14 Critical IT Tips: Secure Your Online Presence
Unless you’re Amish there is a good chance that your life is deeply interwoven with the internet. Many do not even realize the extent of which their lives are mirrored on the net, but that’s for another discussion altogether. In this article we’re going to focus on some amazing tips and techniques that you can utilize to provide you a safer environment in the virtual world. From very simple to ingenious we encourage you to dive in and start hardening your digital vulnerability. The list below is in no particular order of precedence.
Let’s be honest, it’s very tempting to create that awesome password that you easily remember and then use it on virtually all of your accounts. Common sense tells us that’s not a good business practice yet many do so any way and just assume it will never happen to me. If you’re in that crowd hopefully it doesn’t, however you would be much better off creating very strong and unique passwords for each of your accounts. Obviously this is practically impossible to remember for most of us so there are some aides to help with that. Utilize a password manager. One note on that, I recommend redundancy in this area as they can like everything crash and fail. If you have a backup it will be no big deal. Another technique you can use to memorize very strong passwords is by keyboard pattern rather than memorizing the password itself. The slight drawback to this is that it’s a pattern so it’s not as secure as a truly randomized password.
TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATION
While a strong password is imperative it is highly recommended that you use two factor authentication. This significantly increases your security and most sites are coming on board with this quickly becoming the new standard.
ANTI VIRUS SOFTWARE
Use top quality anti virus software. While using a free (credible) one is better than nothing you’ll get better security and protection by forking out the money for a good quality product. In this case name brand is relevant as they have the funding to stay on the leading edge of identifying and defending against viruses. I personally use (and like) AVG. Never run two anti virus programs as they can have conflicts with each other and cause you problems.
Firewalls are an important line of defense as they monitor connection attempts to your pc. Definitely employ a good firewall for an added layer of protection.
You probably have an idea of how a router connects your various devices etc, but you may not know that it can serve as an initial firewall that is actually challenging to bypass (not impossible). A router is not intelligent so when it see an unsolicited connection attempt to your device it simply ignores it. This is great for you as it’s an added layer of security and one less draw on your processing system.
Do not, I repeat do not click (follow) links through an email. Of course if you are certain of the sender there is an exception to be made, however in general a good practice is to not click on links in emails. This is a very old (and effective) technique that various scams and the like utilize to trap the unsuspecting citizen. So next time you receive an email from your bank, IRS, etc. that you believe to be real simple open your own browser and manually go to their site and verify on your own.
VERIFY YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS
Take the time to ensure you’re sharing only what you want to. This goes for all your social media accounts as well as your mobile devices. It’s up to you the user to find that balance between security and convenience (RISK).
RUN A PORT SCAN
A port scan will act as a hacker and check for vulnerabilities in your system. This is a great resource to utilize and identify potential areas that need to be addressed. SecurityMetrics.com offers a pretty good one.
UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE
It seems like updates are constantly available for download and install. This is a bit of a headache and inconvenience, but it is a necessary one that you should accept and not put off. Updates and patches are often to address vulnerabilities or strengthen security concerns. Merely blowing them off (especially in the case of the former) is an open invitation to exploitation. If data usage is an issue with you then simply take the time to utilize a free hotspot for the update. Either way update, it’s a lot less inconvenient than recovering your identity.
BACK UP, BACK UP, DID WE MENTION BACK UP!!!
Back up everything. There are few things as frustrating as losing years of work, memories and data because you didn’t take the time to back it up and secure it. This also goes for your phones as well. Also don’t just settle for one back up, redundancy is key here. Finally consider utilizing a reputable cloud service (they are very affordable) as a backup vault. This separates you and the back up if tragedy strikes locally (think fire, flood, etc….
NOTHING IS FREE
Despite what the bleeding hearts would have you believe everything (in this context) has a cost associated with it. If it’s labeled free (software, App, etc.…) that cost is typically linked to your privacy. The bottom line is that business exist to make money (understandable) and even NPOs require financing to operate. If you are downloading an app or software for free then they have chosen to make money through a backend method (rather than charging you on the front end). This isn’t always devious, however you should spend the time researching and understanding your cost. For instance OGC (our company) offers a free fitness App (OGCFIT) to all who want it. We don’t collect or share information from it either….so am I contradicting myself here? Absolutely not, the app provides us exposure of our company and excellent services to the public (marketing benefit) additionally we offer lucrative personal training services and packages that can be optionally purchased (potential sales). There is nothing dubious in this, but as I said it’s not free. Sure we’d love to do things free out of the kindness of our hearts, but at the end of the day the bills have to be paid. There are others out there with similar agendas, however there are others that also sale you information to 3rd parties and worst of all there are others that steal and exploit you. Do your research before inviting a stranger into your home.
USE A CHROMEBOOK
This is not to say that you don’t need or shouldn’t use a typical PC, however it is well worth investing in a low-cost Chromebook for your everyday surfing and internet shopping. Chromebooks are cloud based and much more secure than a typical PC, even if you’ve bolstered its security. By utilizing the cloud rather than your own hard drive you’ve essentially spared yourself a lot of typical exploitation associated with internet usage. Say goodbye to viruses and the like (at least while you’re on the Chromebook).
USE A VPN
So some of you may not be familiar with a VPN or only associate them with your work life. Let’s first explain what a VPN is.
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. This is a discrete network that operates over the internet. They allow the users to link to remote datacenters when not physically present on the same local area network (LAN). They also facilitate securing and encrypting communication when operating on a public network. (FOR AN IN DEPTH EXPLANATION OF HOW THESE WORK CLICK HERE)
The great news is there are some excellent VPN providers out there that you can use (you don’t have to create your own network) and ensure that your information and traffic stay secure. Finally there are a lot of considerations when choosing the right VPN. Not all are created equal. I recommend you learn more on the topic and choose the one that aligns best with your security concerns.
DISABLE USB PORTS
If you want to take an extra physical security step you can disable your USB ports. This prevents the stealing of information or introduction of viruses via a USB flash drive. Follow the steps below to do this.
NOTE: This will also disable access to your peripheral devices as well, so don’t use it if you utilize them (mouse, keyboard, etc….).
1. Click on Start.
2. Click on Run. If you cannot find RUN, type it in the search box.
3. Type "regedit" without quotes. This will launch the Registry Editor.
4. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\usbstor.
5. In the work area, double click on Start.
6. In the Value Data box, enter 4.
7. Click on OK.
8. Close Registry Editor and refresh your desktop.
9. To re-enable access to your USB ports, enter 3 in the Value Data box in Step 6.
Can you think of some great tips we didn’t include? If so please share them in the comments below.