If you are going to hook up any device, whether a desktop computer loaded with 4 terabytes of storage and 32 gigabytes of RAM or a smartphone, it is important to understand certain basic does and don’ts of cybersecurity. First and foremost, get some kind of anti-virus software. McCafee and Norton are still the most popular programs on the market. There are better options though, which is a good thing, as McCafee and Norton have both been described as malware by users in the past due to the tendency of those programs to adversely affect the performance of systems they are installed on.
Kaspersky and Avast are both other mainstream anti-virus programs that have a far better reputation for providing quality protection without excessively bogging down your system. Speaking of bogging things down, there are also your firewall settings to consider. There are numerous security settings within a standard firewall program, ranging from “let everything through” to “stop it all, in fact, just don’t even bother putting me online.” As you can imagine, neither of those extremes is particularly useful. One provides no protection and the other pretty much stops you from getting anything done at all. There will be settings in the middle and even the ability to customize so that you can decide what does and does not get through your system automatically, what you have to give specific permission for, and what does get blocked by default.
Cybersecurity practices you should do and encourage others on the network to practice. Chief among these is updating your software. No matter how well any piece of software is written, there will always be weaknesses that can be exploited and they are constantly being uncovered by black hats taking advantage of them, in-house white hats whose job it is to find them and independent groups of white hats who regularly test programs and websites as something of a public service.
Once these exploits are uncovered, the relevant company will quickly develop a patch to fix them. Such patches will be delivered via software updates. These patches are completely useless if you don’t regularly update the software. Fortunately, it is simple enough to set up automatic updates to ensure that you are never more than a week behind on the latest patches. All anti-virus programs also come with the ability to scan for viruses and other vulnerabilities in your system. Yes, the program should stop any viruses from getting onto your servers or individual drives but a hastily given permission or thoughtlessly downloaded bit of malware can still result in holes in your security. A full scan should identify these holes and allow you to eliminate them with little effort.
A system admin should make a habit of reviewing the firewall’s logs to see what sort of attacks are being made against the network. Repeated attacks from the same IP address, on the same area of the network or the same type of attack can be indicative of an attempt to target your network for criminal activity. It is important to distinguish between actual attempts to hack the network and relatively harmless scans as chasing down every single person who makes an untoward pass at the network is a poor use of limited time and resources. Be careful what you download and where you download it from. If you see that latest edition of Photoshop for $5 from a site called Steve’s Stupendous Deals, it would be wise to stay away. If a deal seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Even downloading from reputable sites like CNET can be tricky as they like to tack on additional programs to the one you are actually trying to get. While this software may be benign, it will bog down your system and likely come with their down security flaws, opening you up to whole new lines of attack.
Email is a favorite means of attack for hackers. In addition to the infamous Nigerian prince emails mentioned above, black hats will attempt to trick people into downloading a virus by sending an email while posing as someone from your contacts list. These emails can come with attachments that seem to be a nice family photo but in fact contain software that will compromise your system. More recently, such attacks will not even require that you download an attachment, only that you open the email. Phishing for your personal financial data has also gotten more sophisticated in recent years as well, with hackers sending emails that purport to be from your bank, Amazon or some other online entity that you regularly do business with requesting you to verify credit card or account numbers due to a security breach.
Yes, hackers do have a sense of humor while they are getting ready to fleece your savings. They will even include links to very official looking websites that can easily lead a casual observer into thinking they are legitimate. Look for misspelled words, differences in the logo and other tell tales such as whether or not there is more to the site than the page you are currently on. Another basic way of protecting your financial data is to make sure that you never do any buying or selling while on a public computer or network.
Hackers can pick out passwords and other data being transmitted from your device to the network’s router. Having a good password may well be the most obvious security step to take but it is amazing just how many people ignore this. Plenty of people choose something simple like “123456” or “password.” These are not clever. What they are is insanely easy to crack. Do not choose these, or something like “login,” or your kids’ names, or your favorite hobby. Anyone who knows you and for some reason wants to get into your system will start by guessing these first. Even if no one who knows you tries to crack your password, another hacker might decide to try it and will seek to gather such information from your social media accounts. If those accounts are open to the public, there will be plenty of information available to develop a list of likely passwords.
There are also hackers who will utilize bot-nets to attack your password, using dedicated logarithms to eventually break through. There are a couple of simple steps to take to either defeat or at least frustrate such systems. One is to ensure your system will lock out any login attempts after a certain number of tries. The other is to seek to improve the password itself.
Recent studies have shown that following a few simple steps will result in a far more secure password.
- Sixteen characters long
- One number
- One special character
- At least one capital letter
- Begin and end with a letter
Yes, you will definitely need to write these passwords down and keep them in a secure location. But it is definitely worth it as this criteria combines into a format that is difficult for the bot-nets to crack. And as difficult as it may be to believe, if you login at least once a day, eventually, you will remember the password within a couple of weeks. Naturally, the security of this format is likely to change so be sure to keep up with best practices by following security websites and forums. Finally, when online, do not click on any pop-ups, no matter how official or enticing they look. Pop-ups are a favorite way for hackers to trick people into downloading various kinds of malicious software.