Computer Security in today’s world
Written by James Cahill / River Net Computers
We live in a world online, in which exists threats that aim to steal your money, data and even in worst cases, your whole identity. There are measures of security that everyone should take when it comes to your computer, not just businesses but anyone who owns a computer. First, let’s get to the basics.
All computers today (including Apple computers) should have some sort of anti-virus software installed. Browsing the “web” and checking emails puts you immediately at risk of downloading viruses, malware or unwanted software programs. Even a free anti-virus program is better than not having one installed at all. It is also best practice to get to know your anti-virus program. Learn how it keeps you protected. Most free programs need to be updated manually and also need to periodically run full computer virus scans. Most paid versions of anti-virus software automate this process, leaving less work to be performed by you, the user. Don’t just install and ignore it, learn how it works and how you make it work best for you.
The Apple Myth
Apple users and even some windows users that are considering making the ‘switch’ to apple still think that apple computers are immune from viruses. This may have been true several years ago, but apple computers are now targeted by malicious software. We’ve seen a large increase of unwanted software programs (including bad browser add-ons for safari) and malware that have the same agenda as those that target other systems. If you own an apple computer, be sure to install an anti-virus program to protect yourself. Again, there are several free versions and free is better than none at all.
Everyone should have a backup procedure today. Backups protect your data from accidental file/folder deletion, hard drive failure and even from ransomware malware. (This destructive malware encrypts data on your computer, demanding a fee to retrieve your data) Backup drives and online ‘cloud’ services are inexpensive and easy to set up. There is absolutely no excuse to not have a backup procedure in place. If you have an external hard drive, use it as a backup drive instead of data storage, using it as data storage puts your data at risk.
There are utilities included in operating systems that assist with scheduled backup procedures. Apple computers (as of 10.5) all come with ‘Time Machine’. Using time machine can help you restore individual files, folders, applications. It can also be used to restore your entire system to a completely new hard drive, in the event of a hard drive failure. It can even be used to transfer your data to a new apple computer. Windows computers also come with a utility but it is changed with each distribution. Windows 7 has “backup and restore” feature in control panel. Windows 8 has “system image backup” and “files and folders backup” which can be found doing a simple search in charms. You should always encrypt your backup drive to prevent unauthorized access to your backups, in both apple and windows.
Cloud services also protect against disasters like fires, floods, theft, etc. Using a cloud backup ensures that you can restore your data, even to a different computer with a different operating system. It is best practice to have both a local backup procedure, using an external hard drive and to also have a cloud backup system in place at the same time.
The not so basics
There are several other measures to protect yourself both at your home and when you browse the web in public that most computer users do not consider. First, let’s start with your home.
If you have children, and you ‘share’ a family computer, make sure to create a separate user account for your kids and make it a ‘standard’ account without any administrator access. Also be sure to create a strong password for your account, something that your kids will not be able to ‘figure out’. Avoid using pet names, your kid’s names, birthdays, etc. Children are easy targets for malware, they tend to browse the web recklessly and tend to point and click to about anything. Malware is big business today and are always coming up with ways to trick users. Children are also easier targets if they are just learning to read, if they can’t read a warning, how can they heed to it? A lot of parents ‘think’ that their children are better with computers than they are so they should administer them. Children are still just children and need proper supervision when using a computer online. The same also goes for computers that are owned by your children, you should still use a standard user account with them. Some operating systems have ‘family control’ or ‘user account control’ to help prevent children from visiting potential malicious sites, limit their online time, etc.
Make sure to protect your wifi network with a strong password. Also, consider the network name. A lot of users will name their network after their name, which points outside users directly into their network. Pick a name that doesn’t let anyone on the outside know which network is yours. For example, NET1 or “Just Some Network”. When you pick a passphrase, use WPA2 encryption with AES. Don’t use WEP, it’s too weak and easy to hack. Also always make sure that your wireless router has the latest firmware, some malware can attack your router and spread through your network using your router. Making sure your firmware is up to date can better protect your network from this type of malware.
When creating passwords, make sure to use different passwords for different accounts. Even using a password manager program can help to use different, strong passwords while helping to manage it all on your computer. When picking a password, you don’t always have to choose upper, lower, 8 characters, numbers, symbols, etc. You can just take 3 or 4 ordinary words and mash them together to make a nonsense sentence. Something easy to remember but hard to crack. For example, “scienceseasonplus”. There are some sites, such as howsecureismypassword.net that will tell you how secure your password is before you implement it.
When checking your email and you come across a message with an attachment and you don’t know who it’s from, delete it. I’ll say it again, DELETE IT. It doesn’t matter, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you get a message from someone you do know, and you want to open the attachment, download the attachment first and scan it with your anti-virus program. I’ll say that again too, SCAN IT WITH YOUR ANTI-VIRUS PROGRAM.
When in public, and if you happen to have a mobile hotspot, use this device instead of connecting to open wifi networks, especially in coffee shops, restaurants, airports, etc. Most open wifi networks are unmanaged and insecure. Most of the routers are outdated and may be infected with malware. Some hackers among us will even “spoof” open wifi networks to lure you into their web. (They broadcast known open wifi networks, for example, “xfinity” which is comcast’s wifi hotspots) They then can monitor your keystrokes, gain access to bank accounts, etc. It is also best practice to avoid doing anything sensitive in public, avoid banking, paying bills, anything else where you have to enter your passwords in public. All of these tasks should be done at home.
I hope this helps to anyone reading to better understand computer security today, please keep coming back, we will be sure to keep this article up to date with new security information.