Computers and smartphones have now become part of everyday life for us and it seems to be something that many just can’t live without. They have become so affordable (with the exception of some rip off companies) that it is no longer just the big companies that have them. Almost every home now has a computer and almost everybody has a smartphone.
The problem is that many people just don’t seem to care about making sure that their computers are secure. They live by the “it will never happen to me” bias without realising how vulnerable they actually are.
A cyber criminal doesn’t even need to be in the same country to know every single key that is pressed on a computer. This makes it all too easy for them to steal login details, bank and credit card information and so much more.
Security doesn’t have to be complicated and today we are going to be looking at 12 tips to strengthen your cyber security.
- 1 1. Firewalls
- 2 2. Passwords
- 3 3. Anti-Virus
- 4 4. Beware of Phishing Scams
- 5 5. Beware of Public WiFi
- 6 6. Use Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication
- 7 7. Protect Your Sensitive Information
- 8 8. Take Regular Backups
- 9 9. Check for Https
- 10 10. Use Ad Blockers
- 11 11. Create a Regular User Account
- 12 12. What Are You Plugging In?
There are two firewalls that you need to make sure that you have, and use. These firewalls are basically pieces of software or hardware that keeps the bad stuff out. Your router for your home computer that you will have received from your Internet provider should already have a firewall installed but you will regularly need to check and update the firmware to ensure that it is up-to-date to protect against the latest vulnerabilities.
The second firewall needs to be installed on the computer itself. I believe all computers come with some form of firewall installed into the operating system but again you will need to keep it updated. I generally don’t use the built-in firewall as I have found some of the “bad stuff” will still get through. I personally use a firewall that I pay for but as long as you update it as soon as updates are made available, you should be OK.
Years ago when I first properly started using the Internet I used to use the same password for multiple websites which is a big NO NO! If one website gets compromised and the cyber criminals get your password they can then just use that password to claim any accounts you have on other websites. For this reason you should always use a different password for every website that you use.
I also want to mention that when you input a password and are asked if you want the browser to remember it so you don’t need to input it every single time, choose no. It may seem awkward but it just isn’t safe storing your password this way.
I know a lot of people that are against using anti-virus software on their computers and seem to think that they are just big files that slow their system down. Of course, everything that you install on your computer is going to slow it down slightly as it is using space up but a good anti-virus is a must. I would personally much rather use some space on my computer than get a virus and lose all my personal information.
If you are a Mac user, please don’t believe the lies that you are exempt from viruses. ALL computers can get them and a quick search on Google will show you that no system is exempt. And remember, always keep it updated.
4. Beware of Phishing Scams
Phishing is a type of attack that is carried out in order to steal the victims information by claiming to be somebody trustworthy. This type of attack is usually carried out in the form of malicious emails asking for specific information. The victim will be tricked into visiting a website that looks just like the real thing. As an example, a cyber criminal could set up a website that looks like your own banks website but as you input your banking information it is sent directly to the cyber criminal.
The first rule to remember is that you should never give out any personal information in email. Legitimate sources would never ask for you to do so.
Also, you should never click on the links within the body of the email unless you are absolutely sure that it is legitimate. If you hover your mouse cursor over a link, its destination will be shown towards the bottom of the screen.
5. Beware of Public WiFi
Public WiFi can be great for those times when we need to connect to the Internet but are caught out without a data connection such as when we are traveling. Hackers can set up hotspots that look like they are legitimate public WiFi spots such as a local library and when an unsuspecting victim uses that hotspot instead of the real one, all information will get sent to the hacker.
Always make sure that you verify the name of the network with staff before connecting including knowing any uppercase and lowercase letters within the name. You should also be sure to turn off file sharing and mark the WiFi connection as a public network by doing the following:
- On Windows – Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Under the Public heading, turn off the file sharing toggle.
- On Mac – Open up System Preferences and navigate to the Sharing icon. Then, untick the checkbox next to File Sharing.
6. Use Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication
Two-factor or multi-factor authentication is a service that many websites use nowadays that adds additional layers of security to the standard password method of online identification. Usually what would happen is that you visit a website, enter a username and password and then you are in. With two-factor authentication you would be asked to enter an additional authentication method such as a PIN code or another password. With multi-factor authentication, you would be asked to enter more than two additional authentication methods after entering your username and password.
7. Protect Your Sensitive Information
I remember reading a story about somebody that was so happy to have gotten a credit card that they took a photo and published it on social media. People soon picked up on the fact that she didn’t hide the numbers and asked her to take a photo so they could see what the back of the card looked like. She did and they had all they needed to go on a shopping spree. Don’t be that person.
It isn’t just credit card information but also information such as name, address, phone numbers, data of birth, Social Security Number, IP address, location details, or any other physical or digital identity data. These can all be used maliciously when in the wrong hands.
When posting anything online, always show the very minimum about yourself. Consider reviewing your privacy settings across all your social media accounts. Adding your home address, birthdate, or any other personal information will dramatically increase your risk of a security breach.
8. Take Regular Backups
An often overlooked but very important step for security is to take regular backups of your data. If you have never heard of the 3-2-1 rule, it is something that top IT and security managers follow when backing up their data. Simply put, you keep three copies of your data on two different types of media such as on the system itself and an external hard drive and one copy of the data in an off-site location such as cloud storage.
9. Check for Https
If you are inputting any sensitive data into a website, you want to know that that information is securely handled, right? Well you need to start checking for the https in the address bar rather than the usual http.
A website that uses https instead of http encrypts any data that you put into the website as well as the data that you get from it which stops any hackers from intercepting the information.
If a website asks for personal information such as bank or credit card information for purchases or even an address, always check the address bar and if they don’t securely encrypt the data, go elsewhere.
10. Use Ad Blockers
Some advertising networks do not do a very good job at monitoring their ads and cyber criminals can use this to their advantage. What they do is inject malicious code or malware-filled ads into these advertising networks.
These ads then get displayed on websites and when you visit a website that displays these infected ads, the code then starts searching your computer for vulnerabilities. Once it finds a vulnerability it’ll infect your computer with malware.
To avoid this you should consider installing an adblocker that will basically hide any ads from displaying when you visit your favorite websites.
11. Create a Regular User Account
When you purchase a new computer the main account that you use is the Administrator account and many people just seem to leave it that way. This is actually asking for trouble. Instead, create a regular User account that doesn’t have Administrator rights, and use it when you run your operating system and doing regular tasks like searching the Web and running your programs. This will limit the cyber risks that you expose your data to.
12. What Are You Plugging In?
Never insert foreign USBs or external hard-drives into your computer. This even goes for when you have received the drive from a friend or coworker. These can still be infected with malware, viruses, Trojans or keyloggers. When you do need to use them, always switch off the Auto-run option and scan first with your anti-virus software to make sure that they are safe.