Nov 12, 2019 | Updated: 11:29 AM EDT

5 free online security tools to try out in 2019

May 08, 2019 09:45 AM EDT

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Cybercrime is on the rise, particularly in the enterprise sector. The incidences of malware, such as Trojans and ransomware are constantly growing and there have been a number of high-profile security breaches and data attacks on huge organisations. Remember the infamous WannaCry attacks? Let's put it into context.

- 43% of businesses have experienced a cyber attack in the past year and on a daily basis -

- 780,000 data records are stolen

- 80 billion malicious scans are recorded on ISPs

- More than 24,000 malicious apps are blocked

In fact, it's estimated that by 2021, cybercrime will cost the world economy a mind-boggling £4.6 trillion! (Source: Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2018)

What are the potential threats?

The scale of cybercrime may be daunting but the sheer variety of malicious attacks is also shocking. They can be broadly grouped into five main categories:

- Cyberstalking - including snooping and spying

- Hacking including data and financial theft

- Online identity theft

- Online abuse (e.g. trolling)

- Ransomware attacks

- Online scams such as phishing.

The online world can be a dangerous place - but only if you aren't protected. The good news is that you can protect yourself with the right tools and technologies - and they don't even need to be expensive. In fact, there are some excellent free tools that are available.

Five of the best free online security tools

VPNs

A Virtual Private Network protects you by adding a small piece of software onto your device - whether a laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet.

You simply activate it before you go online and it offers you total privacy and confidentiality - in fact, it's as though you were never even online in the first place. Each VPN service offers something slightly different, but all essentially provide a secure data 'tunnel' through which your data passes. Most encrypt it too.

VPNs have strict no-log privacy policies in most cases, use servers across the world to allow you to mask your IP address and location and also have features such as kill switches, which instantly end your internet connection if the VPN protection drops, even for a second. Remember, a second is all it takes for a malware virus to attack!

Two-factor Authentication

With two-factor authentication, you log on to your private account with your username and password as usual, and then provide an additional code, either via a prompt key sent to your smartphone or via a dedicated authentication device.

This provides a high level of security - so much so that it's now being introduced across the financial services industry. Even if a cybercriminal can access your log-in details and password, they won't have your physical second-layer authentication device to complete the log-on.

McAfee Security Scan Plus

This virus checker provides a free diagnostic which actively checks your device to check that all software is up to date for firewalls, web security and virus protection. This way, you always know that your software is protected and up to date. Out of date software is one of the main weak spots that cybercriminals take advantage of to hack into user accounts.

The software just runs quietly in the background and you can schedule checks. It alerts you if it finds anything and will direct you to a McAfee product to fix the problem. Other great free virus scanner software packages are Avast and Kaspersky Free.

InSpectre

Have you heard of the Meltdown and Spectre bugs? They are designed to attack your CPU and only a few computers are immune from them. Adding updates and patches to your OS will slow it down - but an unprotected Intel CPU is a huge vulnerability. Microsoft has a tool that checks for Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, but it's a bit clumsy to use.

However, InSpectre is free, simple and very intuitive. It does an instant scan and tells you if your CPU needs to be protected from the bugs. It also tells you if any patch has already been applied or if an update can be made.

Ad-blocker with Disconnect

When you're browsing online, adverts, social networks, analytics and other pieces of software track your every move. This great free add-on allows you to see exactly what's tracking you, and take action accordingly. By seeing these sites and blocking them, Disconnect says it can speed up your browser time by 44pc.

It also improves your security online, by preventing any invisible trackers that aren't affiliated with social networks or ads (you can also block adverts entirely, but its the invisible and unaffiliated trackers that you want to be wary of.) The screen allows you to whitelist content that you are happy to see and download and to block anything you don't want to see, such as those rogue anonymous trackers.

In summary

There are plenty of other great free tools online too, but if you can get a VPN in place, scan your security software to check it's up to date and consider an ad-blocker, you're already well on the way to making your online activities more secure.

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