Don’t let your tech get infected! 7 steps to protect yourself online

by | Nov 30, 2017

You may have heard of the global crisis back in 2017 that’s caused thousands of unsuspecting computer users from around the globe to have their PC’s frozen, I thought we should offer some advice and tips on how to protect yourself online.

You’ve probably recently read in the news of a cyber threat that was rampant (at the time of writing this post) and causing many computers to simply ‘not want to play’. A security floor within Windows operating system was hijacked by a group of unknown hackers, causing misery to many computer users and organisations, in particular, the NHS.

Once infected, the virus was encrypting part or entire systems, then demanding the user pays money anonymously via Bitcoin. This kind of infection is called ransomware – simply meaning… pay up or don’t get your system back!

I hear many of you cry ‘this won’t happen to me!’ guess what?… so far it’s affected 150 countries with over 220,000 people’s systems being infected. A simple, innocent looking email was sent out (called Phishing), a link within it was clicked and boom… if your system isn’t properly protected, you leave yourself open to ransomware and other nasties.

 

Here are a few simple steps you can take to make sure you’re as safe as can be.

 

1. Make sure you only sign up to legitimate sites with your email. The more sites you sign up to with your email address the more emails you’ll receive. The more emails you receive, the chances are you’ll be less likely to see what’s a legit email and what’s not.  It’s far easier to look through ten emails than one hundred and decide what’s been sent from a good source and what’s bogus.

If you think about it in the simplest of terms, your email is just like your letterbox on your front door. People and businesses can put anything in there. The more you open up your letterbox (or in this case your email) the more potential to rubbish can get in. 

If anything looks dodgy, don’t open it, especially any attachments that are included or links to other sites. Either block the sender or add their address to your spam.

2. Install Antivirus on your PC.

Antivius is critical for protecting yourself and devices when using the internet. Antivirus software is a program that runs on your computer in the background. They are designed to prevent, search, detect and remove any viruses such as trojans,  adware and worms. 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to have a degree in computer sciences to have an antivirus program up and running. Many you just install, they normally will run a full sweep of your system looking for anything that looks harmful and will either remove or quarantine the files. After this point it will run in the background whenever you use your devices. In basic terms it will then put a ‘forcefield’ up to minimise or stop any future infections. 

Here are the benefits of what antivirus programs do

  • Scan files, folders and directories on your computer and devices. Looking for malicious patterns
  • Once set up automatically run in the background to protect you
  • Allow you to scan specific files if you’re unsure of their trustworthyness. Some will even scan CD or flash drives
  • Many show the general ‘health’ of your computer

If you don’t want to pay for it there are many good free options available.

Here are five well-respected Antivirus providers that offer a free version:

AVG

Avast

Bitdefender

ZoneAlarm

Sophos

3. Install a firewall on your computer. Firewalls are simply invisible shields that prevent unauthorised access to your system. They only allow trusted connections. Think of them as a bouncer on the door of the best bar, “if your names not down you’re not coming in”. Automatically it will block entry to anyone or anything that doesn’t look friendly.

They will help monitor traffic to your devices, block trojans, stop hackers and keyloggers. It does all this automatically in the background. If anything malicious does attempt to cause problems on your system or devices it will normally send you an alert.

4. Get a virtual private network (VPN). Whenever you connect to an online service via the internet, data is sent to and from your device. That could be a laptop, tablet, phone or PC. It’s a two-way conversation. Normally the data that you’re sending by accessing the web is unencrypted, meaning that potential baddies can see what you’re doing. It’s an easy way for them to maliciously target you. VPNs encrypt this data so it’s virtually impossible for anyone to see/read what you’re doing.

Imagine going to a coffee shop, using their free WIFI with a lot of people on their network and then deciding to pay a bill online. Without a VPN your credit card/account information is potentially open to abuse.

Think of it as this example. 

If you stood at one end of a football pitch and your friend at the other and you shouted a message to them, that information could be heard by anyone on the sideline. By having a VPN installed, it’s like your shouting in a language that only you and your friend can understand, the message and data is encrypted.

5. Never give out your passwords. Make sure your passwords use uppercase, lowercase and symbols. Try and keep them to a minimum of 6-8 digits long and change them on a regular basis. Please, please, please don’t use something simple like ‘123456’ or ‘password’. It does happen honestly, in fact 50% of PCs use the top 25 passwords. (source Telegraph). 

The more complex the password the better. Hackers and malicious programs can try and devicer passwords using manual and automated techniques, they can try and figure out what they are. So the longer and more unique your passwords are the harder it is for them to break them and access your accounts and data.

6. Keep your software up-to-date. Make sure all your programs, apps and devices are running the latest and most up-to-date software. This is where the NHS came unstuck, they were working on a very old version of Windows. Most programs and software will auto-update, but it’s worth checking.

7. Backup your data. If the worst happens, make sure all your most sensitive data is securely backed up. There are plenty of free online backup solutions should you get attacked. Don’t leave it to chance, many offer automatic backups, meaning it will just run in the background.

The chances are that you’ll be totally fine online and will rarely have any problems as long as you’re sensible and have some basic steps in place to protect you.

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