If you’ve never really put much thought into computer security, but recent media coverage has convinced you it’s time to start taking it seriously, it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed. Where do you start? Everyone’s being hacked – even the really big companies with entire teams of IT professionals! How can I, “average computer user” even hope to keep my stuff safe? First off, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams: “Don’t Panic.” There are a handful of straight-forward, easy to execute measures you can take that will improve your overall security profile. Consider these your first steps to developing a more secure technology future for yourself and your business. While these are definitely not going to make you hack-proof, it will make you a much harder target, and most hackers will move on to easier prey.
- Use strong, unique passwords where it matters. Keeping your critical passwords different will greatly lessen the impact when an account or an account provider gets hacked. This includes any accounts that handle your finances, but also things like your Facebook or other social media accounts, and definitely protect your email with a good, solid password.
- Change your home router password. This will make your home network less susceptible to hacking. I’d like to think more and more folks will learn how to do this (if only once or twice a year), but I realize it’s not always a walk in the park. Call your ISP – they can usually walk you through it via the phone, or if you’d prefer a more personal approach, call your local computer consultant. You’ve got C2 on speed dial, right?
- Make sure your antivirus software is running and up to date. Know what it is called, and understand how it appears on your computer, including warnings and detections. If you don’t have the time or inclination to manage this aspect of computing, there are plenty of companies (like C2!) that offer something called “Managed Support” that includes monitoring your antivirus software for you. This usually also includes making sure your Operating System stays up to date as well.
- Stay away from strange email attachments and unfamiliar websites. Most viruses are delivered via these two methods. If you receive an attachment you weren’t expecting, don’t open it, even if it looks legitimate. Call the sender and confirm they sent the email.
- Be cautious when installing software or driver “updates” especially when notified via browser pop-ups. These are frequently not legitimate and will lead your computer down a dark path of malware infestation. Be particularly suspicious if the “updates” suddenly appear when visiting a new website, or opening an attachment. That’s your signal to cancel any pop-ups and call for professional technology assistance!
These practices will improve your security stance, but there are still a myriad of other things that you could do to strengthen your defenses. To take it to the next level, you should consider the following questions:
- Do you (or your company) handle other people’s sensitive information?
- Do you work in (or for) a regulated industry? A publicly traded company? (Health, finance, government, etc.)
- Do you have intellectual property that is stored and/or transmitted digitally?
- How much inconvenience and expense are you willing to incur to reduce your risk?
- How much of your livelihood would be jeopardized if your computer was hacked?
Answering these tough questions usually requires assistance from an experienced IT professional, even on a individual basis. That being said, achieving any measure of improved security begins with everyone taking some measure of personal responsibility for security, and they can start that process by following the five simple practices outlined above.