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With new virtual environments like the Metaverse and Web 3.0 emerging, cybersecurity is that much more important. To help explore the best solutions in our online privacy series, we sat down with the Chief Product Officer of VIPRE Security Group, Usman Choudhary.
Usman oversees VIPRE’s company strategy and cybersecurity solutions, offering tons of resources to help users protect their privacy and data. With nearly three decades of experience, he shares his take on current privacy trends, online safety recommendations, and so much more.
Here’s what he had to say for our series on the Top 5 Ways to Protect Your Devices & Personal Data:
Welcome Usman. Thank you for joining our interview series on privacy and security! Before we dive into the main topic, would you mind telling our readers a bit about yourself?
Of course, thank you for having me. So, over the past 27 years, I’ve had the opportunity to innovate across mission-critical environments in the brokerage industry and cybersecurity. Currently, as the Chief Product Officer for VIPRE Security Group, I’m responsible for defining and executing the company’s strategy and driving innovations for enterprise security solutions, consumer privacy, and protection products.
What first sparked your interest in cybersecurity?
Early in my career, I was focused on creating software to maximize the profits for institutional traders and market makers, however, I always felt a desire to work in a segment of the software space that would serve the greater good of society. So, I moved from Wall Street to cybersecurity. Interestingly, around the same time, I started my non-profit work and had the opportunity to work for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans to West Africa as a volunteer.
Is there a memory that sticks with you the most since starting your career?
If I had to pick one it would be my time with the US Navy. I had the opportunity to work with them to help create one of the first of its kind cyber defense programs (MOBIUS/PROMETHEUS), which secured many government facilities including high-risk targets like nuclear facilities and critical infrastructure. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
That’s impressive, thank you for sharing. Now, let’s shift to the main focus of our interview today: online privacy and security. To start, can you tell our readers about VIPRE and what they offer?
VIPRE Security Group, part of Ziff Davis Inc, is a global consumer, mid-market & enterprise data privacy and security solutions provider protecting millions of consumers.
We have 3 main offerings to help our consumers with data privacy and security:
Online Privacy & Protection through our VPNs, IPVanish™ and StrongVPN™, which encrypt all data transmitted between consumers’ devices and the internet and masks their IP address, location, and browsing activity
Award-winning protection from viruses, ransomware, and other nefarious malware in an era of unprecedented attacks online with VIPRE™ Security Solutions
Data protection and ransomware recovery solutions through our cloud back and storage solutions (Livedrive™, SugarSync™) that automatically backs up your photos, documents, music, and videos to our secure data centers
Protect your online data and privacy with a secure VPN.
How did you come to work for VIPRE, and what’s your main focus there right now?
I spent over two decades building solutions to solve challenges for large enterprises and governments. But along the way, I felt that there was a growing need for security and privacy solutions for consumers and small to mid-size businesses – typically an underserved market. Our focus remains on expanding our consumer privacy offerings and adding to the advanced threat protection business solutions. We are also integrating our award-winning privacy, security, and data protection products into a solution.
Are you working on any exciting projects you’re able to share with our readers? For example, are there new features or products users can look forward to in 2022?
Definitely. In 2022, we are enhancing our VPN offering with an updated & intuitive user experience and adding new features such as split tunneling and browser extensions. We are continuously adding to and improving upon our solutions to address consumers’ evolving security needs.
As the Chief Product Officer, you must have a lot of experience scoping out the competition. What would you say makes VIPRE different from competitors like Norton or McAfee from a security standpoint?
Ah, yes. The industry is competitive, but nothing we can’t handle. VIPRE™ safeguards your private information and personal data with top-rated, award-winning antivirus protection against today’s most prevalent threats, including those that evade traditional antivirus for PCs and Macs. VIPRE™ consistently earns an Advanced+ rating from the world’s most widely-trusted independent antivirus testing authority and defends consumers against ransomware and other emerging threats like viruses, Trojans, rootkits, exploits, spyware, and more.
We differentiate ourselves through our customer support. All of our consumers have access to in-app support, live chat through our website, email/ticketing support, and global phone support! Over 97% of our consumers rated their interactions with support as very useful, and we see this show up in our NPS scoring of 50+ even in random pollings.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a lot of people move online for work and school. How did this impact your business and the industry as a whole?
VIPRE Security Group has embraced remote work for several years now, well before the pandemic. So unlike others who had to go through a shift to the online way of working, we at VIPRE Security Group were already working through a globally distributed workforce.
We have, however, seen more of an uptick in our solutions with data privacy and security being even more critical for our consumers once they started moving their interactions online. The need to encrypt data and communication has only increased.
In your opinion, what are the biggest online threats to a user’s privacy and security?
The biggest threat to the consumer continues to be an invasion of their online privacy. This threat is manifested through various sources:
Droves of valuable and private data held by single companies like Facebook & Google
Cybercrime also remains a great threat to personal information. Bad actors are omnipresent trying to phish consumers and steal their identities.
Not to mention, always-on location services and meta-data in social networking posts have turned our cell phones into personal tracking devices. Employer-owned devices can also be tracked, offering new possibilities for monitoring. In fact, over 50% of all US consumer content is now stored in the Cloud. This massive migration to cloud storage is troubling if the Cloud storage firms are ever hacked
All of these reinforce the need for the consumer solutions provided by VIPRE Security Group, be it our VPNs, our secure Cloud backups, or our Anti-virus and malware protection solutions.
Building on that, are there any ways a user can know if their data has been compromised?
The good news is that there are tools available to check your privacy and security profile online such as Haveibeenpwned or other dark web monitoring tools. It is also a good idea to review your connection logs to things like your email account for external services that have permissions to your email and social media accounts. If there’s anything unusual, changing your password, and disallowing the service from connecting to your accounts is advised.
What are the most common security mistakes individuals and businesses tend to make?
Consumers can do a lot to protect themselves and avoid common mistakes. At VIPRE Security Group, we also share a number of these in blog posts to help educate consumers about security and privacy. The most common mistakes we’ve seen include:
Not updating your software regularly. All independent software vendors (ISVs) are regularly patching their vulnerabilities and you need to make sure you are on the latest version of their software to make sure you are protected against that exposure.
Weak passwords or reusing passwords is another very common mistake that needs to be avoided with the appropriate measures and tools.
You’ve worked in the cybersecurity arena for around 25 years now. In your experience, what would you say is the most important tool a user can get to protect their privacy and data online?
There are multiple online threats to watch out for, and unfortunately, no one tool can combat them all. At VIPRE Security Group, however, we’ve assembled a set of tools that will soon be available as an integrated solution that will protect consumer privacy overall – including masking IP addresses, protecting browsing history, encrypting traffic, dark web scanning, and webcam/microphone blocking.
Are there any technologies on the horizon we should look out for?
As privacy companies and regulations work to block cookies, browser fingerprinting continues to track your online behavior, essentially identifying you as you browse the internet — all without any need for account logins or cookies.
Everything you do on the internet can be tracked and traced back to you. Websites can record all kinds of information about you through fingerprinting and then connect to similar fingerprints to get a precise picture of your browsing behavior and website activities. Fingerprint blocking technologies to provide additional privacy protections are getting popular.
Thank you for humoring me with those. Now for the main focus of our interview: What would you say are the “Top 5 Ways a User Can Protect Their Devices and Personal Data?”
Install antivirus software. As a very basic step, you should set up an antivirus service on all your devices and keep it updated at all times.
Use a VPN on public WiFi. Any time you connect to the Internet using a WiFi network that you don’t own, you should use a VPN – in your coffee shop, at the airport, etc. A VPN will encrypt your traffic, route it through a server, and protect your data from being accessed. VPNs also protect your privacy at home, preventing the sites you are visiting from gathering and selling your data.
Back up your files with Cloud storage. Back up your sensitive and important files to a secure Cloud storage and ensure they are encrypted. If you are a victim of a ransomware attack, you’ll be able to recover your files if copies are kept in a secure location.
Set stronger passwords. Always use a unique and complex password for each account and update them regularly. Use a passcode lock whenever there is that option
Opt for 2-factor authentication. When available, always use 2F authentication as an additional layer of protection.
What educational resources does VIPRE provide if our users want to learn more?
At VIPRE Security Group, we aim to educate our customers on the latest cybersecurity threats, market trends, research, and solutions. Readers can visit our various blogs at VIPRE, IPVanish, StrongVPN, and Livedrive for more resources and information.
Is there a place our readers can follow your work?
Our team of experts always tries to keep readers informed on what’s coming up. You can learn about new updates and follow my work at VIPRE Labs.
Great! Thank you so much for the time and care you spent answering my questions, Usman. We hope this interview can help our readers stay informed and protected online – hopefully with VIPRE software solutions as part of their toolkit, too.
Interviewer: Paula Novo is the Site Editor for AlwaysVPN and HighSpeedOptions. Beginning her career in the telecom industry, Paula has honed in on VPN services and their role in helping users take back their online privacy. As internet freedom continues to diminish, Paula hopes to bring awareness to issues of online privacy and security to as many users as possible.
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