Cybersecurity – Being Safe at Home

We live in an age of technology, and protecting your personal information is more important than ever.  Almost all of us have vital personal and professional information on our computers, and often in social media accounts as well. We also keep pictures, videos, and other memorabilia almost exclusively on our computers and other devices. Many of us are not IT professionals, and keeping up with the ever-evolving threats to our data, security, and privacy can be a real challenge.

You don’t have to be a professional to protect your home computer and network.  A few accessible guidelines and practices can protect your data from almost all common threats.  Protecting your personal information also goes beyond just securing your home computer and network.  Most people now have a significant social media presence as well.  You can keep your information safe while still enjoying your favorite social media sites.  Securing your home computer and social media presence will help safeguard you against cyber-security issues that affect us all today.

The most common issue for home computer users is Malware, a generic term for malicious software designed to perform undesired actions on a computer without the explicit knowledge or permission of the user.  Malware may be used to gather or destroy information.  There are many examples of Malware, such as Viruses, Spyware, and others that the average home user may not have heard of like Worms, Trojan Horses, Keyloggers, and Rootkits.  For now, let’s focus on the main two.  A Virus is a program that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another by attaching itself to an existing program.  Spyware is a program that self-installs on a computer and covertly gathers information about a person’s Internet use and passwords.  There are various free antivirus software solutions you can download.  Many of these also protect against spyware and some of the less known malware issues as well.  In 2017 some of the leading software solutions include Total AV, McAfee, Adaware Antivirus and Amita Antivirus.  Once you have downloaded your chosen anti-malware software, you can schedule it to run at your convenience. It is also a good idea to run a manual virus scan on a regular basis as well.

Now that your computer is safe from Malware, we need to take steps to secure your personal information when using email or browsing the web.  Most popular sites offer HTTPS connections at least some of the time.  While this sounds like a fancy technical term, it simply means that information you send over the internet is encrypted, protecting any messages containing sensitive information such as passwords, credit cards and pin numbers from being intercepted.  If you use Gmail or any other popular email tool, you can go into the security settings and select “always use HTTPS.”  Even social media sites such as Facebook allow you “browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) when possible.”  When using online banking or any website that contains your sensitive or personal information, always be sure to check the connection is secured using HTTPS.  How to check?  Simply look at the address in your web browser.  If it says HTTPS at the start, then you know you are secure.

Most operating systems (e.g., Windows) include a built-in firewall to monitor incoming and outgoing connections.  You can use a firewall in combination with anti-malware software and secure browsing settings like HTTPS to provide security for your home computer or network.  On a Windows computer, locate your firewall settings in the Control Panel under System and Security. Click on Windows Firewall, then click Turn on Windows Firewall.  Note: you may be prompted to enter your administrator password.  You can find these settings in System Preferences, then Security & Privacy on a Mac.  This simple step takes seconds to perform but is very important in a complete home computer secure setup.

How many of us connect to public WIFI when at a café having our morning coffee to browse our favorite social media site?  There are basic steps you should take to protect your data when using public WIFI.  The first step is to turn off sharing.  You may share your music, printers or files while at home using your private network, but be sure to turn this sharing off before connecting to public WIFI.  Another method of protection is to download a VPN, a virtual private network that routes your traffic through a secure network even on public WIFI.  There are many free VPN services, but only a paid service guarantees the connection’s integrity.  Another good tip is to avoid connecting automatically to WIFI hotspots, a simple setting that you can change on your smartphone or tablet.  Most modern phones have this option disabled by default.

In addition to protecting your home computer and taking care when using public WIFI, it is always a good idea to address the security of your data within your social media accounts.  The most commonly used social media application these days is Facebook.  You can change your settings to limit who can see your posts, pictures, and videos and even monitor those who can send you friend requests.  The best security, however, is never to accept friend requests from people you don’t know personally.   Remember that your profile picture and profile background picture are always public for anyone to see.  Facebook and most other social media sites won’t let you lock these elements down.  Because of its professional orientation, LinkedIn is probably the most important site to consider when securing your personal information.  Often people include details such as their phone number, email and even their home address!  Be sure to be careful who you add on LinkedIn as well.  Provide only basic information for prospective employers.  They can always send you a message for further details.

Whether on social media, your home laptop or personal network, password security is probably the single most important step you can take to prevent cybersecurity issues.  The rules around password strength vary depending on which application or device you are using.  But as a standard rule, always try to use a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers (never your PIN number), and special characters.  Never use any personal details in your password.  For example, using your date of birth or children’s names is definitely a bad move.  This information is often accessible via a simple google search.  Be sure to change your password on a regular basis as well.  Make it something simple that you can remember but try to ensure it is also something only known to you.   Finally, using unique passwords for different accounts can help if one of your accounts is compromised.  Keeping track of multiple secure passwords can be tricky, however, so using a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass can help keep you safe and secure.

Protection against Malware attacks, HTTPS settings while browsing the internet or using your email, VPN software, firewall settings and securely using public WIFI are the essential elements needed to secure your home computer or network.  Combining these with basic password best practices and ensuring your social media presence is also secure should enable you to prevent cyber security attacks and protect your personal information from falling into the wrong hands.  You don’t need to be an IT expert to keep your information safe.  Armed with the basic principles of cybersecurity, you can use your home computer and social media sites safely.

About IronSocket

Our staff has been involved with computers since the early days of dial up modems. We have combined experiences spanning decades working on a multitude of internet based projects. One of our goals is to make a conscience effort to inform others about staying safe on the internet. If you ever need to reach us, leave a comment, put in a ticket, or contact us using our website's contact us form.