President Obama recently declared October to be “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month”.
Far be it from us to ignore an executive declaration, so here are a few tips you can use to protect your gizmos, gadgets, and virtual goodies.
Defend your data
Personal computers, laptops, and tablets are easy targets for online criminals, especially if you don’t erect barriers to the information on your electronic devices.
Begin by making sure that a hard-to-crack password is required to use each one of your laptops, PCs, tablets, and smartphones (see below).
Next, download all updates to your operating system (such as Windows), and the latest versions of any other programs on your device.
Visit each company’s site directly, rather than clicking on links in emails or notices that appear to come from the company.
Then download anti-virus software for each device. You can certainly purchase products from companies like ESET or Symantec, but several decent free versions exist.
Malwarebytes will help track and remove malicious programs that are already on your computer.
It’s also very important that you back up important documents, photos, and videos to a separate device or service.
This measure can not only help restore your information if your device is damaged or stolen, or if you are the victim of a “ransomware” bug that blocks access to your device unless you make a substantial payment.
You can use an external hard drive, and/or a remote online backup service like Carbonite or iDrive (www.idrive.com).
Keep the settings on your social media sites to “private”, only allowing known users access to your various profiles.
Don’t get phished
Be careful of text messages and emails that appear to come from legitimate sources, but ask you to click on a link or open a file attachment.
The link may even appear to direct you to an authentic website, but in fact is set up by the swindlers to get you to enter your account numbers, passwords, or other sensitive information.
The links or attachments may also contain a virus that, once opened, will give unwanted parties access to or control over your PC, tablet, or smartphone.
This crime is known as “phishing”, as in the criminals are trying to lure you in to clicking on their links, and/or downloading malicious files and viruses.
Gmail does a good job of identifying and blocking spam and other nasty emails. If you use a different email service you may want to use a program like Spamfighter to block malevolent messages.
Protect with strong passwords
The best way to prevent someone else from gaining access to your electronic data and devices is to use passwords that can’t easily be guessed or hacked.
You should use different passwords for every site and account you visit, and the passwords should be at least eight characters.
Don’t use pet names, favorite actors, or sports teams, especially if that information is already publicly available on your social media sites.
The passwords should have at least one capital letter, numeral, and character (for instance, the “percent” sign).
Better yet, don’t make your password an actual word. Instead, have it be a random string of letters, numbers, and characters that are taken from the first letter of a sentence you can remember.
For instance, let’s say your memorable sentence might be “don’t forget your password”, then the first letter of the specific site you’re trying to access. To that you can add some indistinguishable number sequence, and a character or two.
So your password for, say, your Facebook account would be “DfypF1942%”. And then you can vary that for your bank accounts, etc.