5 essential yet underused cybersecurity tools

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. And this year’s campaign theme is “See Yourself in Cyber.” 
To Incogni – a data privacy service introduced by Surfshark, it means helping individuals learn about and, more importantly, actually use the best cybersecurity tools and practices out there in 2023.

Our research shows:

  • 74.1% of our user base had heard of Antivirus but only 57.6% use it.
  • Only 31% of internet users have ever used a VPN
  • More than 40% of users are not using Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
  • More than 75% of internet users are re-using the same password for different websites at least once

Incogni’s findings reveal that there is a disconnect between the percentage of people who are aware of these cybersecurity tools and the percentage of people who use them. We do not have an answer why so few people use these tools, despite knowing about them, but we can highlight the consequences of this discrepancy. 

To help close that gap, Our resident cybersecurity expert Aleksandr Valentij shares a list of some of the most essential cybersecurity tools and software and why everyone should be using them in 2023.

To be clear, this isn’t a list ranking competing software, but rather the types of software everyone needs to protect their online privacy and security

Want to “See Yourself in Cyber?” Think of this as a checklist:

1. Password manager – a foolproof safe for passwords

Passwords are the first line of defense against unauthorized access to personal information and accounts. But how safe are they?

Simple passwords can be cracked almost instantly or within a few minutes. But surprisingly, even complex passwords with 8 characters, upper and lower cases, special symbols, and numbers can still be cracked within 8 hours

If you increase the length to 18 characters, however, it becomes functionally uncrackable, even by the best hackers. But who can remember even one 18-character password, never mind many?

“More than 75% of internet users are re-using the same password on many websites at least once. No wonder this happens, because nowadays you have to remember too many passwords. The bitter truth is that a hacker needs to steal your password from the weakest website and he will get access to your much more sensitive accounts, like your bank, social media, cloud storage, etc. So your memory needs help.” Valentij warns. 

This is where a password manager comes in. You can create long, complicated, unique passwords for everything, and you don’t have to memorize any of them (other than your master password). 

Unfortunately, many internet users fall into the trap of reusing passwords and endangering their data security when there is a simple, easy solution out there.

2. Multi-Factor Authentication – an extra layer of data protection

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), or 2-factor authentication (2FA), is another essential tool in 2023. Yet, “More than 40% of users are not using MFA, because this concept is too complicated for them technically, and another 40% avoid it because it’s too cumbersome for them.” our cybersecurity expert shares.

He also warns that “To have passwords as the only line of defense is naive and dangerous. There are so many ways to steal your password; it will boggle your imagination.” 

MFA adds another layer of defense to your accounts and could end up saving you lots of time and money.

3. VPN – a personal privacy tunnel

Most people who want to browse the internet privately just use an Incognito window and call it a day. The truth is, it isn’t all that private. In fact, service providers, employers, the government, and possible snoops all still have access to the user’s online activity (and data).

A VPN, on the other hand, does provide protection against these privacy threats. It works by creating a secure tunnel between the device and whatever site the user is trying to reach. With this tool personal data is encrypted, sent through the VPN provider’s server, then destroyed without a trace, making it inaccessible to third parties, hackers, and snoops.

To put it another way, Mr. Valentij suggests, “If Firewall monitors and controls your internet traffic, VPN makes it even safer, and more importantly – private. If you’re using a VPN, hackers have a hard time finding your actual IP address for further attacks.  Or if someone tries to sniff your traffic, they’ll get nothing from it, as all of it is encrypted. It’s really helpful on public Wi-Fi networks because other people on the same Wi-Fi can hack you.”

Privacy is the be-all and end-all of Cybersecurity for Incogni, so it breaks our hearts and continues to surprise us that only 31% of internet users have ever used a VPN. It should be 100%. 

4. Antivirus – a shield against malware

Antivirus is undisputedly the most popular cybersecurity software out there, with our research showing that 74.1% of our user base has heard of it. Yet only 57.6% use it. 

“Although discussion about the necessity of Antivirus on your machine is so trivial and repetitive, yet it’s still relevant. You may consider commercial antivirus if you’re striving to upgrade your built-in AV protection even more or have doubts about the ‘safe OS by design’ philosophy.” Mr. Valentij advises.

With more than 1 billion malware programs out there, it is absurd to go without protection. Every time you go online without antivirus, it’s like stepping onto the battlefield without any armor. Antivirus software works in the background to detect, quarantine, and delete these threats, protecting you and your machine from the damage they can (and inevitably will) cause. 

5. Firewall – it stands between your device and real damage

The next on our list is Firewall. This software doesn’t deal with malware, but it may prevent it from entering your device or communicating with the malware C&C (command and control) server – i.e. weaponizing itself. 

Firewalls may also prevent hackers from gaining an initial foothold within your network or computer. Moreover, they prevent the lateral movement of perpetrators on your network in the unfortunate event of a network breach.

Valentij explains: “Basically speaking, it prevents perpetrators and malware from accessing your computer, and your data from leaking outside. It’s a barrier that monitors and controls your incoming and outgoing internet traffic.”

Some more tips from our experts

While Aleksandr Valentij broke down the top 5 essential software and tools you should be using, Cybersecurity is more than the tools you use. 

Here are some more tips we highly recommend you take away with you this Cybersecurity Awareness Month:

  • Check privacy settings. This applies to everything you use. Social media privacy settings, browser privacy settings, app privacy settings—make sure you understand (and adjust) them all to optimize your online privacy and safety.
  • Use a private browser. Not all browsers were created equal. Some use more cookies, share more data, and offer less protection than others. We recommend using a private browser like DuckDuckGo or another from our article on private browsers for iOS users.
  • Use a secure search engine. As with browsers, search engines also vary in privacy. Here’s a list of some of the most privacy-conscious search engines
  • Avoid free and public Wi-Fi. When using public Wi-Fi, hackers can easily position themselves between your device and the connection point, making you extra vulnerable.  If you can’t avoid using it, make sure you use a VPN.
  • Don’t download anything you don’t trust. With how popular apps are, it’s tempting to download anything new and shiny that comes along. Many of these can be malicious or just unsafe. Only download what you know is trustworthy. 
  • Don’t give out your personal information. Your data is highly valuable and highly sensitive. Criminals can use it to hack, scam, and even steal your identity. Don’t give out data to anyone you don’t know and trust, and only give out what data is absolutely necessary. 
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