Even in 2016 there are many people that still believe that hackers only go after businesses and organizations. Technology bad guys are just like any other type of crook. They go after the easiest target that will bring them the most reward. The reward could be money, notoriety, belief in a cause or simply just because I can.
It is easier to break into your computer than to hack into the network at IBM. Many people say, “What do they want with me? I don’t have any money.” Hackers are not always looking for ways to get money directly from you. They may want to use your computer to attack other computers. There are times when they are looking for Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as your full name, date of birth, credit card numbers or your social security number. That type of information can quickly be sold on the Internet.
Ransomware is another reason why hackers may be interested in your computer. Yes, hacking into one computer and holding it for ransom is not very lucrative. However, what if I manage to hack into 10 computers a day and hold them for ransom? I then force you to pay me $300-$500 to regain control of your computer. I just made $3,000-$5,000 in one day. Click on the link at the end of this article for detailed information about ransomware.
I recently had a person ask me, “How can I be sure that my computer is 100% safe from hackers?” THERE IS NOTHING THAT IS 100% SECURE. So, how can you protect your computer and your data? Here are some tips that have worked well for me over the years.
I may be guilty of being overly cautious, but I don’t believe or trust anything online before I do my due diligence and check it out. We have all heard the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.” Be careful about which websites you visit. Be very carefully before downloading files. Only download files from reputable websites. Once you download a file, scan it with your antivirus program to make sure it is virus free.
The way I use the Internet is similar to how I would walk down a dark alley in a rough neighborhood. I am always on the lookout for someone or something to jump out and try to get me. You may say that always being on alert for something bad to happen takes the joy out of blissfully surfing the Internet. Well, we all are different. My joy comes from 28 years of being safe online – never been hacked, never had a virus infection, and never lost data.
As you add more and more files to your computer, the data quickly becomes more valuable than the computer itself. Please create a good backup plan and stick with it. A backup may be the only thing standing between you and a successful ransomware attack. You don’t want to end up having to pay some stranger to get your own files back. Even if you never get hacked, you still should consistently backup your files. The main reason is because there are two types of hard drives, those that have failed and those that will. Second Copy may meet your needs.
There is always a bad guy somewhere in the world coming up with new ways to attack computers. New viruses are created every day. Use a good antivirus program and keep it updated. An antivirus program does not do you much good if you install it today and never update it. In this situation, the antivirus program can only protect your computer from viruses that were out in the world when the program was created. Avast has worked well for me.
USE A GOOD BROWSER AND KEEP IT UPDATED
I have 5 different browsers installed on my computer. I will list them in order of most to least secure in my experience:
Epic Privacy Browser
I test browsers simply by trying to infect my computer with a virus. I do this by purposely going to certain types of websites. Gambling, file sharing, porn, pirated music and movie websites are notorious for downloading viruses\malware onto computers. Over the years, Chrome has done a better job of blocking or alerting me to potential dangerous viruses.
KNOW BEFORE CLICKING
Gone are the days where you actually had to do some work (download something) to infect your computer with malware. Now all you have to do is visit an infected website. I am sure you, like most people use Google to search for information on the Internet. Of the many search results (websites) Google finds, how do you know which sites may be infected?
I use a program called Web of Trust (WOT). WOT and its many users report problems they have had with websites. Now when I do a Google search, out to the side of each website there is a little red, yellow or green icon. The red icon means the site is likely not safe, don’t go there. The yellow icon means the site may be safe, you’re taking a chance, and the green icon means the site should be fine.
UPDATE YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM (OS)
About every two weeks I read about a successful hack\breach that should not have been successful. A patch was released months and sometimes over a year ago to protect computers from the particular hack that was successful. Why did it succeed? The OS (usually Windows) was never updated. Microsoft and other companies are always releasing updates to fix various security problems. However, it does you no good if you don’t install the updates. KEEP YOUR OS UP TO DATE.
UPDATE YOUR APPLICATIONS
Many people are familiar with updating Windows, but your applications need to be updated as well. Hackers may use a hole\security weakness in one of your applications to gain access to your computer. Take a look at Flexera PSI (formerly Secunia PSI).
STAY OUT OF BAD NEIGHBORHOODS
I know two people (Adam & Ruth, not their real names) that are on very different sides of the security spectrum. Adam has all types of security measures in place to keep his computer safe. He still has 2-3 virus problems a year. Ruth is an older lady who has no security software installed on her computer. She has never had a virus problem.
Adam visits gambling sites and is always looking for pirated movies to download. Ruth does two things with her computer. She sends emails to her older sister and she reads the NY Times online. I do not advocate not having any security software installed on your computer, but you can see how our choices can get us into trouble even if we have protection.
A firewall monitors traffic coming into and leaving your computer. If it detects something it does not think is right, you will get an immediate alert. It is a good idea to know what’s going on. Not having a firewall is like having a house with no doors and no windows. It’s going to be challenge to know who or what is coming in and out of your house. ZoneAlarm has had a good reputation for many years.
The hackers are forever working. The good guys must be vigilant as well.
John Lee Jones