There sure are a lot of reasons to celebrate this time of year. Between all the great food, good cheer and amazing deals, it’s easy to get caught up in the festivities. Perhaps that’s why November 30th was designated as Computer Security Day back in 1998 and we still “observe” it today — to remind us that no matter how much fun we’re having, posting our celebration-themed Snaps and statuses or snagging Michael Kors boots for half price, it’s still really important to keep our wits about us online.
You might be thinking, “Hey, do we really need another day dedicated to computer security?” (After all, National Cyber Security Awareness Month was just a few weeks ago!) But it seems that people need all the reminders they can get when it comes to securing their digital lives. Considering that 16 million households in the US had some sort of serious malware problem between 2015-2016 and that the cost to those people topped out at over 4.55 dollars, it’s safe to say that your average Joe could use a memory jog or two regarding online privacy and security practices. So before you go out to buy your devices a dozen long stemmed roses, to, uh, celebrate, keep the following security tips in mind throughout the remainder of the holiday season and all year long too:
- Update and patch all software and operating systems. Unpatched and not-up-to-date software are favorite entry points for malware.
- Uninstall software you don’t need and when you come across software you don’t recognize, check it out on our very own Should I Remove It to understand what it is and if there is any reason to keep it around.
- Read all end user agreements and privacy statements for any software and apps you install in the future. Get into a habit of reviewing already read ones on a semi-regular basis as well, as companies often change their terms without telling their users.
- Periodically go through your apps and get rid of the ones you’re not using – once they need to be updated, they can pose a security risk.
- Download software, files and media with great caution. They often harbor malware or other bundled unwanted software (PUPs) or adware.
- Go through your passwords and get rid of the weak and repeated ones. In fact, if they are all of the pathetic sort, get rid of them all and start again with unique, secure ones.
- Configure your settings so that your device (this goes for smartphones, laptops and tablets) can only be opened with a password.
- Set up a password manager to remember all your new and solid passwords. Good ones will even generate those super-tricky passwords so you don’t need to put in an ounce of thought.
- Set up multi-factor authentication to provide an additional layer of security when logging into accounts.
- Backup all data. Use one external hard drive and keep it off site and set up another online cloud backup provider.
- Set your cloud backup to automatically back your data up daily.
- Make sure your social media privacy settings are configured correctly.
- Never accept friend requests from strangers. Scammers use social engineering techniques to lure contacts on social media into all sorts of hoaxes so better to keep your distance.
- Keep away from clickbait articles and links from untrustworthy sources. They often harbor malware.
Wifi and connections
- Make sure your Wifi is configured with the proper security settings, that its default settings are changed, remote access is turned off and that its firmware is up-to-date.
- Consider using a virtual private network (VPN), which acts as a secure tunnel from one computer to another, even over public networks. If you need to access your company’s network from home or your mobile, this is the smartest way to do it.
- Never connect to unknown Wifi networks. It’s super-easy for hackers to set up spoofed public wifi networks and when people connect to them, all the data they transmit can be intercepted.
- Never bank or shop from public wifi. See above, then you’ll know why.
- Don’t open shady links in emails, even when it looks like a friend or colleague sent it. Your friends might be completely unaware when it comes to Computer Safety 101, so don’t trust that all their emails are safe.
- Don’t send unnecessary information in emails. Sure, you hope your friend or colleague gets the email you sent, but one wrong letter in an address can send that email elsewhere – don’t take that kind of risk with sensitive information.
- Make sure your email platforms spam filter is set to “high”.
- Consider installing an adblocker to minimize your chances of being affected by malvertising.
- Install a reputable anti-malware solution like RCS to block malware and adware and run regular scans to find any intruders.
- Log off and actually turn off your computer when it’s not in use.
- Never plug unknown flash drives, external hard drives or other devices into your computers. Hackers have been known to load malware onto thumb drives and when the unsuspecting finder pops the drive into his or her device, poof! They’ve got malware.
So there you have it, 25 more things to keep in mind, aside from all the shopping lists, invite lists and prep lists you have to juggle to make it through the holidays. But dealing with a case of identity fraud or getting hit by ransomware would probably make your already hectic life totally insane. So you know that old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Well, it’s really true in this case. Becoming more aware of your digital posture and shaping up whatever areas need fixing can save you huge amounts of frustration down the road. And that, to us, is something to celebrate.