In order to protect your devices, you need to know the ways that hackers and cybercriminals will try to compromise your hardware. From malware, spyware, and viruses, to compromising your personal information through phishing scams and identity theft, you need a well-rounded plan of action to stay ahead of the scammers. Here are our 7 best tips for protecting yourself from online dangers:
1. Install Antivirus and Firewall Protection
There are many different types of anti-virus programs available today, all designed to give you robust protection against malware and cybercrime attack. Some are free while others cost money. Some are designed to be downloaded directly onto your device, while others use web-based applications. Above all, it is important to choose a reputable company with a proven record of keeping people safe from malicious attacks. Make sure they have been tested thoroughly before purchasing their product and don’t be afraid to shop around and test free versions of different products so you know which ones work best for your small business.
While antivirus software alone cannot guarantee complete protection, it will certainly reduce risks associated with malware infections. And a good firewall will go a long way towards protecting your privacy and preventing unwanted intrusions. Even better, many antivirus products include firewall functionality built right in giving you two systems of protection. Multilayer firewalls give you the best of both worlds, providing protection from the widest variety of viruses and scams and identifying suspicious activity before it enters your device. Cloud-based antivirus software systems will give you robust protection against malicious software because they provide automatic access to the latest developments in cybersecurity. With numerous types of malware being deployed every day, choosing a cloud-based system will give you an added layer of security and the best chance at staying ahead of cyberattacks and data breaches.
2. Run Updates Right Away
Most companies offer updates for their security software at least once per year. These security updates usually include new virus definitions as well as other fixes and improvements. Many times there may be additional features added such as better firewall protection, improved performance, security patches, and enhanced user interface. Be sure to check regularly for any updated versions of your chosen antivirus application. Ideally, this should happen automatically if your applications have been set up correctly, but there are some instances where a manual update is necessary.
Without running regular software updates and other automatic updates, vulnerabilities can be exploited right away and cause security issues immediately. Other times they go unnoticed until months later when someone finally finds a way to exploit them. This is also true in the case of an operating system update. In either case, installing updates and patches as soon as they become available helps prevent future exploits. Patches are most necessary when you are using older versions of software or operating systems. While the best option is to upgrade when you can, staying on top of patches can keep your systems running smoothly in the meantime.
Finally, updating browsers and browser plugins such as Flash Player and Java updates ensure that malicious code cannot exploit holes in those applications. Browser plugins are something that most people don’t think about, but not updating them can be one of the biggest risks in keeping your devices safe. Update your Device Drivers as well so that your devices function properly and vulnerabilities in older models can’t be compromised. To stay safe, always install all available updates immediately upon receiving notification.
3. Back Up Regularly
One of the most common ways computers get infected with malware is through downloading files off the Internet without first checking what those files contain. Even worse, users often don’t realize how dangerous certain websites actually are because they think they’re just visiting a friend’s website or something similar. Unfortunately, even though we’ve become more aware of the risks associated with surfing the Web, too few people take precautions like backing up data regularly. That means if anything happens to your hard drive, you’ll lose everything including personal information, financial records, business documents, photos, music, videos, and more. So make sure you backup your files frequently!
Save copies of your work on external storage devices whenever you finish working on projects. When you need to restore lost files, simply copy over the backups instead of trying to recover the originals. You can also back up data regularly if you are using cloud storage platforms like Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive. These online backup systems can help ensure that even if your smartphone gets lost or stolen, valuable files won’t be deleted forever. Create regular backups of everything on your computer and then store them somewhere secure.
4. Be Aware of Common Phishing Scams
It seems like every day we hear news stories about how one company was hacked when another company sent out unsafe attachments in spam emails containing links to phishing websites, sites designed to trick users into giving away personal data. Cyber criminals use these scams involving fake emails or messages that may look like they come from a legitimate source. A user will be asked to verify their login credentials by clicking on a link provided within the body of the email, with the goal of getting unsuspecting victims to reveal private information like usernames and passwords. It goes without saying, but never click on links embedded in unsolicited messages and emails! This also means avoiding the urge to click on ads, open attachments from unknown sources, downloading apps to your phone without verifying them, or visiting suspicious web pages.
A lot of unsolicited emails come into our inboxes every day. We receive messages from friends asking us to click on links contained within them. While it might seem harmless enough, clicking on unknown links could potentially put your privacy at risk since it opens up your phone or laptop to potential attack. But this type of scam isn’t limited to email; instant messaging services allow anyone who knows your username and password to gain access to your account or mobile device which can lead to identity theft. For example, hackers will use an IM service to send spam messages that appear to originate from one person while really being sent from another. The recipient thinks he/she is communicating directly with a friend and doesn’t suspect anything wrong.
Downloading apps from unknown sources can also put you at risk for phishing. Most smartphones and mobile devices now come preloaded with mobile banking apps, social media apps, games, and other helpful utilities. However, some cybercriminal developers may try to sneak malicious code into those apps. Instead of downloading directly from the developer’s website, search for similar apps on trusted sites like Amazon Appstore, Apple Store, and Google Play. Also, verify that the app has been downloaded recently by checking its version number before accessing it on your mobile device.
Being aware of these common scams can help you avoid losing valuable personal information to scammers and hackers.
5. Use Strong Passwords
This is one of those things that everyone knows how to do, but few of us actually take the time to create strong, randomized passwords. It is far too easy to pick a date that is personal to you, but turns out to be obvious and easy to guess, or using the names of loved ones that can easily be discovered by a scammer reviewing your social media accounts. Weak passwords allow anyone who knows your username and password to log in without having to guess any other details. To avoid falling victim to identity theft, choose strong passwords that contain at least eight characters including letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation marks. Avoid reusing passwords between accounts; create unique ones for each site.
Of course you want to be able to remember your password easily, but there are ways to create a good password without making it obvious. A strong password should contain at least eight characters, but ideally more. Consider a phrase that is meaningful to you; turn it into an acronym and throw in a few unique symbols. Scramble the order of the date that holds significance for you, or combine two different scrambled dates. You can also use a password manager where you can save all your passwords and only have to remember one in order to log in.
Don’t reuse passwords across multiple accounts; instead, create unique and complex passwords for each website where possible. Again, a password manager can do the work of remembering all your unique passwords for you.
6. Use Internet Safety Best Practices
The first best practice is to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks There are plenty of reasons why public places aren’t safe for computer usage. First of all, there are lots of people around making it difficult to keep track of everyone else. Second, there are no guarantees that the network won’t be compromised. Third, there are countless opportunities for viruses to enter your device via USB drives, CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, and memory cards. Don’t use public networks like coffee shops or airports unless you know who else is connected. Hackers could potentially intercept sensitive information being transmitted through unencrypted channels and unsecured internet connections. By avoiding connecting to wireless networks when you don’t have to, you limit your exposure to malware as well as other security threats.
The next best practice is to consider using Virtual Private Network services. A VPN encrypts traffic between computers using virtual tunnels. Without one, cyber criminals can use unsecured internet connections to see your online activity. By connecting via a VPN service, you’re essentially hiding your IP address which makes it harder for attackers to track your online activities. Most VPN’s are cost-effective, and many software security systems include them automatically. You can also disable location tracking from your devices, in addition to deleting any existing locations that are stored on your phone. This can also keep cybercriminals from spying on you.
Lastly, check your privacy settings and security settings on every device and app. You never know how secure (or not!) your online privacy is until you take the time to check. Don’t just rely on security defaults to protect your devices and your identity online.
7. Enhanced Security
There are a few ways that you can enhance your security measures to keep your devices safe. Two-step verification and multi-factor authentication require at least two pieces of information: something you know and something you possess. This means requiring two forms of identification before logging onto a particular account. Examples include entering a one time PIN sent to your registered cell phone number or having to enter a verification code after accessing your account. By adding this extra layer of protection, attackers must also obtain access to your second piece of information in order to gain entry. This makes it more difficult for a cybercriminal to correctly guess their way into one of your accounts.
Another enhanced security measure is to encrypt your email messages. The most common encryption method involves attaching a PEM file containing a private key to the message. Once received, recipients need only open the attachment and decrypt the text using their own public keys. Popular PGP implementations include OpenPGP for Mac OS X and Windows users, Gpg4win for Windows users, and Enigmail for Linux users. PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy, a proprietary software program that provides cryptographic privacy and authentication for data communication. All of these can help you avoid a major security risk.
Are you ready to get the best possible protection for your small business devices? Tech Masters offers a free IT assessment with recommendations for the best value improvements.
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