The internet is a wonderful creation which has changed the way of life for the entire human race. Even those who are not directly influenced by the internet such as native tribes in the Amazon, or Amish communities in the USA and Europe, are still affected through better awareness of their way of life by others who thanks to the internet can learn about them in a way never before possible. The internet has truly changed the planet and allows us to learn, and communicate in ways we would have never dreamed possible even 30 years ago, such is the pace of development. However, despite it's wonder, the internet can be a very dangerous place.
As a hosting and server provider as well as an ISP, we have a broad responsibility for a range of internet users and their services. We host websites for our hosting customers, which on rare occasions could be hacked to become malicious and try to steal their information or make them download viruses or malware. We also provide email services which could very easily be used to send spam, or emails containing viruses, or phishing emails trying to steal person information. And finally, as an ISP we provide the direct connection for our connectivity customers to access the internet, and all the things good and bad that it contains. Suffice to say as a provider of so many internet services we take our responsibility to keep our customers and the wider internet safe, very seriously.
As today is Safer Internet Day, we thought it would be good opportunity to give a brief insight in to some of the things that we do every day in order to try and make the internet a little bit safer.
Keeping your inbox safe.
Spam email is probably the number one most widely encountered internet related threat that people are familiar with. Most people think of spam email as a mild inconvenience rather than a real threat to their internet safety, but it should be taken a lot more seriously than it often is. Whilst a lot of spam email is just junk adverts which is in irritation at best, it is also used to either directly send malicious software such as viruses or trojans which in turn can be used to steal your person information by logging what you type or entice you into visiting infected websites which then install the malicious software onto your computer. Even worse, a piece of malware delivered in this way could be used to activate your computer's webcam and microphone in order to spy on you. Just think, do you or your children have desktops or laptops with webcams in their bedrooms? Spam can also be used to trick you; so called "phishing" emails are cleverly disguised to look like a legitimate email from an organisation such as your bank so that they can trick you into giving up your sensitive information such as your online banking login details by taking you to a convincing (yet fake) online banking login page.
We absolutely hate spam and so we provide advanced spam filtering to all of our hosting customers as standard. These spam filters will filter out the plain old junk, the phishing emails, and perhaps most importantly the viruses and malware. In fact, in 2015 82% of all of the emails that we handled for our customers was spam! We also blocked 124,000 viruses from reaching our customers inboxes. Of course, we don't catch everything, but we give it a damned good go.
Here are some important email tips to help keep you safe:
- Never open attachments from people you don't know.
- Even if the attachment was from someone you know, if you weren't expecting an attachment then don't open it.
- Avoid clicking links in emails, if your bank looks like they've emailed you, open your browser and manually browse to their website, don't click the link in the email as it might be fake.
- Don't click the unsubscribe links. Unless it is a legitimate business sending you newsletters or advertising then most likely the unsubscribe will just serve to confirm your real and will inevitably lead to more spam.
- Consider having a separate email for using on websites and keep your personal one just for your friends and family.
- Be considerate to others, don't give websites email addresses for friends and family, they most likely don't want to receive invitations to all the same services you use.
How we keep servers and websites on them safe.
Almost everything that happens online involves servers in some way; whether it's your email inbox, your Facebook profile, or your personal blog, it all happens on servers. We go to great lengths in order to try and keep our servers safe and secure as if a server was to be compromised, it could be used to do a whole variety of nasty things. Most likely it would be used to send the aforementioned spam or host a phishing web page pretending to be someone else such as your bank. Alternatively, once a website on a server is broken into, it could be used to attack other servers, forming a large network of compromised machines called a "botnet". Worst of all, once a server has been compromised, the data on that server is vulnerable, so personal information could be stolen and sold on such as in the recent TalkTalk and Ashley Madison scandals.
Obviously we can't go into lots of details about how we secure our servers, but we employ a range of security measures such as Web Application Firewalls in order to protect against things like SQL injection attacks and Cross Site Scripting (XSS). We also actively monitor failed login attempts and block IP addresses responsible for repeated attempts, so if someone is attempting to log into a mailbox by just trying loads of different passwords (known as a "brute force" attack), the firewall will block them. We also run software to constantly monitor the files on our servers looking for tell tale hallmarks of compromised or out of date websites. On top of this, we employ extensive firewall rules, Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections and custom security configurations to limit access to the server to only legitimate visitors and those who are meant to have access.
Although we work hard to secure our servers there are still things you can do to help:
- Keep your website software (and plugins) up to date, in a recent survey (https://www.freethought.uk/blog/The-Wordpress-update-crisis.html) we found over 51% of Wordpress powered websites were out of date and vulnerable.
- Choose secure passwords for your email, control panel, and website. Use a website like https://strongpasswordgenerator.com to generate a random one, and use a password manager like 1Password (https://agilebits.com/onepassword) to keep them safe and secure.
- Ensure you have anti-virus software installed and up-to-date. When email and hosting accounts are compromised it is often because the hacker had the password, most likely stolen from the users own computer.
We takes sites offline.
When we find out a website that we host is doing some bad or illegal, we take it offline and notify the owner about the problem. We host thousands of websites and when we discover an issue or if one of those websites is reported to our abuse department we will immediately take action to stop that website doing any more harm.
And in the reverse, we don't just respond to abuse reports. When we encounter something that is threatening our network, servers, or customers then we will track down the person or organisation responsible and send abuse reports to their ISP and hosting providers.
Keeping the internet safe is a collaborative effort between all service providers, and in our opinion responding to abuse reports is absolutely essential. All too often we find that network operators (especially larger ISPs) don't respond to abuse reports and don't take action when something is reported to them, which unfortunately allows malicious and abuse behaviour to go unchecked. We take abuse reports a lot more seriously though and every single abuse report will be handled properly and replied to promptly.
Keep yourself safe.
First and foremost, contact your ISP and ask them if they offer a web filtering service (most do) and check if it's enabled on your connection. By turning on the ISP's web filtering, you can block a lot of the darker corners of the internet automatically and keep every device in your home or office safe, even the smart phones and tablets that you can't always install filtering software onto. Secondly, install anti-virus software on devices to ensure that should something get through, it is detected and removed before it does any damage.
Finally, educate yourself! There are a host of helpful websites on how to keep yourself and your children online:
You could also contact your council and ask them if there are any courses or workshops at your local school or library on internet safety.
If you encounter something dangerous online such as a phishing website, child abuse, or anything at all which you think might be dangerous or illegal then report it to the police by calling 101 or speaking to Action Fraud (http://actionfraud.police.uk). If you're receiving spam then sign up to SpamCop (https://www.spamcop.net) which will help you report spammers to the appropriate network operators automatically. It is only by reporting each and every dangerous website that we can succeed in keeping the internet safe.