Whether you’re an individual or part of a company, there’s no doubt that cybersecurity is paramount. Every day we hear about email hacks and identity theft. Added to that are phishing attacks and credit card fraud. Technology is becoming increasingly more sophisticated, but so are the criminals.
Anyone who wants to protect their computer will need to take several key steps; they ignore them at their peril. The harsh reality is that there’s no point cutting corners when it comes to online security. This article is designed to highlight ten of the actions we can consider.
1. Use A VPN (Virtual Private Network)
VPNs provide safe access to websites and protect the exchange of data. All communications are encrypted (put into code to keep out hackers). When secure browsers are used, cookies are unable to collect passwords and login details. Your location, identity, and IP address will also be protected from fraudsters.
If someone fails to use a VPN, they may rely on such hotspots as those provided on trains and at airports, hotels, or coffee shops. Because they are insecure networks, the data can be at risk of hacking by others. A VPN software creates an encrypted layer of security needed to protect you on public networks.
One of the best ways to secure quality software is through discounts and sales. People looking for a Black Friday VPN selection may access review sites that provide professional recommendations. They’ll also be looking for details of the discounts and ongoing subscriptions. It’s also worth checking online for VPN discounts on Halloween, Thanksgiving Day, and The Fourth Of July.
2. Use A Firewall
This can come in the form of either a hardware device or a software programme. Day and night, it will monitor all incoming and outgoing online traffic. If something is deemed suspicious, it will be reported and blocked. Sadly there are sometimes viruses, adware, spyware, and worms trying to get into our computer hard drives. Firewalls are designed to prevent this from occurring but are not always successful (see no. 3).
Online gamers may not realise that they are at risk of hackers; some malware is specifically targeting them. Interestingly there are still a large number of people using Windows XP and Windows 7. It is strongly recommended that anyone doing so installs a firewall to breach the vulnerability to hackers.
3. Install Antivirus Software
Will a firewall suffice? The answer is no. It’s important to ensure your computers are completely protected. Windows 8 and 10 have Defender software built-in, which looks for viruses and so on. Nonetheless, it is well worth purchasing additional antivirus software so that every threat is covered. Defender may be able to cope with more traditional threats, but modern enemies like ransomware may get past it.
The programme should assess every potential download and regularly scan the computer for known threats and suspicious activities. If something adverse is identified, it will usually be safely removed. It is unwise to download free antivirus software as it may come from an insecure website and bring malware with it. Your identity details and other data could also be stolen this way.
4. Purchase Spyware Protection
Imagine rogue software that collects your data and affects your computer’s performance. Spyware can scoop up our online details (including our credit cards) and activities and steal our passwords. It’s actually one of the oldest and most frequent threats we face online.
If it doesn’t make its presence known, only security software will detect it. It can sneak in through security breaches or come with phishing attacks or misleading marketing. Many people have accepted this trojan horse into their computer, thinking it was safe shareware or freeware.
Here are some signs of a possible infection:
- You are being redirected to advert pages.
- Changes being made to your hard drive.
- Pop up ads suddenly appearing.
- Your default home page being changed.
Once again, the antivirus software may be sufficient to prevent this - but it is still worth installing additional spyware protection to be sure.
5. Use A Password Manager
Let’s be honest: passwords are a pain. First, we used letters, and then we had to include numbers. Frequently these days, we even need to include a special character. For this reason, many people take the dangerous step of using one password for many applications. The problem is that if they are hacked, the criminals will be able to access all the applications instantly.
It can be hard to remember all our passwords, and if we keep them in a book by our computer, that can be risky too. Fortunately, password managers can help us, and some are even free to use. They can choose new passwords and remember them all for us. All we need to remember is the master one. When someone logs into an application, the password manager does the work for you, auto-entering the relevant password.
6. Set Up Two-Step (Two Factor) Authentication
This can create an extra layer of security. If you choose to make an online payment or log into a certain website, a text containing a code will be sent to you. If someone were trying to access your details, this would be the moment you found out!
It may seem like a nuisance that slows up our transactions, but two-step authentication serves to ensure it’s you who are doing this. It has been applied to an ever-increasing number of applications, including Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and iCloud.
7. Backup Your Data
Whilst it is rare, there are deadly viruses that can completely wipe a company’s data in one go. Research shows that nearly half of the small businesses that experienced this never recovered. It’s not just about bullet-proofing your online security; it’s also about preserving your information.
If your online data is stolen, it’s important that it was also stored elsewhere. Besides the cloud, there are USB sticks and external drives to consider. Key data can even be stored on a spare computer. This will be even more of a safe option if it has no internet connection. The more places your sensitive information, photos, and videos are kept, the better. USB sticks and drives can get lost or stolen, and the data can degrade over time or be formatted in error.
8. Allow The Regular Updates And Patches To Occur
Many people sigh when their Windows computers seem to need endless updates. The same thing can occur with different applications and programmes too. If security software requests an update, do it as soon as possible. Many of the changes will have been in response to bugs or vulnerabilities in the software.
In many cases, it is possible to set your computer to auto-update any changes. This can often be scheduled to operate when the computer is on, but you are not using it (e.g., at night). The whole process is much easier when it’s all done for you!
Interestingly, it’s outdated software that hackers are often able to access. They’ve spent time discovering how to do this, remember. Once changes have been made through an update, the goalposts may have changed once more. This will make it harder for criminals to enter your system.
9. Use A Private Window (As Firefox Calls It)
Such windows are available in browsers like Safari and Opera. Internet Explorer calls it Private Browsing, and Google Chrome calls it ‘Incognito Mode.’ They may be called different things by different browsers, but the result is the same. If a person shops whilst in this mode, their browsing history will not be logged. Any cookies will be deleted. Imagine looking on Amazon for shirts and no longer receiving adverts on shirts the next day!
Private windows are recommended when someone accesses multiple emails or their social media network. It’s also wise to use it when using online banking. We mentioned earlier that public hotspots could be insecure, but using a private window can add a measure of extra protection.
10. Regularly Clear Your Cache
It can be really useful when our computers remember our browsing history. We may have only entered the first few letters of a web address before the computer remembers and suggests the site you want. Frequently browsers ask us, ‘Save password?’ and we say ‘yes’ to save time in the future. The trouble is that if this information is stored, it can be potentially hacked.
If someone chooses to clear their cache (possibly on a daily basis), their browsing history and passwords will disappear. So will the cookies and the details that appeared in the ‘auto-fill’ function. When our browser ‘loses its memory,’ it can be a pain having to enter web addresses and passwords every time. Having said that, the fewer data the computer stores, the less it can be stolen. The Password Manager software we discussed earlier can at least help with regards to remembering and entering our passwords, however.
These have been just ten key suggestions for making your computer more secure. There are others, and it’s also true that no PC is ever 100% safe if connected to the internet. Having said that, if we do all that we can to protect our computers and our data, we will be in the best place possible. Whilst the criminals are always working and evolving, so is technology. When we use it effectively, we can fight against the unwanted hackers and stop them dead in their tracks.