Basic Computer Security: How to Protect Yourself from Viruses, Hackers, and Thieves
People often think of computer security as something technical and complicated. And when you get into the nitty-gritty, it can be—but the most important stuff is actually very simple. Here are the basic, important things you should do to make yourself safer online.
Enable Automatic Updates
All the software we use every day is likely riddled with security issues. These security issues are constantly being found—whether we’re talking about Windows, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, the Adobe Flash plugin, Adobe’s PDF Reader, Microsoft Office—the list goes on and on.
These days, a lot of operating systems and programs come with automatic updates to close these security holes. No longer do you need to click a button or download a file to update your software; it’ll update itself in the background without any input from you.
Some people like to turn this off for one reason or another. Maybe you don’t like that Windows restarts after installing an update, or maybe you just don’t like change. But from a security perspective, you should always leave automatic updates on.
You should also have a password on your computer and a passcode on your phone, too. I know, I know, it’s inconvenient. But while it may take a few seconds longer than just hitting one button, it’s an easy and important way to keep your information secure. Having a password on your computer and phone will stop random people from just picking up and using your device.
Think of all the information on your cell phone. Now think of all the websites you’re logged into on your computer. Would you want a stranger having all that access? Do you know how easy it is to lose your phone or laptop? You need to have a password on your computer and phone. No exceptions.
But that’s not all. A good password is like a really good lock on the door, but locks can be picked. Adding encryption turns that door into a bunker. If you encrypt your computer or phone, you prevent thieves from getting to your data by other more advanced means. We recommend using BitLocker on Windows if you have Windows Pro or Enterprise, or VeraCrypt if you have Windows Home. Mac users should turn on FileVault. If you’re running Windows Home, something like Veracrypt is a good option for you. iPhones and Android phones are usually encrypted by default these days, but you can double check in the settings to be sure.
Never Leave Your Phone or Computer Unattended
This may seem obvious, but it deserves saying: never, ever, ever leave your computer or phone unattended in public. On your coffee table in your house? Sure. On your table at Starbucks? No way. Doing so is asking for it to be stolen.
If your device gets stolen, the best case scenario is you losing your expensive device. But if you leave something unattended and you haven’t followed all of the above advice, the worst case scenario is that someone has your expensive gadget and all of your personal information. All it takes is a kid with slightly-more-than-basic computer knowledge to get at all your data, and if they have your computer in their hands, it’s a lot easier (if you don’t use encryption—see above).
rst, check is if this link goes where it says it goes. If you hover your cursor over the link, the destination should pop up at the bottom of your browser window. If it doesn’t, Right-click on the link and select “Copy link address.” You can then paste this somewhere safe (like a Notepad document) and examine it.
If the link says “ebay.com”, but the real destination says “ebay.clickme.com”, something is suspicious, and you shouldn’t click. Remember, just because it has the word “ebay” in it doesn’t mean it’s going to ebay, either—it needs to be before that “.com” to be truly legitimate.
Be Careful About Programs You Download and Run (and Stop Pirating Software)
This tip may also seem obvious—you hear it all the time, and probably think you follow it. But so much of the malware Windows users encounter seems to be as a result of accidentally downloading and installing bad software.
So always be careful about the programs you download and run. Only download and run software that’s widely known and trustworthy, or recommended by trustworthy sites. Make sure you always get the software from its official website—if you want to download VLC, download it from VLC’s official website. Don’t click a “Download VLC” banner on another website and download it from someone else that may bundle malware or adware along with it. Even if you’re using a search engine, make sure it’s leading you to the real site.
And, when downloading software, be sure to watch out for advertisement banners disguised as “Download” links that will take you elsewhere and try to trick you into downloading possibly malicious software. And uncheck any bundled software that comes with a program—even a legitimate one.
Be aware that there are many different types of “programs”—for example, screensavers in .SCR format are essentially just programs and could contain harmful malware. We’ve got a list of 50+ different types of file extensions that are potentially dangerous on Windows.
Lastly, and this should go without saying, but stop pirating software. When you acquire pirated or cracked software from peer-to-peer networks or shady websites, you’re taking a big risk. By running an .exe file from such locations, you’re trusting the distributor to not do anything harmful. Worse yet, the cracks you may need to run to make such software work properly are made by software-cracking groups. You can’t know if they’ve included malware or not.
Don’t Trust Your Popup Notifications
Similarly, never download or install something you didn’t go looking for. If a website tells you Flash is out of date, Chrome needs to be updated, or a plugin needs to be added, pump your brakes. This is a common trick to get you to install something for an attacker. If you think the pop-up might be legitimate, you still don’t want to click on it.
Let’s use Flash as an example. A site may give you a warning you need the latest version to get that cat video to play. Instead of clicking the link (or button) to update, do a search for “adobe flash” and get the update from Adobe’s official website—not the popup from catvideos.com.