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Online Privacy Threats You Might Not Have Heard Of

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Online Privacy Threats You Might Not Have Heard Of

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When it comes to online privacy, some of the key threats we face have become familiar terms. Most of us now know what phishing is and have heard that spyware could be hiding in the shadows, but there are plenty of new and emerging threats that haven’t yet had their share of publicity. From WebRTC leaks to IP spoofing, lesser-known threats can pose a serious threat to your privacy online and there are plenty that you should be aware of. This article will identify what some of the most important ones are, as well as offering advice on how to protect yourself against them.

Threat #1: WebRTC leaks

What is it? WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is an open source tool that allows browsers to form real-time connections with websites. It is particularly useful with audio and video apps – making them run more smoothly and without the need for plug-ins.

If you’re using a VPN (virtual private network) to browse privately, you may not be aware that in some browsers, WebRTC works outside of that VPN. This means your IP address may be visible to third parties despite the protection you thought you had in place.

How do I protect myself?

First, run a WebRTC leak checker to see if your IP is visible. While some web browsers have settings or third-party extensions which allow you to prevent WebRTC leaks, most of the fixes include turning off WebRTC entirely. Unfortunately, this means you won’t be able to use online services such as Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger that need it in order to function.

The ideal fix is to use a quality VPN which ensures you don’t leak your IP address even if WebRTC is running, either by including built-in leak protection or a kill switch that can cut your connection if data is put at risk of exposure.

Threat #2: IP spoofing

What is it? IP spoofing sees an attacker ‘impersonate’ another machine by manipulating its IP address. The method is quite technical and involves the attacker modifying the packet header with a forged or spoofed source IP address, a checksum and the order value. IP spoofing is used to carry out attacks such as Service Denial and Man-in-The-Middle (MITM) attacks.

A MITM IP spoof could be anything from simply reading your emails to intercepting and amending data, so that a payment goes to the hacker’s account instead of yours.

How do I protect myself? There are a few methods to reduce your vulnerability to IP spoofing, but many are designed for large business networks who can block private IPs and restrict access to only authenticated parties. For a home user simply trying to surf the internet, it can all feel a bit complicated.

Two handy tools for reducing the risk of IP spoofing are two-factor authentication (2FA) setups and the aforementioned VPN. 2FA means that if a third party does use a modified IP to try and access your files and data, they’ll still be blocked by the need to enter secondary authentication, such as a numerical pin or password. A VPN can help by not only hiding your IP address entirely, but also adding end-to-end encryption to your data so that it can’t be intercepted and modified.

Threat #3: Drive-by downloads

What is it? The unintentional download of malicious code to a device that makes you vulnerable to attack. Drive-by downloads are named as such because victims don’t need to click or download anything accidentally for the attack to work. Attackers take advantage of un-updated apps, operating systems or web browsers which have security flaws.

This may seem like more of a security issue than a privacy issue, but a drive-by download can install spyware on your device – leaving you tracked by a keylogger or browser hijacker, among other things.

How do I protect myself?

  1. Be cautious of using obscure, unofficial looking websites and stick to trusted sources
  2. Update your apps and operating system
  3. Invest in antivirus and keep it up to date
  4. Use an ad-blocker, as attackers often use online ads to transfer viruses
  5. Audit your apps. You may have software that poses threats, which you either don’t use anymore or didn’t even know you had.

Threat #4: Unpatched software

What is it? Unpatched simply means not up to date. The key to this threat is that software updates generally include new patches for holes that have been identified in device security. From the moment the updates are released, hackers can reverse-engineer attacks based on those new security measures.

Sometimes it feels like everything from your phone’s operating system to your antivirus needs constant updates, but it’s for good reason. Technology evolves quickly and what protects you today may not be able to protect you tomorrow.

How do I protect myself?

Always allow software to update when requested. It can also be worth fully booting down your device every so often to make sure updates happen, but whatever you do, don’t just snooze new update alerts or avoid them altogether.

Threat #5: Pharming

What is it? Similar to phishing, this complicated attack manipulates a website’s traffic to steal confidential information. A website is hacked and traffic is diverted to a fake or imposter site that then deploys malware on the user’s machine, or harvests personal and financial information.

How do I protect myself?

Install good quality anti-malware and antivirus software and keep it up to date. Also, get smart about computing practices; avoid suspicious websites and never click on links in emails from unknown sources.

Even when you’re visiting what seem to be familiar sites, be aware of any unusual changes. If a site starts asking for information that it doesn’t usually request, or displays as HTTP when it’s usually HTTPS, think twice before entering personal details.

Note: Some of the names, addresses, email addresses and telephone numbers in email samples on this website may have been impersonated.

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Online Privacy Threats You Might Not Have Heard Of