By Derek Davis, Principal | Managing Partner
There is no shortage of headlines about ransom ware, hackers, phishing, and security breaches. The FBI is warning us that Russians have infected many thousands of routers. Known international groups from North Korea, China, Iran, and others constantly attempt to disrupt networks.
In 2018, the Internet is so ubiquitous and access so critical that there is panic when there is a problem. Being in the technology business, I am often asked by frustrated acquaintances how to stay safe, protect their identity, and keep from becoming a victim. I empathize with folks because the answers can sound incredibly complicated and expensive. But burying your head in the sand and hoping you are safe is not a good strategy. That’s what the bad guys hope for.
Here is some of the advice that I tell people:
First, treat every electronic transaction with suspicion. This means texts, emails, social media, online shopping, etc. If you don’t think defensively, you are certainly vulnerable. Socially engineered threats today make spoofed / phishing emails and websites look incredibly authentic. If anyone asks you to identify yourself online – PLEASE STOP and recheck to make sure. Don’t give away the keys to your (online) castle. For example, If I can scan your Facebook page and learn just a few facts about you, it’s possible I can hack into your online account and use the information from Facebook to answer password reset questions. Typical password reset questions are things like “What is your mother’s maiden name?”, “What elementary school did you attend?”, etc.
Next, layer your protection. Use a throw-away email address for non-critical communications. I give people I don’t want to interact with a Gmail address that I rarely look at. In that account, there are thousands of useless emails that I never have to deal with.
Also, protect your home network by setting up a personal account with OpenDNS. (www.opendns.com) This free service protects your web surfing by filtering out internet traffic to malicious places, and you can customize your settings. For example, it’s easy to ensure that pornography, gambling, and other broad categories of sites are blocked.
OpenDNS does offer paid subscriptions and businesses can’t use it for free. An additional benefit is that your internet surfing is actually faster, but you will need a router to make this work.
Next, Backup. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Backup. Backup. Backup. You have probably heard IT folks saying this for years – so in 2018, there is NO EXCUSE not to have your systems backed up.
Lastly, keep current. If your equipment is several years old, it’s likely that there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited. This is certainly the case with the home routers the FBI warned about recently. Your computer updates are often inconvenient, but important. Do them. Make sure your AntiVirus programs are up-to-date, and are working. Install a free copy of MalwareBytes (www.malwarebytes.com) and scan your system periodically. These tools, along with others can help keep your computers operating well.
However, there are also some products that appear to be helpful, but actually install malware onto your systems. Don’t just blindly download and install a product on your computer without checking it out. Look at the Bleeping Computer site for helpful suggestions (www.bleepingcomputer.com)
Most of these things sound like common sense. And, to a large degree, they are. However, there has never been a better time to use some common sense and protect yourself.
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