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We live in a world where Troy Hunt announces a new breach almost every week. There are millions of leaked credentials on the internet. Your spam mailbox is full of Nigerian princes asking the same questions that your mortgage application asks, and the media’s recommendations on how to secure your online life seem to keep changing. Here are five tips that can help ensure your private information remains private
1. Use a Password Manager
Password managers like 1Password and KeePass are a great solution to address the need for a unique password for every site – which will in turn resolve the need to change your password everywhere when one site announces a breach. Not only do they save you from having to remember passwords, they let you forget your username too. Password managers make it easy to have a unique, complex password for each website that you sign in to, so that if a site’s password list is breached, you don’t need to worry. Using the same password everywhere is really common, but it’s what everyone does simply because there’s too many things to remember in your life.
There’s a few password managers out there, so do your research and use one that’s well known. The better ones are usually somewhat expensive (1Password) but there’s free options available that are pretty good (LastPass). Some people think it’s a bad idea to use a notebook with usernames and passwords, but as long as you keep that notebook secure (in a safe place at home – no visits to the coffee shop!) you’re probably OK – unless someone’s targeting you.
2. Stay up to date
Updates can interrupt your work, which sucks, but they are really important to keeping your computer safe from hackers. Hackers move really quickly, and as soon as an update is released, they’re working to reverse-engineer it to find out what it fixes and discover any ways to use the bug to their advantage. Major updates, like upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10, are also really important. On the surface, it may look like Windows 10 is just an update for appearances’ sake, but there are some major architectural changes that are really significant in making your computer more secure.
3. Use an ad blocker
By far, the easiest way to install malware accidentally is by clicking on an ad that’s related to something that you’re looking for, or getting a drive-by download. Installing an ad blocker is recommended by most security experts as a basic first line of defense against bad people. Advertising networks are massive and complex. Some browsers, such as Chrome, have integrated ad blockers you can pick from their marketplace of browser extensions.
4. Be wary of unexpected communications – email, phone calls, texts
Emails from people that you don’t frequently talk to, or links you’re not expecting. There’s a multitude of ways that you can be targeted through your communications, from receiving a phone call pretending to be a bank, to receiving an email that looks like it’s from a company you do business with asking for you to PAY THIS OVERDUE INVOICE which you don’t remember receiving. The common thread with all of these types of attacks is to trust, but verify. If your bank calls you with a fraud alert and asks to validate your information, politely tell them you’ll call them back – and then call them back with the phone number on the back of your card. If your CEO texts asking for an urgent wire transfer (assuming that’s a normal part of your day) – call him up and verify each time. If you receive an email with a PDF or Office document, preview it in Office Online instead of using the full Office Suite. There’s a lot of backwards compatibility built into Office that makes it an excellent way to get into your computer.
5. Enable Windows Defender
Windows Defender is a great antivirus product included with Windows 10 for free. It’s quite capable of detecting the obvious and less-obvious malware. Like every other home antivirus product, it won’t be much use against a determined attacker, but it’s better than nothing. Windows Defender is quite reasonable about letting you use your computer, which has always been a problem with AV tools. Similar to the Stay up to date recommendation above – it’s there, it works well, and there’s really no reason to mess with the defaults.
Have tips to share on how you secure personal data online and protect your privacy? Share in the comments below.