The prolific American bank robber Willie Sutton is credited with saying that he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is.” In actuality, he said, “Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it.”
Hackers are a lot like Mr. Sutton, both the man and his legend — some hack people’s accounts because that’s where the valuable information is, others for the sheer thrill of it. The challenge of securing our personal devices is never-ending. The bad guys are constantly developing new and clever ways to gain unauthorized access to systems and information. The problem is especially acute as more of us are online than ever before.
The number of Internet users worldwide recently passed 3.17 billion. We love the internet and all that it brings to us. We especially love the convenience of logging on to read emails, purchase cool stuff, play games, catch up on TV programs, listen to music, update our profiles, text friends and sometimes just to mindlessly surf. (Someone is watching all those cat videos.)
Connecting to the net has also never been easier. We go online via a plethora of devices: PCs, game consoles, TVs, tablets, smartphones and now even our vehicles. The amount of time we interact with our electronic media is also a bit embarrassing. A 2014 cross-platform report from U.S. research firm Nielsen found that the average American adult spends 11 hours per day with electronic media. This of course includes listening to the radio and watching TV — two more devices constantly connected to the internet. India, with one of the most tech-savvy national populations in the world, probably has personal usage stats that are quite similar.
A more disturbing stat is that 70 percent of internet users say they feel comfortable giving away their personal info online. This is a very dangerous thing to do. The Internet is a great place, but it’s also filled with unscrupulous individuals looking to make a quick and unethical buck, as well as others who simply like to cause and spread carnage as widely as possible via malware. (Scary stat — as of this moment there are just under 23 million malicious mobile apps worldwide.
While hackers aren’t technically robbing banks, they are stealing someone’s private information They of course do it for a number of reasons ranging from the profitability of selling said information to a third party, and sadly, some like Sutton do it because they enjoy it.
Cyber thieves are constantly trying to capture our personal data: information about our credit cards, government ID numbers, banking information, and more. Compounding the problem is that many security attacks can come from known friends or internal sources whose own systems have already been compromised. One of the biggest challenges of securing our devices is the human element. Too many of us take our security for granted, assuming that we will not be hacked or infected until it happens.
Companies and government agencies hire legions of IT security pros to protect their data, yet still regularly fail to achieve total security. Unfortunately, most of us lack the funds and ability to seriously protect our data from the bad-guys. So what is a user of personal electronics to do? Here are seven simple security tips to help secure your personal devices.
Everyone needs a firewall as a way to prevent unwanted data connects from reaching your system. This is the easiest and one of the most effective ways of preventing invasive malware.
Make sure your firewall is turned on. Verifying that your firewall is operating isn’t complicated. If you feel it is and don’t want to be bothered, have the vendor who sold you your new device double-check that the firewall is operating.
2) Antivirus program
If you are using a PC, take the time to install an effective antivirus program. These programs continuously monitor your system for threats and ensure that the software is up to date. There are a number of very dependable antivirus programs you can buy off the shelf. Make the effort — in the long run it will be worth your small investment of time and money.
3) Use strong passwords
Passwords should never be simple. “1, 2, 3, 4” and “password” are lousy passwords for your devices. Another weak one is your birthday — too easy for a hacker to guess if he has any personal info on you. Instead, choose a password that is unique to you: something like your first pet’s name, or favorite TV program when you were a child.
Passwords should also include a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Never share your passwords, and never write them down and leave them where others can easily see them. Additionally, never use the same password for all your accounts. It also helps if you change your passwords on a regular basis.
4) Don’t open unknown emails
I can’t stress it enough: Never, ever, ever, ever open an email from an unknown source. If you do, never ever open any attachments contained in the email, regardless of how enticing they look. You may expect to see an exciting and unusual video, and instead end up with a bad case of malware.
You also have to be careful of e-mails from people on your contact list. If you receive an e-mail from a contact that contains unusual content or suspicious looking links, delete it and contact the person as their account may have been hacked.
5) Software updates
Legitimate software vendors send out automatic updates to their programs. These updates ensure that your computer has the latest patches or fixes to bugs and known viruses. Many updates download automatically, like Windows, when you shut down your computer. Other types may require you to visit a registered site and click on a download. If so, take the time; it will be worth it to avoid a nasty bug or virus.
Keep your software current — newer versions tend to be better protected. Running out of date or unsupported software on your device is like leaving your wallet on a park bench — you never know who will pick it up.
6) Data backups
Most people never think of backing up their data until disaster strikes. It’s a sad moment when they realize that they have irretrievably lost valuable time, effort and information. Rather than screaming in rage, when your system or device goes down, it’s nice to know that have you still have a copy of your data safe and secure.
Backing up data is as simple as putting it on an external drive or an inexpensive thumb-drive that you keep in a safe place (not on your keychain). If you don’t have an external storage device you can always email important data to yourself. If your system goes down you simply enter your email account and download the lost data.
If you don’t care for the effort of consciously backing up your data, then check out a cloud storage device for a quick way to save important data and give you access to it anytime and anywhere. The means of backing up data is a personal choice. The important thing is to do it on a regular basis.
7) Don’t share sensitive information
Remember that stat above, that 70 percent of internet users say they feel comfortable giving away personal info on the Internet? Don’t do it! You have to guard yourself when online. Hackers are clever at phishing for info. Never give out your private identity or credit card numbers unless you are dealing with a trusted site.
Make certain to watch your social media accounts as well. Sharing information as innocent as the names of a pet or children can help a hacker gain access, because we often use the same names as answers to security questions for other sites.
The Internet, like a four-way stop with lights, is a marvel of technological innovation and usefulness. But just like a four-way stop, you have to be careful and alert to threats. Don’t take it for granted that you are safe from malware or hackers, because you aren’t. No system is 100 percent safe all the time. Take responsibility to protect your systems and your important personal data. It’s valuable to you — and, sadly, that means it’s valuable to the bad guys as well.