Internet security has become a growing concern as more and more of our information is shared online. I know this isn't typical homesteading content, but computers have become an everyday part of most people's lives. You lock your doors to secure your car or home. It only makes sense that you “lock the doors” to your online accounts, too. You are officially the Cyber Security Officer of your home whether you like it or not.
My husband, August, has worked in computer security for over a decade, and regularly gives internet security presentations to the public. He worked with me to adapt his presentation into a post. The hackers and thieves are getting more aggressive in their attacks, so it's up to us to protect our own interests. This post will walk you through the basic steps you should take to avoid computer viruses and identify theft.
Focusing on computer security is not is fun, but it’s a LOT less painful than having to rebuild your life after your bank accounts are emptied and your identity is stolen.
To get a feel for how bad it really is, review these links:
- Summary of 2015 security issues: http://www.verizonenterprise.com/resources/reports/rp_data-breach-investigation-report-2015-insider_en_xg.pdf
- Site that shows realtime global hacking activity http://map.norsecorp.com/
There are two categories of things you need to do – Change Behavior and Get Tools.
Top 12 Internet Security Behavior Changes to Avoid Computer Viruses and Identity Theft
1. Change how you think about passwords.
You keep a lock on your house and a safe if you have one, and you don’t share the combination. Your email password is similar to the keys to your entire house. Keep your passwords SAFE.
- Use Passphrases instead of passwords and PROTECT them. A password like “XP_123!@” is easier to hack than “I like 2 fish on Sunday for B@ss!”. Test your short password at https://howsecureismypassword.net/. Note – don't test your ACTUAL passwords, just one of a similar size and complexity.
- If you can, answer challenge questions with INCORRECT information that is unique to the site. For challenge questions for the bank you say your 1st pets name was: Godzilla (instead of the actual pet name). At the phone company the 1st pets name was: Alphabet-Soup, and at the cable company the 1st pets name is: Big-Balloon. Store all these in a tool like LastPass or KeePass (see below).
- Never share passwords or passphrases
- Don’t store passwords in Word or Excel. Even a password protected MSword or MSxl file can be hacked easily.
2. Secure Your Smartphone
As smartphones become more powerful, they often contain more of our personal information, such as banking or credit cards, location, and personal contacts. Hackers can use this information directly, or use it to manipulate you or your contacts.
- Put a pin on your smartphone. Securing your smartphone is CRITICAL. It is effectively the same as your desktop and easier to steal (or lose). In many cases your phone more sensitive than your home computer.
- Turn off GeoTagging (automatic recording of your location by the phone). It can be used to hack where you are based on pictures posted to social media. Especially for children and traveling this is a risk.
3. Be Suspicious.
Avoid deals that are too good to be true. Never click on a virus popup from a website. (If something pops up on a website that says, “You have a virus”, it's likely to give you a virus.)
Don’t open unknown emails, especially ones with attachments from unknown people. It you get an email with a name you recognize, but it doesn't use the name your contact normally uses, or the email address is different, be suspicious. Don't open the email. Instead, email the contact using their correct information, and ask if they sent the problem email. You can also get a small device like a Chromebook to open emails and browse the internet. Because a Chromebook is so simple (and doesn't run Windows or other commonly hacked software), it limits any possible damage from an infected email. Click here to check out a Chromebook an Amazon.
Remember, CallerID can be hacked or spoofed, so don’t trust the phone if it says Microsoft is calling. It could still be hackers. Microsoft does not call users.
4. Use separate email addresses for different types of activity.
If you only have one email account, a hacker who gets access to that email gets access to EVERYTHING about you. If you split it up into multiple accounts, you are harder to hack. Set one up for banking that might be a random code so it doesn’t easily associate with you – such as E322RING99@gmail.com.
5. Maintain and Update Your Software.
Because security threats are constantly changing, software should be kept updated to protect against these threats. Eliminate outdated applications that you can’t update, especially if they have online access.
6. Don't trust public WiFi.
Unsecured wireless can be hacked easily. Even a WEP connection can be hacked so look for WPA2 Enterprise. See “The Difference Between WEP, WPA, and WPA2 Wi-Fi Passwords” for an explanation of the different wireless network types.
7. Go to the IRS website and update your transcript account.
Go to the IRS website and set your password so someone else doesn’t. During past tax seasons, some taxpayers had their refunds claimed by hackers who go into the IRS system.
8. Restrict remote access.
Don’t let people remote into your computer unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure who they are. Some online tech support service may offer to login and fix your computer remotely. Buyer beware.
9. Physically secure your computer, smartphone, credit card and other devices.
There have been plenty of movies and TV shows where someone has hacked on “unhackable” system by getting physical access to it. Don't leave your equipment in a public location unattended. It makes it an easy target. Wipe your old computer before you sell it, donate it or recycle it. To protect your credit cards that have embedded chips, use and RFD blocking wallet or credit card holder.
10. Avoid the “Dark Side” of the internet.
Avoid porn web sites and other questionable sites like movie sharing or music sharing. They are regularly infected.
11. Be careful what you post on social media.
Bad guys can use your information to make sure they only break in when you are on vacation in Florida, and know when you are there because you posted that information to EVERYONE on the internet. Don’t be that guy. Sex trafficking is still an unfortunate reality. Posting selfies (especially immodest ones) with the geotagging intact to the general public could make someone a target. Geotagged selfies show when you are home and when you are not, leaving you more open to theft or attacks.
12. Educate yourself (and your family). What will you do if you do get hacked?
If you don’t have anyone in the family who will be the Cyber Security Cop, find someone you trust to help you. There are many different types of hacks, so what needs to be done will vary. Take care of the problem as soon as possible. With an identity theft, thieves will often do a few small transactions at first as a test. If those are successful, things can get much worse very quickly. Some hackers deal in total identity theft. They want to steal “you”, so someone else can become you. Identity protection services can help.
With an infected computer or other device, they can lock down your device and force you to pay to access it (ransomware). They may also install software that sits on your computer, quietly stealing information. Other hackers infect your machine or email, and use it to attack other computers or users. For better or worse, most modern hackers don't simply trash your computer – they use it as a tool to harm you and others.
Top 10 Internet Security Tools
1. Consider an identity protection service.
LifeLock, IdentityGuard, and Legalshield and other services will help you identify problems and deal with them. If you have a large online presence (for instance, my work blogging and my husband's computer work), an identity protection service is highly recommended.
2. Use Anti-Virus software on any device connected to the internet.
If a device connects to the internet, it needs anti-virus software.
- Make sure your PC or Mac has anti-virus
- Put anti-virus on your phone. Pick ANY reputable tool and install it NOW. Use a free one if you can't afford a paid one. Don’t wait.
- TVs, gaming consoles, tablets, home control systems, refrigerators, clothes washers, baby cameras – anything with Bluetooth or internet access is hackable. Keep all software and firmware up to date.
3. Use Anti-Malware Tools
Malware is short for “malicious software”. It can be a full program that runs independently, or bad code slipped into an otherwise good program. Get Malware Bytes, SpyBot, AdAware or other similar tools. Basic service for many of these tools is free.
4. Add OPENDNS to block bad domains
Add OPENDNS as your DNS for your home router and portable computers. Basic service is free from https://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/.
5. Use a secure password tool
Put your passwords in a secure tool. DON’T save them on your desktop. Use a tool like SpiderOak if you want a secure freeform file. Use LastPass, Dashlane, KeePass, or any of a dozen other ones. We recommend LastPass. It’s inexpensive AND secure.
6. Backup your devices regularly
Backup your devices, and do it FREQUENTLY. Use a service like Carbonite, Mozy, iDrive, CrashPlan, SpiderOak, BackBlaze or any of 20 other services. If you are really worried about online hacking, buy an external hard drive and back up data to that hard drive. Remember, you will want a copy in some other building just in case of a fire, so buy 2.
7. Secure your wireless router
Turn on WPA2 Enterprise encryption on your wireless router. If your wireless router doesn’t have WPA2, get one that does. See TP-Link AC1200 Gigabit Wireless Wi-Fi Router for an example.
8. Update your firewall
Update your firewall. If it's really old, spring a few dollars and get a new one. If its new, make sure it has all its updates. Just like the rest of your internet security, as the threat changes, the tools needed to counter the threat must change. The Cisco ASA5506W-A-K9 ASA 5506W-X with FirePOWER Services Security firewall is one of the top rated devices. It should be paired with an active subscription to keep it up to date.
9. Consider two part authentication on primary accounts
Consider two part authentication from Google and other service providers. Two part authentication can be used for email, LastPass and other online services. In many cases, two part authentication is free, and it makes it REALLY hard for a hacker to access an account. Typically with two part authentication, you have a primary password for the account, plus a special code will be sent to your phone when you login on a new device (two parts).
See these pages for instructions on how to add two part authentification to google, hotmail and yahoo email:
- Google https://www.google.com/landing/2step/
- Hotmail http://com/add-two-factor-authentication-to-your-microsoft-account-474939951
- Yahoo https://yahoo.com/kb/SLN15241.html
10. Consider additional firewalls
Consider additional firewalls such as : ZoneAlarm, Comodo Firewall or SafeSquid.
There is No Such Thing as Total Internet Security
Even if you do everything “right”, all it takes is one data breach at a store, government organization or financial institution (or even a friend or family member) to leave you open to attack. Even if you do almost nothing online, your personal information is now out there somewhere in cyberspace. It's up to each of us as individuals to protect ourselves. Use the right tools and behavior to minimize risk, and keep a close eye on your accounts and personal information. There are plenty of bad guys out there, but we don't need to make their jobs easy. Make sure to share this post with those you care about to help keep them protected.
Other preparedness posts you may find useful:
- When the Power Grid Fails – 10 Things You Need to Prepare
- Odds of Everyday Emergencies
- Emergency Water Storage and Filtration – What You Need to Know Before Emergencies Hit
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