This is a guest post by Henry Lloyd.
The FBI has warned us all. Due to the sly tactics of international hackers, a potentially harmful virus could knock 500,000 computers offline this July. That being the case, a brief refresher course on computer security just might be in order. After all, internet security is fundamentally important for any home or business computer. Hackers can pose many threats to your computer software, emails, finances and privacy. Here’s a look at 7 things you can do right away to fend off potential hackers from invading your network, computer, and smartphone.
1. Protect your network
If you have a wireless network it is vital to protect and secure it with a password. An open network can be accessed by anyone and this makes it possible for them to view your files and personal information. You can easily create a secure network through the settings of your wireless router. Create a password that would be hard to guess (see bullet point #2), and make sure you write your password down somewhere safe where you can find it easily.
2. Create bulletproof passwords
It is important to have strong passwords for your banking, email and social networking accounts. It’s tempting to use a password that is easy to remember because it can be a hassle when you can’t log in. But it’s critical to choose passwords that would be hard to guess and even harder for hackers to figure out. Use passwords containing numbers and a mix of upper and lower case letters or special characters and don’t use the same password too many times. It is also a good idea to change your password frequently. An email hacker can be annoying and embarrassing but one who figures out how to get into your bank account can wreak havoc on your finances.
3. Don’t skimp on the antivirus program
If you don’t already have a good antivirus program, you need to get one. While premium services are expensive, there are many free programs that protect just as well. Many times internet providers also offer free premium antivirus protection included in your monthly subscription. Whichever route you chose to go for your antivirus software, be sure to keep it up to date and scan frequently. A virus attack can make your entire computer sluggish and difficult to use but trojans and spyware can obtain all of your personal information.
4. Re-evaluate your operating system
The big hack the FBI warned us about was orchestrated through weaknesses in the Windows operating system. Although no system is 100% hack proof, if you use Windows, you may want to consider switching operating systems. Computers that run MAC or Linux are almost completely immune to viruses, trojans, and hacking, and often no other security protection is needed. If you do have to run Windows for work or other reasons, it is imperative that you keep your operating system up to date. A good way to do this is to enable automatic updates that take care of this automatically—in case you forget.
5. Watch how you shop online
Internet shopping is very convenient and can save a lot of time and money. The issue with shopping online is that it can leave your credit card information vulnerable to hackers and thieves. One way to protect your transactions is to use PayPal or Google checkout to pay when available. For other purchases without 3rd party payment options, try to use a prepaid credit card or ask your card company if they provide online or virtual card numbers. By using a prepaid or virtual card to do your online shopping, you are protecting your bank account and credit card information from being stolen. Finally, you should only shop with merchants who are trusted and provide a secure checkout experience.
6. Limit transactions on your smartphone
Smartphones are truly transforming the world of online computing. Unfortunately, smartphones are also much easier to hack into than desktops and laptops. Aside from getting hold of your sensitive information, hackers can use your phone without you even knowing it to send premium text messages, surf the web, and exceed the limits of your monthly provider package while sticking you with a serious bill for the overages. At the very least, the battery of a cell phone that is back-door hacked can be drained very quickly, leaving you with a dead phone when you really need it and you don’t have your charger handy.
7. Beware of suspicious emails
The huge email hack was carried out by attracting online users to click on advertisements. Phishing scams are also a common way to lure users to bogus sites that look exactly like the real deal, and then ask you to enter passwords or other sensitive information to make sure everything with your account is secure. Being aware of these types of scams, along with never opening suspicious emails—including those that appear to come from friends and carry links that just don’t look right—is critical in fending off the attacks of hackers.