Computer security hit the mainstream long ago, with regular media attention on high-profile security breaches and ransomware attacks.
A ransomware attack that hit the city of Atlanta had far-reaching effects on city services such as the court system, police reporting and online payment of water and sewer bills.
Unfortunately, you can’t protect your data that’s in the hands of other companies from incidents like what happened at Equifax. You can, however, protect important data that’s directly under your control – files stored on your computer that may include financial records and precious family photos. Here are five things you can do to increase your computer security.
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Microsoft Windows comes with free backup software already included, and it’s easy to create regular computer backups and a system repair disc.
You’ll want to buy an external USB hard drive to store those backups. For the best security against ransomware attacks, use two drives and alternate them by week. That way, if ransomware manages to encrypt your computer and your attached backup drive, you’ll still have the previous week’s backup safely stowed somewhere else.
Use Different Passwords for Different Sites
Hackers regularly get their hands on passwords used for sites like LinkedIn, Spotify and Dropbox, to name just a few. What they’re really hoping is that the user credentials they steal from those sites have been reused on bank sites and large shopping sites like Amazon.
If one of your passwords has been stolen, it might become part of a large online marketplace where online credentials are bought and sold.
It’s important that you avoid using the same password across multiple sites, though it’s less critical if you use the same one for a news site that you use for Pandora. Just be sure that you don’t use that same password for Facebook, Amazon, banks, and credit cards.
Don’t Take That Facebook Quiz
Any time you take a quiz on Facebook or click on any other link that lets Facebook install an app, you open yourself up to significant privacy concerns.
None of these quizzes will actually help you learn something useful about yourself. What they’ll likely do is provide third-party advertisers with a deeper understanding of you. Companies use this data to customize the ads that you see for the overall purpose of manipulating your brain.
Identify Malicious Emails and Phone Calls
The most common way that ransomware and other malicious software invades companies and individuals is through emails. You receive an email that looks like it came from someone you know or from a reputable company. It might even come from a completely unfamiliar company or person, but the tone is so demanding that you feel obligated to click on the link or open the file attachment.
Some malicious emails might look like shipping or package alerts or could claim to contain invoices that you need to pay.
Criminals have also been calling people on the phone claiming to be from Microsoft or some other tech company. They’ll try to con you into letting them take control of your computer remotely to supposedly fix a problem. In fact, they’ll install malware that may lock your computer until you pay a fee to unlock it.
I regularly receive scam robocalls claiming to be from the IRS, FBI or other government agency and threatening to arrest me if I don’t call back. Scammers have a number of different ways of trying to extort money from you, and they can be very convincing.
Avoid Unsecured WiFi
You can find free WiFi in many public places, including medical offices, hospitals, museums, hotels, restaurants, and malls. The problem with the majority of these setups is that they’re open WiFi networks that don’t offer even the most basic security.
A WiFi network is unsecured if it does not require a password when you connect to it. Launching a website and then asking for a password doesn’t count. It must require a password before it’ll let your phone, tablet or laptop connect.
Connecting to open WiFi networks – those that don’t require a password to connect – leaves you vulnerable to amateur hackers who can easily figure out how to access your data.
Requiring a connection password means that the WiFi uses encryption – a process that scrambles data on the network and makes it more difficult for hackers to access.