When I came home and turned on my computer yesterday, it acted really weird. I was locked out of my main email account. My files didn’t want to be moved or copied and the file explorer acted strange.
I thought with horror that I was hacked. Everything flashed through my mind – so many things could go wrong in the future! I didn’t even remember what information the hackers could get, but the feeling was that my whole world went down.
Fortunately, I wasn’t hacked. My computer haven’t been updated for the last couple of months, and some programs started acting strange.
After some research, these are my top computer security tips for you and your personal digital belongings.
If someone is able to gain access to your email account, most of the steps in this article are not relevant.
If you don’t have 2FA (two-factor-authentication) with your email, stop reading now and enable it! Having only a password to protect your privacy, financial data, personal photos, and the ability to receive reset tokens from webpages you’ve registered with, is not good enough.
The most annoying personal computer security threat is a virus that wipes all and any data you might have. It starts from an infected email or a program from an untrusted publisher and spreads through your whole system in a matter of hours or minutes. Nothing can be done in order to recover from such virus.
How to avoid: Always have a backup your PC and important files and photos. Remember the 321-rule: keep at least 3 copies, in two different formats and one copy off site.
Both annoying and dangerous major threat is the Cryptoblocker virus. Especially for businesses it can be very damaging. It will encrypt all the files and you will not get your files back easily. The hackers will probably demand money to decrypt your files.
How to avoid: Keep your backups safe and working. Remember 321-rule. There is no point in backing up to a drive, which is always online. The Cryptolocker will encrypt the backup as well.
The most dangerous computer threat is a Trojan horse and other hidden software, also known as rootkits. The user usually doesn’t know that the computer is infected. Valuable information is transferred to a third party without any knowledge from the user.
How to avoid: Run antivirus checks regularly, do not download from untrusted sources, do not open strange emails. And follow these next 5 steps:
Keep your computer up to date. Always! People try to find backdoors and exploits all the time. Once a program is released, many hackers around the world will try to break into your system. Be it Windows or iOS systems, it doesn’t really matter. Operating systems have regularly new patches to fix security holes. Every day new threats are being discovered and fixed and these fixes come out as program updates. Do not switch off updates or decline them. They are important in order to keep your PC secure.
Think twice before downloading anything from the internet. Many files have viruses. Unless it’s from a trusted source – do not download or install it.
Check that the program you download has a digital signature.
When you start a program it comes up that the program publisher is unknown. Some installers with signatures are Java and TortoriseGit. No signature doesn’t mean that the program is infected, but be cautious.
Make sure the site you are downloading from is secured with HTTPS. HTTPS means that your connection with this website is encrypted, and no other third party can (easily) see what you are doing. It also means that the owner of the websites take security seriously.
Always have strong and unique passwords on your computer and all other websites. Do not use your computer password anywhere else! Never share your password. Do not message it through Facebook or Skype or even email. Everything can be tracked and traced (especially through social media websites).
Your personal computer password should be at least 9 characters long. Use big and small letters, digits and special characters. Why? There is no way to guess your password yet. There exist many different algorithms to guess a users password. According to Home Computer Security Center, cracking a 8 character password composed using 96 characters (mixed upper and lower case alphabet plus numbers and common symbols) can take 83.5 days. Although a recent research presented at Password^12 conference in Norway, shows that 8 character passwords are no more safe. They can be cracked in 6 hours.
Always lock your PC when you leave it. Have a screensaver with a password as well.
If you’re using WiFi, it must be secured by strong encryption and strong keys. Ask your provider if you need help. Anybody in the range of your open WiFi can potentially see everything you do on the internet, and they can also use your internet connection to download illegal content.
Check that your home PC doesn’t have a public IP. Your router/firewall should have a public IP, not your computer. Run Start Menu -> write “cmd” -> write “ipconfig”.
Check that IP address starts with 10.* or 172.16-31., or 192.168. Create a private subnet for your computer and devices. It differs from ISP to ISP. Sometimes it’s done automatically by your ISP and by the equipment you get. Sometimes you will need help to set it up.
If you really do need a public IP, you’ll know it if you really need it. Mostly using port forwarding from your router to your computer is good enough, and it will not expose your whole computer, unless there is a backdoor or exploit in the service you want to expose to the internet.
And one more thing. Never connect to open public WiFis, unless you have an updated system, and an active firewall, and a working antivirus software!
1. It is advisable to use ghostery or adblock plugins when browsing the internet. This will remove the annoying ads and secure against ad-borne threats. It’s happened that ads have contained malware, using exploits in flash to gain access to victims. If you don’t want to block all the ads, at least block tracking.
2. Update or (or just delete) Flash and Java. Severe security holes in these two programs are discovered weekly. If you need Java, do not install the Java browser plugin. This plugin is like Swiss cheese – full of holes.
3. Do not ignore certificate warnings in browsers, specially if it’s your bank or email.
This warning means that your connection with the website may be compromised. You never know.
4. Have an email address without your name. When you register online to different sites – give them this impersonal address. Do not give them more than they need to know.
5. When signing in with Facebook or Twitter or other social media accounts, make sure to review the requested rights. You will be surprised how many rights you give them and how much information they actually gather about you. Just don’t register with Facebook or Twitter, and just use regular email signup if you really need access to that site.