or a padlock icon.  And newer versions of popular web browsers like Google Chrome now tell people when a domain name isn’t secure. In fact, a warning message pops up that specifically states that the site they are about to visit is not secure. In order to proceed, people must confirm that they understand they are visiting an unsecure website and wish to proceed anyway. Even if someone has no idea what SSL is and what it does, that warning message can be enough to scare them away and potentially prevent them from ever returning. For you as a website owner, that means lost clicks, lost revenue, and potentially even a damaged reputation.

There are three different types of SSL certificates that you can get depending on your needs and the size of your business. Domain Validation is the first, and most common, type for small businesses. Essentially, this type of certificate just verifies that the website owner is the actual owner on record according to WHOIS information. The simplicity of this certificate may not be enough for high-volume websites but could be the perfect solution for blogs or smaller e-commerce stores. It’s also very easy to obtain this type of certificate, and may even be included in your web hosting plan.

Organization Validated SSL is the second type of certificate available. This certificate goes beyond a basic check of searching WHOIS databases and extends to government databases. What this ultimately does is provide greater assurances to customers and visitors that you are, in fact, the owner of the website and that has been verified with available records. People visiting your website will also be able to hover over the Trust logo site seal and see more information about your organization that they can verify with the information they already have. For security-conscious visitors, this may be the level of SSL required if they plan to do business with you.

Finally, there is EV SSL. This certificate takes longer to obtain and costs more money but offers visitors a very clear indication that the website is safe and secure. The green address bar is the main indicator that a site is using EV SSL and this is typically what you would find on the website of a major corporation or government agency. Verification is done to ensure the business exists physically, and documentation about the business must be provided. For most small to medium sized businesses, this might be an unnecessary level of security and cost but it is good to be aware of all SSL options available.

Why is SSL needed on your website?

Now that you understand what SSL does, it’s important to understand why it’s needed. At its most basic level, SSL is necessary to prevent hackers from monitoring the information your visitors send you, as well as the information you send back to your website’s visitors. Without SSL, customer credit card information could be stolen, passwords could be compromised, and personal information could be leaked.

While this would not directly be your fault, who do you think the average user will blame if their credit card is compromised after shopping on your website?

SSL is about more than just security for website owners, though. While its basic function is to encrypt data and provide that confidence to people visiting the website, it can also have a huge impact on your search engine results. Since search engines like Google have identified SSL as an important feature for websites to have, they put a significant emphasis on promoting websites with SSL in their search results. After all, Google wants to be a trusted search engine much like you want to have a trusted website.

The algorithms that search engines use are based on proprietary information that is not available to the public. We do know, however, that websites using SSL are more likely to appear near the top of Google’s search results. This means that by simply introducing a basic security feature, you could also improve your search engine rankings. And the importance of ranking highly on search engines can’t be understated. In fact, as many as 92% of search engine usersclick on results they see on the first page.

This is especially important if you’re trying to build a popular website that ranks highly on Google. Many website owners put a tremendous amount of effort into using the right keywords, building effective content, and designing eye-catching modern websites in hopes of organically ranking in one of the coveted top 3 spots on Google. Unfortunately, all of that hard work, time, and money will be a complete waste if your website security is not up to Google’s standards. In this context, that means integrating SSL into your website.

Is SSL available for phones as well?

One of the most common questions about SSL is how it integrates with mobile devices. After all, about half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices. If your website doesn’t consider these potential visitors, then you could potentially alienate an awful lot of people.

The good news is that SSL certificate sare valid for both desktop and mobile devices. By integrating SSL into your website, you are ensuring that both desktop and mobile users enjoy an industry standard of Internet security while browsing.

Some web hosting providers have had challenges in the past with SSL certificates not working properly on mobile devices. In situations like this, visitors see a message that says the website is not secure. Thankfully, this can usually be fixed quickly simply by contacting your hosting provider. Most reputable providers have already stepped up to address this challenge so that it’s not longer an issue.  If you want to be sure that your SSL certificate is working on mobile, you can quickly and easily perform an SSL check using any number of free services available online.

How to get an SSL certificate

There are several ways to get an SSL certificate based on your unique needs. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ensure that your web hosting provider includes SSL as a feature. This is one of the most common ways for small businesses and e-commerce stores to acquire and activate an SSL certificate. If your web host does not provide SSL certificates as part of your baseline hosting package or as an add-on, you can easily purchase one through an outside 3rd party.  Cloudflare and DigiCert are two of the most popular and reliable digital certificate providers.

If you are considering a third-party SSL certificate provider then you may want to do some research to see the various price levels available, the reviews for the companies in the market, the level of support offered including managed or self-installation, supported browsers including mobile browsers, whether a site seal is offered to display to visitors, and more.

There are free SSL certificates available and these may meet your needs but there are some notable downsides to choosing a free option over a paid service. For example, free certificates usually only offer Domain Validated SSL rather than the higher tier options. In addition, these free certificates will have to manually be installed and implemented which may require more technical know-how than some website owners have. Plus, support tends to be lacking as the free SSL certificate providers leave much of the work up to the user.

If you’re looking for an Organization Validated SSL certificate or an EV SSL certificate then you will likely have to opt for a paid service and, in that case, you should consider all other included features like support, and the level of security provided if you are planning on putting down your hard-earned money. If you need to cover more than just one domain name, that should also be a consideration as you compare the various options on the market as some certificates may only be valid for a single domain and a multi-domain certificate may be more costly up-front but end up saving money in the long run.

How to integrate SSL into your website

Now that you understand the importance of SSL, you need to actually integrate it into your website.  The good news is that the process is simple and, in many cases, you may not have to do much at all.

First, you’ll need to have a dedicated IP address for hosting your website. This is usually a nominal extra cost on top of your basic website hosting plan, and higher tier plans often include this as a standard feature. If you are unsure, reach out to your webhost’s customer service department to clarify if this feature is included in the plan you already have, or are thinking about purchasing.

Next, you’ll need to purchase an SSL certificate, and depending on the certificate type, submit all the required information to the Certificate Authority. Be sure to reference all of the guidelines outlined above as you’re evaluating your options. 

Once the certificate is purchased, you’ll need to activate it. Typically, if you have purchased an SSL certificate through your hosting provider, then the activation process will automatically be done for you. You’ll want to check with customer service to confirm this, however.  If this isn’t a standard service that’s offered, you can usually activate your certificate through the advanced security settings tab in the administration panel of your hosting provider.

Installing the certificate is the final step. If your hosting provider did go ahead and automatically activate your certificate, then this step is likely already completed for you as well. If not, the installation can be done through the administration panel for your website as well. It’s important to note that this step cannot be completed until the certificate has been activated.

While that may seem like a lot of work, the reality is that many hosting providers do a lot of the legwork for you when you purchase a hosting plan from them. In fact, in most cases, all you will have to do is ensure that SSL is a part of the plan you are purchasing, and then sit back and enjoy improved website security.

WordPress plugins for SSL

If you are like the millions of website owners that use WordPress, you may be wondering if there are any helpful plugins that can make enabling and integrating SSL into your website quick and easy. And the good news is that there are several plugins you can use that’ll make your WordPress website more secure.

Really Simple SSL is a plugin that eliminates the most common challenges associated with SSL implementation. With just one click, you can enable SSL on your website and and take advantage of basic settings that make it easy to manage the certificate itself, as well as your sites security. A Pro version of the plugin is also available, which provides additional features and options for advanced users that need more control over their website security.

Easy HTTPS Redirection is another WordPress plugin that simplifies the process of SSL integration and configuration. Since many of your website’s pages may not need SSL, this plugin allows you to pick and choose the pages that do, and quickly enable SSL on them as needed. Examples of pages where you would want SSL protection would include login pages, webstore checkout pages, and contact pages.

WP Force SSL also makes adding SSL a breeze. With a few clicks, you can have your website’s pages redirect to a secure connection. It’s important to note, however, that this plugin does lack many advanced options, and may not be the ideal choice if you’re looking for a lot of control, as well as customizability options.

SSL Insecure Content Fixer doesn’t actually provide an SSL, but makes important fixes and quality of life improvements to ensure that the experience users have on your website is not negatively affected by SSL encryption. It’s a great addition to your arsenal since it works seamlessly in tandem with other SSL plugins.

Better security, better search results, better customer experiences

SSL is an essential tool for website owners. The experience provided to your visitors is directly affected by whether or not you have enabled SSL. Plus, with search engines placing a greater emphasis on SSL, the success of your online marketing efforts may be directly linked to whether or not you have SSL.

As security concerns become more top of mind for the average Internet user, basic features like SSL implementation are quickly becoming the industry norm. Your client experience and your reputation as a business will soon be dependent on addressing security concerns and providing a secure, encrypted browsing experience from start to finish.

An In-Depth Guide to Torrenting

An In-Depth Guide to Torrenting and How to Ensure Your Safety, Security, and Privacy

Torrenting has come under increased scrutiny in recent years as content producers look to take greater control over how their content is shared online. This includes lobbying for new laws to be established that address online sharing, as well as a push for improved enforcement of existing laws.

Since each country has its own laws and regulations regarding sharing content online, the question of, “is torrenting legal?” is a difficult one to answer. There are a lot of varying regulations and grey areas to consider.

In this article, we will look at some of the rules surrounding torrenting, and help you better understand how torrenting may affect you.

What is torrenting?  How does torrenting work?

First, it’s important to understand what torrenting actually is. On a basic level, torrenting is a method of downloading a file like a movie or television series. It’s important to note, however, that torrenting isn’t like downloading a file directly from a webstore. Instead of using a single point for people to download from, torrenting is a form of peer-to-peer file sharing that can use a number of sources to help complete a file download.

The advantage of torrent websites and torrenting is that the file is split up into multiple smaller pieces that can be delivered much more quickly by people that already own the file (called seeders), verses downloading a large file from a single source. Some popular torrents can have hundreds or even thousands of seeders helping send parts of files to users who are downloading the file. In fact, 22% of all upstream traffic on the Internet today can be attributed to torrenting.

While torrenting can be used to download files that are perfectly legitimate and legal, there are many cases where people share copyrighted content which can run afoul of certain copyright law. This is done by providing a magnet link, which people can input into their torrent platform of choice. This connects seeders and hosts with people interested in downloading the file. Once the download is complete, that person can then become a seeder depending on their own settings, and then help others download the same file for themselves.

Is torrenting safe?

One very common question about torrenting is whether it’s actually safe. To be clear, the actual mechanisms of torrenting are safe, and there are perfectly legitimate reasons to torrent and share files, especially if the file is large and is available in the public domain. The challenge with safety as it relates to torrenting comes stems from the people who are distributing the files.

Cyber criminals use torrents as a method of distributing malware to unsuspecting users because it’s open source. This is especially true with very popular torrents, like the new Game of Thrones season, which saw over 400,000 torrents being shared for some episodes. With that kind of popularity and download volume, hackers can target a large number of users with just a few infected files being shared.

So, how can you protect yourself from these kinds of attacks through torrent files?

Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot of due diligence on your part.  First, you should always look at the type of file being shared. So, for example, an audio file should be in an .mp3 format or other standard audio format. Seeing a file with a .exe or .zip extension is a dead giveaway that the torrent may actually be malware rather than the audio file it claims to be.

Using an anti-malware software that allows you to scan files before opening them is another good option. This will help you identify malware before the file is opened and able to distribute itself on your system.

Another great way to keep yourself safe while torrenting is to view the uploader’s history and reviews. Most torrent sites require uploaders to have a profile that other users can rate. New users and/or users with bad ratings should be avoided.

At the end of the day, there’s no way to sugar coat things: torrenting can be very risky. Putting some basic security practices into place can reduce the risk significantly, however.

Is torrenting legal?

Depending on where you live, the answer to this question could be yes,no, or maybe. The challenge related to the legality of torrenting largely stems from the varying laws that are in place around the world, and the confusion that these different laws can cause.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that torrenting itself is not illegal, and there are perfectly legitimate reasons for torrenting that do not run afoul of any laws. The question of legality tends to come up when people are discussing copyrighted materials like television shows, music, and movies.

So to break it down into the most simplistic terms, torrenting itself is not illegal, but the type of content being torrented is what often makes the entire process illegal.

In most countries around the world, pirating copyrighted material is against the law, and the consequences can range from a slap on the wrist to serious fines. Depending on severity and location, some people who torrent may even face jail time.

In several countries, Internet service providers are tasked with monitoring for pirated content being downloaded or shared. The consequences of being caught include having a letter sent to your home, having your Internet speed throttled, getting your service agreement cancelled, and potential legal action.

It’s incredibly rare for individual users to be targeted for legal action, but there are some exceptions to that rule. People who share a large number of torrents to their peers online may become a target for legal action since they aren’t just downloading copyrighted content, but they are also helping to distribute it.

When it comes to the legality of torrenting, it will ultimately come down to the type of content being torrented and the copyright laws where you live. It would be wise to take some time to familiarize yourself with local laws so that you can better understand the legal risks of torrenting.

Streaming vs Torrenting

Streaming and torrenting are 2 ways to enjoy content online. There are some important differences between the two, however. As previously discussed, torrenting is a form of peer-to-peer downloading. Once the download is complete, the files are on your device to enjoy whenever you wish.

Streaming, on the other hand, occurs when you connect to a single streaming service or platform. With streaming, the file is hosted on another server and you simply watch the content instead of downloading a file.

Depending on the jurisdiction, there are many legal differences between streaming and torrenting. Again, this will comes down to the local laws in your country. Also keep in mind that laws can – and often do – change over time. So while streaming may currently be legal where you live, it may not remain that way in the future.

Services like Netflix are a paid form of streaming where things like TV shows and movies have been officially licensed. There is no legal risk to using a service like this. Unofficial streaming providers could pose a legal risk if you choose to use their services, however.

With legal streaming services, the content available is limited. This is due to the licensing agreements in place. Services like Netflix and Hulu can only pay so much money for programming and they must compete with each other to secure programming. What this means is that everything you want to watch is unlikely to be available from a single streaming provider, and you’ll need to sign up for multiple services.

What happens if I get caught torrenting?

The risks of being caught torrenting vary from country to country. There are, however, some basic consequences to be on the lookout for when torrenting that may indicate you’ve been caught in the act.

The first indicator is often some form of contact from your Internet service provider (ISP). They will usually send a letter or email stating that you have been torrenting. In some cases, they may even know which file you were torrenting. This letter usually concludes with a request to stop torrenting.

If you continue, you may find that your Internet connection speeds are adversely affected. Internet service providers don’t appreciate the amount of bandwidth that torrenting takes up on their network.  As such, they try to identify people who are torrenting and place caps on their Internet speeds. This makes downloading torrents incredibly slow. The idea is that since it’ll be so inconvenient to download the files, the behavior will stop.

In some cases, an actual copyright holder may send a letter or initiate legal action against you if you’re caught torrenting or sharing their content. This will usually begin with a settlement offer, and may progress to an actual court case, which can rack up thousands of dollars in fees and fines.  Legal action is rare, but certainly not unheard of. People who share a lot of content are at an increased risk of actually being taken to court for their actions.

Ultimately, if you get caught torrenting, it could affect your ability to enjoy the Internet, and may even put a target on your back for legal action. This is obviously not an ideal outcome, so it’s important to protect yourself.

What are copyright trolls?

One of the biggest risks of getting caught torrenting is becoming the target of a copyright troll. These are copyright holders, or companies hired to represent copyright holders, that try to earn settlements against people who have torrented their content. The methods that they use are why many people refer to them as “trolls.”

These people know that the likelihood of getting a significant judgment against someone who occasionally torrents content is rare. They are also aware that the penalties for this will not amount to much. They use alarming messaging and professionally written letters, however, to try and scare people into settling a case before it goes to court. These letters are often sent through the Internet service provider since copyright trolls often only know the IP address of the person doing the torrenting, but not their actual identity.

The letters sent will often quote the type of content that was downloaded and cite the maximum penalty for copyright violation. This amount can be scary for a lot of people, but in reality, thoe maximum penalties are often reserved for people and/or companies committing commercial-scale copyright infringement as opposed to personal use infringement. Simply put, these letters are meant to scare people and make them act quickly without stopping to think.

In the letter, after quoting the maximum penalty for going to court, copyright trolls will typically offer a reduced settlement amount, which will prevent the case from going to court. In most cases, the copyright troll does not know the name or the address of the offender, and these letters can simply be ignored. This is expected, however. They know that only a fraction of people will pay the settlement fee and, for them, this is a better use of time than actually taking people to court.

This is not to say that a copyright troll will not escalate a case and take someone to court. It has happened in the past and will happen a lot more in the future if laws are changed to further benefit copyright holders. In most cases, the chances that a copyright troll will actually take you to court are minimal. If the letter seems vague and does not include any identifying personal information, you can probably ignore it.  Just keep in mind that you were caught, and need to take action to ensure that you aren’t caught again.

How to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) while torrenting

A VPN is one of the best ways to ensure your online privacy, and torrenting is one activity that can greatly benefit from the use of a VPN.

VPNs connect you to remote servers, and create an encrypted tunnel between you and the remote server. By doing so, the information that’s passed through the tunnel can’t be seen by copyright trolls, Internet service providers, or even law enforcement.

As a result, no one can tell what the data actually is, which means you can torrent and no one will ever know. What’s more, there are no laws against using a VPN in most countries, so you can feel confident that you are protecting your privacy legally and avoiding some of the nasty surprises associated with torrenting without a VPN.

The best VPNs also provide an extra layer of protection thanks to their remote servers. Since you are connecting to a remote server, your IP address is not actually the one making the request to other servers. This means that your IP address is protected, since the remote server’s IP address is actually the one making the request. It’s just one more piece of the security puzzle that makes a VPN a fantastic tool if you want to ensure your privacy online, regardless of what you’re doing.

Ultimately, if you are planning on torrenting, it would be wise to consider using a VPN. The privacy protection from copyright trolls and your Internet service provider will ensure that you enjoy uninterrupted service at full speeds, without the risk of copyright trolls trying to take your money.

The In’s and Out’s of Webcam Hacking

The In’s and Out’s of Webcam Hacking

What is webcam hacking?

Webcam hacking occurs when hackers gain access to the cameras on electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, CCTVs, baby monitors, home surveillance and home security systems, tablets, and PCs. Hackers then use this backdoor channel to your devices to gain complete control of your devices, steal information, or simply spy on you without your consent.

Should you be concerned about webcam spying?

A study conducted by the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland found that a hacker attack takes place every 39 seconds. With a record 200 billion devices estimated to be connected to the Internet by 2020, hackers have an open field to target unsuspecting individuals who aren’t tech savvy and spy on them remotely through their own devices. Macs and Microsoft-based operating systems are not immune, nor are iPhones and Android phones.

The webcam hacking epidemic is a growing concern, even amongst the most tech savvy of individuals. In fact, former FBI Director James Comey has admitted to putting tape over his computer camera when it’s not in use.

Being watched without your knowledge by people who don’t know you - or who do know you, in some cases - is a blatant breach of your privacy. Whether you have anything to hide or not is of little consequence. NSA leaks have already confirmed that the US government has back channel links to all iPhone and Blackberry cameras and microphones, which means Big Brother is watching you 24/7, and listening in to all your conversations.

How does that make you feel?

How does webspam hacking work? How do people hack you?

Simply being connected to the Internet makes any device vulnerable to hacking. If you have cameras on these devices and no anti-malware software to check for security breaches, the software that regulates your camera and facilitates its functions is susceptible to being compromised.

Here are the most popular ways hackers illegally break into webcams and spy on your devices:

1. Weak passwords

Software programs that guess passwords are a dime a dozen, and can easily break into devices that use 123456, qwerty, and other passwords on similar lines. These are lines of code that run on backend channels, and are programmed to decode dictionary words and popular number combinations that people use as passwords. Once they hit the right word and number combination, like qwerty123, your login credentials are compromised and your account information is accessible to hackers.

2. Malware

Malicious pieces of code, also known as Malware, are programmed to:

  • Embed themselves in your device under the radar without your knowledge
  • Operate silently in the background
  • Exploit a lot of information about your device’s software

Malware is routinely spread via popular downloads. Wallpapers, pictures of celebrities, .exe files for basic functions, and browser plugins from questionable sources may all contain malware that is innocently downloaded onto your system and gives hackers access to your webcam.

3. Botnets

Botnets are groups of computers with disreputable intentions that regularly search web properties to target software flaws in a website’s code, as well as online databases and operating systems. Botnets then use these lapses in software security protocols and manual errors to their advantage. This results in sneaky, and sometimes even hostile, takeovers of such properties. Once compromised, the botnet can access files that contain usernames and password logs of customers, and use this information to further hack thousands of users, as well as gain control of their digital devices.

OF NOTE: this is why using the same password across different websites is discouraged. It makes your device easier to hack, if even one of the apps or sites you are registered on is compromised.

4. Remote Access Trojans (RATs)

Remote Access Trojans, also known as Remote Administration Tools, are software programs that let someone control your device remotely from afar, which makes them very hard to track. Hackers that use RATs don’t need to be near you to hack your devices. The Trojan software they use to hack is inserted in freenet files, bit torrents, and P2P file transfers on platforms like Bearshare, Kazaa and Limewire. When you download any files from these sources, the Trojan software is sneakily installed on your device, and then runs in the background silently. This allows hackers to watch your activities, spy on you through your webcam, listen in on your conversations through your mic, and read data stored on your system.

Who is spying on your webcam? Who is behind webcam hacking attacks?

Most hackers are just regular individuals with a solid understanding of software security protocols and operating system vulnerabilities. While the probability of someone close to you hacking your webcam is rare, it isn’t unheard of. Hackers are usually random people who direct their efforts at any and every device connected to the Internet.

Basic dictionary scripts, which are simple lines of code, are freely available on the Internet and can easily be accessed by novices and kids trying to act cool. These are unsophisticated attacks that try to decipher weak passwords to gain control of your device cameras.

Then there are recreational hackers who aren’t looking to spy on you, but won’t hesitate to help others accomplish this goal by relying on their technical knowhow. They might not benefit directly from access to your webcams, but they most definitely aren’t above exploiting the information collected for gains like social media notoriety, or to teach a lesson to big corporations. Your privacy breach matters little to them at the end of the day.

Professional hackers are the ones that you need to be weary of. These are individuals who hack with a purpose, which include things like:

  • Selling the information acquired to make a quick buck
  • Bullying people online to do their bidding
  • Hacking on behalf of paid clients to settle personal scores
  • Creating live video feed links for others to watch you for free, in real-time, while they monetize such feeds with ads
  • Using your camera to gain access to your device and turn it into a crypto mining machine
  • Recording you in compromising positions to blackmail you
  • Stealing information from your device like credit card numbers, passwords to confidential accounts, banking details, sensitive pictures, videos, and other classified information, either to steal money or gain the upper hand on people in positions of power.
  • Using numerous cameras to drive a high volume of traffic to specific websites in the form of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks in an attempt to take them down. This is usually done to try and censor their activities and/or blackmail them.
  • Hack business websites to collect client information, proprietary trade secrets, audit files, business statistics and internal communications. In fact, according to Juniper Research, in 2019 alone, businesses will lose approximately $2 trillion due to cyber security attacks by hackers.

In addition to individuals, private organizations, rival businesses, government organizations, and disgruntled social media warriors groups could also be spying on you.

Real life examples of webcam hacking

The Toronto webcam hacking case

In August 2015, a 27 yea- old woman in Toronto was photographed watching Netflix with her boyfriend. Hackers later shared these images with her through her Facebook account. Remote Access Trojans were used to compromise her webcam and manipulate it remotely. Although the Toronto Police were informed and involved, investigations were inconclusive in leading to the actual source of the Trojans. This should serve as a chilling and creepy reminder to always keep your webcams covered and secure.

The OVH webcam DDoS attack

In September 2016, cloud computing firm OVH reported a concentrated DDoS attack on its servers by 145,607 cameras and DVRs, which sent over 1.5 terabytes per second of traffic to its website. These were regular cameras from compromised devices of unsuspecting individuals who unknowingly had malware-infested devices with remotely controlled webcams. While the people who were hacked were not harmed directly in this case, they were unwitting accomplices in a cyber security crime aimed at a corporate firm.

The software hacker from Ohio

In January 2018, Phillip Durachinsky, a 28 year-old programmer from Ohio was indicted on 16 counts of identity theft, cyber violations, and fraud in breach of the federal Wiretap Act. Durachinsky did not discriminate between his victims, and targeted individuals working in schools, corporations, small businesses, and government entities. Durachinsky installed malware on computers and then spied via webcams, created a database of child pornography, and stole information, including passwords, identities, tax records, pictures, videos, medical records, and anything useful he could get his hands on. He had been at it for 13 years before the FBI finally caught him.

These disparate cases are proof that nobody is safe from cyber hackers and webcam spying. Which brings us to the question of how to prevent webcam hacking? What steps can you take to stop your webcam from being compromised?

Precautions you can take today against webcam spying

  1. The simplest and easiest way to prevent webcam spying is to simply cover your device cameras with masking tape when the camera is not in use. While this isn’t always feasible, it’s the safest option.
  2. Use strong passwords. For as tempting as it may be, do not use the same passwords across different web properties. While this isn’t a failsafe measure, it keeps you safer from amateur hacking attempts, which make up a majority of cyber attacks.
  3. Do not download software, pictures, or other files from random sites. Only trust software from official sources. So, for example, only download Adobe products like Acrobat Reader directly from the official Adobe site, and not from random software download sites online. Beware of malware on peer-to-peer sites and bit torrents.
  4. Always logout from online sessions when you’re done. Idle data transfer sessions when you’re logged in to things like your bank account online make it easier for hackers to inject suspicious data packets alongside regular file transfers, which can capture the session and be used to gain access to your cameras and microphones.
  5. Keep your anti-virus software up to date. Install software security patches as soon as they are released. Keep your operating systems current as well.
  6. Restrict webcam access by modifying the settings on your device. Only allow trusted IPs to access your webcam. Do not allow unrestricted webcam access to all apps on your devices or the websites you visit.
  7. Use proxy servers and VPNs, which greatly reduce the chances that your camera will be hacked.

Stay vigilant. If you see the webcam LED blinking even when you aren’t using the camera, immediately cover it up, disconnect the device from the Internet, and reset your webcam settings.  From there, uninstall suspicious apps and recent downloads. If everything else fails, reset your device to factory settings. 

Frequently asked questions about webcam security and hacking

Can hackers see me via my computer camera?

Yes. And your webcam LED might not always turn on to indicate that the camera is in use.

Can they listen to my phone calls?

Hacking webcams is often used as a gateway to gain partial or total device control. If this is what the hacker intends to do, then your microphone is also vulnerable and it won’t be difficult to record videos and your calls,  as well as listen in on your conversations.

Are they monitoring my Facebook messages?

If your camera is compromised and acts as a gateway to other apps and controls on your device, and you are logged in to your FB account, then yes.

Facebook demands total access to your device’s camera and microphone in its Terms of Service. Users must accept these conditions to install and use the app on their digital devices. Facebook has allegedly been using your camera to record your activities. Some experts claim that the social media giant tracks the content you look at so that it can serve more of what keeps you engaged, as well as accesses your microphone to record your conversations so that more targeted ads can be served.

Can hackers access the camera on my phone?

Yes. All cameras that are embedded in devices connected to the Internet like laptops, smartphones, CCTVs, baby monitors, and home security cameras, as well as IoT devices like refrigerators, washing machines and DVRs, are susceptible to hacking.

Is my webcam spying on me? How can I tell if my webcam has been compromised?

It could be. Does the webcam LED blink even when you’re not using it? If yes, then someone else is controlling it and possibly spying on you.

Apart from that, if you notice suspicious activity logs on your laptop and/or mobile phone, vanishing funds from your bank accounts (even in small sums), opened emails or messages that you never saw before, then something is awry and you should take immediate action.

Can webcam hacking be prevented?

Yes, there are several precautionary measures you can take to avoid being and easy victim of webcam hacking, which we’ve outlined above.  Beyond that, software technology is constantly changing and evolving, so what’s secure today might be easily compromised tomorrow. Stay sharp and beware.

On a simpler note, you can always disconnect from the Internet, which will terminate the connection that’s being used to spy on you.

Is it possible to hack my laptop through my webcam?

Yes. Trojan spyware can use webcam hacking as a getaway to further explore your laptop’s software vulnerabilities, as well as access other applications like music players and browsers. In severe cases, hackers can use it to gain total control of your laptop.

Can my CCTV camera be hacked?

A Google search for ‘How to Hack a CCTV camera’ returns 20,80,000 results in 0.5 seconds. If you think at least one of those links doesn’t lead you to a proper guide to CCTV camera hacking, it’s time to log off, shut down, and stay away from the Internet for good.

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