10 steps for Safe and Secure computing
The convenience of technology in today’s world makes it so easy to do anything with just one click. Smart devices have moved beyond laptops and mobile phones. Nowadays, you can get smart TVs, smart light bulbs, even smart refrigerators. Almost anything can be controlled with the touch of a button or a vocal command. This creates a sort of lazy culture whereby technology has created such a convenience, the concept of taking even the least time-consuming methods to ensure the security of your devices is unthinkable.
Who would bother hacking a refrigerator, you might ask? The most important thing to keep in mind when considering smart computing is to NEVER underestimate cyber-criminals. If they can hack, they will. Your refrigerator can reveal to them your daily routine simply by how many times you open it. Smart devices are made for storing information to conform to your lifestyle and hackers use this to their own advantage.
It’s very easy to underestimate just how vulnerable your technology devices are, especially those that contain personal information. People are often under the delusion that it will never happen to them, but the sad reality is that we’re all at risk from cyber-attacks. Our devices—no matter how big or small—contain valuable information that can be used against us. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can keep your devices safe and secure with these ten easy steps.
- Manage your passwords
Many websites and devices require you to create a password upon signing up. You may decide it’s too difficult to remember too many passwords and simply use the same one for more than one site. This is a bad idea. Passwords can be hacked, and if you use the same password for more than one site, then you are opening yourself up to risks of hackers accessing your personal data. It is recommended that you create strong passwords, preferably 20+ characters long, with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. Not only that, but it is wise to change them as often as you can (every 90 days).
And while it may seem like common sense but do NOT write your password down or share it with anyone. There are password management programs that will generate obscure passwords for you and send you reminders when you need to change them. This is good for users who believe they will forget to update.
- Protect your data
When shopping online, naturally you need to enter your payment details. Only do this on secure websites that have “https”, as opposed to “http”, in their URLs, which indicates a secure connection. PayPal is a recommended payment website to use, though not every website accepts it. Another secure payment method both online and off is Apple Pay or the Android equivalent. You simply pay with your phone instead of your credit card. It uses two-factor authentication via PIN, passcode or Face/Touch ID. A unique security code is created for each transaction, making it difficult for hackers to access your credit card details.
Never send personal data via email, text or IM (Instant Messaging), they are not usually secure communication methods.
It is unwise to keep personal data such as banking details, medical information, PINs, etc. on your desktop/laptop and mobile device. If it is unavoidable, be sure to look up the encryption options available on your device to secure sensitive data. Once you no longer need a piece of sensitive data on your device, securely delete it.
- Watch what you click
Sometimes it can be quite easy to spot an untrustworthy email or attachment. This can be through their overuse of symbols and subject headings that are written in a mix of fonts, for example. However, hackers are becoming more proficient at making spam emails look authentic. They can hack into a company email and use their templates to send viruses to everyone in their address book. The email will look authentic, and the recipient will have no reason to doubt that this company would send them anything but genuine, secure attachments/links. It’s important to be vigilant when you receive email attachments or links. Stop and think, are you expecting such an email from this person/company? Did they mention they were going to send you a link? It is worth contacting the person first to confirm, as they may not be aware that their email has been hacked.
Other risks include visiting websites you are not familiar with or downloading software from an unknown source. There are browser add-ons available that can prevent automatic downloads of plug-in content, but avoiding suspicious content is the ultimate protection.
- Keep devices safe
Mobile devices are just as vulnerable as desktop computers and are commonly stolen from public areas, as well as from houses and cars. All mobile devices should be locked with a PIN or password when not in use, especially when in public areas. You should never leave your mobile device unattended in public. If it is unavoidable, ensure you lock your device before leaving it. You can even purchase laptop lockdown cables from most computer stores.
Other ways to keep your mobile devices secure include downloading apps only from trusted sources. As mentioned in Step 3, don’t click on any suspicious attachments sent through either email or text. To prevent loss or theft, use Apple’s Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager tools.
- Update software
Almost all software these days require updates to remain secure. Where possible, enable automatic updates on your devices. Use web browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox, which are automatically updated regularly. Not all software programmes inform you of updates, or you simply ignore the annoying pop-up that appears with a reminder to update because you’re too busy. It takes just a few minutes, if not less, and shouldn’t be overlooked. That annoying pop-up is there to remind you that your device’s security is not as strong as it could be. Using programs such as Secunia PSI can locate updates for the software on your device that may not have reminders, thus keeping you updated with everything that might have otherwise been overlooked.
- Back up your data
Backing up important data is not only another method of security against cyber-attacks. Every day people lose their phones or tablets, or accidentally delete something that was vitally important. Having a backup on an external hard drive, or saved to trusted storage mediums such as Dropbox can make all the difference if any of this should befall you. It is a good habit to get into and one that should not be overlooked. Again, it takes a little time and effort, but should you accidentally drop your tablet into a puddle of water, you’ll be glad you did.
You should always store important data in more than one secure location. An external hard drive is recommended. Backups should be carried out regularly. Hackers can access your computer and hold your data to ransom in order to retrieve your missing data. Having backups gives you a peace of mind that cannot be overstated.
- Don’t overshare
Social media is rampant in today’s world. Rarely will you meet a person who doesn’t have an online social media presence. You can find out literally anything about anyone through their Facebook page; where they live, work, where they’ve been on holiday, where they are at this very moment, etc. Even if you choose the privacy option whereby only friends and family can view the intricacies of your social media profile, it can still be hacked if your password is not secure and changed regularly (see Step 1).
While Facebook asks you to enter details such as your location, place of work, education details, etc., you don’t have to enter this information in order to utilise its features. Give out as little information as you can to avoid your personal data ending up in the wrong hands. Why not enjoy your night out with family rather than checking in and letting the world know your house is likely empty at that exact time?
- Avoid wireless hotspots
We all love Wi-Fi, especially when it’s free. Most phone plans offer a limit to the amount of mobile data you can use before extra charges set in, which can be quite expensive, so naturally, you’ll take free Wi-Fi wherever you can get it. This is very risky, as not all free Wi-Fi networks are secure. It’s a hacker’s dream to connect to a public hotspot and find an unsecured network with dozens of vulnerable devices connected to it. Avoid these hotspots if you can, or at least ensure they are secure enough to use without increasing your risk of a cyber-attack. Your phone may also automatically connect to a public Wi-Fi network even if you have no intention of using it. This can and should be deselected in your device settings.
- Be wary of suspicious calls
You may get a phone call from someone pretending to be from a big brand IT company, such as Microsoft. They’ll tell you that your computer is at risk, or has been infected with a virus. They will ask for personal information, such as credit card details, to install an update that will protect or fix the computer. It has been done before, and it will be done again. Don’t feel intimidated by the urgency they present you with, it’s OK to say no and double check with the company they are claiming to be from. All IT manufacturers have a helpline, and you can call this to confirm your situation. They will not only assure you that your computer is safe, but they will also inform you that they do not make calls to customers (this is true of Microsoft, at least).
- Beware of Phishing scams
Normally your email provider will place any spam sent to your email address straight to your junk folder, but now and then one slips through the cracks and ends up in your inbox. It may ask you to confirm your payment details or give you a link to follow. If your web browser is up to date, it should warn you of the dangers the link you have clicked on will lead to. Always heed these warnings; it is not worth the risk.
As already mentioned in Step 3, hackers are becoming adept at making emails look as authentic as possible that it’s not immediately obvious it’s a scam. Any email containing a link or attachment should be carefully examined, whether it’s from someone you know or a website you frequently visit.
If you can access it, so can somebody else. This is the harsh reality of the world we now live in. You’re never truly safe in the world of technology, but you can make life so difficult for hackers that they will have a hard time accessing your devices. The ten steps listed in this article may seem like common sense, but you would be amazed at how easy it is to overlook something simple like updating your Facebook password frequently or checking for updates on your anti-virus software.
Another good tip is to turn the connection off anything that doesn’t need one. Does your smart refrigerator really need to be connected to your network while you’re at work? Can you plug your smart TV out when you’re going to bed? It may take more than one click to utilize these ten steps, but in this day and age, it is a necessity. Even if you simply follow two or three of the steps, you will be more secure than most technology users, and less vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Unfortunately, you will continue to read stories of people who have lost their life savings or have had their identities stolen all because they clicked on the wrong link or didn’t take any of the steps listed above. Don’t let that be you, because it definitely can happen to anyone.