Tip #1 - You are a target to hackers
Don't ever say "It won't happen to me". We are all at risk and the stakes are high - to your personal and financial well-being.
Tip #2 - Keep software up to date
Installing software updates for your operating system and programs is critical. Some people like to turn this off for one reason or another. Maybe you don’t like that Windows restarts after installing an update, or maybe you just don’t like change. But from a security perspective, you should always leave automatic updates on.
Keeping your computer up-to-date is the number one way to keep it safe against online threats. Microsoft provides updates for Windows and associated Microsoft products (Defender, Office) on the second Tuesday of each month.
Apple doesn’t have a regimented schedule, but they also regularly provide updates.
These updates not only fix bugs, but they patch security holes. So the only way to protect yourself against the latest known vulnerabilities is by updating. Malicious attackers are always looking for unpatched systems they can attack, and automatic updates keep you off the list of low hanging fruit.
Always install the latest security updates for your devices
- Keep your operating system up to date.
- Use web browsers such as Chrome or Firefox that receive frequent, automatic security updates.
- Make sure to keep browser plug-ins (Flash, Java, etc.) up to date.
Tip #3 - Practice good password management
We all have too many passwords to manage - and it's easy to take short-cuts, like reusing the same password. A password management program can help you to maintain strong unique passwords for all of your accounts.
These programs can generate strong passwords for you, enter credentials automatically, and remind you to update your passwords periodically.
There are several online password management services that offer free versions, and KeePass(link is external) is a free application for Mac and Windows.
Here are some general password tips to keep in mind:
- Use long passwords
- Use a strong mix of characters, and never use the same password for multiple sites.
- Don't share your passwords and don't write them down (especially not on a post-it note attached to your monitor).
- Update your passwords periodically, at least once every 6 months (90 days is better).
Tip #4 - Never leave devices unattended
The physical security of your devices is just as important as their technical security.
- If you need to leave your laptop, phone, or tablet for any length of time - lock it up so no one else can use it.
- If you keep sensitive information on a flash drive or external hard drive, make sure to keep these locked as well.
- For desktop computers, shut-down the system when not in use - or lock your screen.
Tip #5 - Install anti-virus protection
Only install an anti-virus program from a known and trusted source. Keep virus definitions, engines and software up to date to ensure your anti-virus program remains effective.
For as long as computers have been and will be in existence, whether connected to the Internet or not, there will always be a need for antivirus software. There will never be a time when people, whether mischievous youths seeking a thrill or hardened cybercriminals looking to exploit billion-dollar companies, will stop looking to find ways to commit fraud, cause widespread damage, or just experience the rush of breaking into a computer.
Antivirus software is an important tool to help prevent such attacks. Not every type of cyberattack can be prevented with antivirus software, but it can be a great asset when trying to prevent intrusion into a computer.
Although not every intrusion into a computer is meant to cause damage or steal valuable information, that doesn’t mean that the attack isn’t dangerous. All intrusions into a computer exploit what is known as a vulnerability, or a weakness in the computer’s operating system or other software that can act as an access point to an attack.
Once even the most innocuous of an intrusion exploits a vulnerability, it basically sends a signal to others that this computer has been infiltrated. This opens the door wide open to much worse attacks.
When looking to purchase antivirus software, make sure to purchase a trusted and well known, subscription-based program. This is important, as the makers of this type of software will be able to keep their subscribers’ computers protected with real-time updates that scout out the latest threats.
Tip #6 - Back up your data
Let’s face it, you may have a great computer or external hard drive, but one day they’re going to wear out and you may lose your data. That’s just the nature of any piece of hardware. Your local computer repair person might be able to rescue your data, but then again, maybe not. That’s the gamble you take if you don’t back up your data.
Worse, the Internet harbors many potential threats to your data. Things like viruses and Trojans don’t just steal your data. In some cases, they erase it.
There’s also the threat of ransomware. That’s when a hacker puts a virus on your computer that encrypts your data, making it useless. You may have to pay a ransom in order for the hacker to unencrypt your data, with no guarantee that he or she will do so. If you have a current backup of your data, this is less of a worry. You can just wipe your hard drive and restore it to your latest backup.
Backing up data is one of the information security best practices that has gained increased relevance in recent years. With the advent of ransomware, having a full and current backup of all your data can be a lifesaver.