If you are the most technical person in your neighborhood, then chances are you have become the local unofficial tech support rep for your circle of friends and family. It doesn’t matter how much, or how little, you know…as long as you are more technically capable than the rest of your family, you will never have to look for extra work in your spare time.
You will help them recover lost files, connect their laptops to printers, clean up malware, and explain to them why the “internet is not working” on their mobile phones or tablets. And when your job is finally finished, you can stand proudly knowing that you are a superhero in their eyes. You are now known as the local computer “Guru”. And that, in today’s Web-connected world, makes you a part of the cyber security front line.
Today is as good of a day as any to go back to basics and review a few simple steps that can help make your family a little safer online. At a minimum your goal should be to make things harder for the bad guys, and head off as many tech support phone calls as possible, before they occur.
1. Use Strong Passwords
I have said it again and again. The first step to online security is the use of a strong password. Most experts recommend that you use a password with a minimum of 12 characters. The longer the better, as it is more difficult for an attacker to guess.
Do not use the same password again and again, and don’t use a password that is easy to guess like your birthday or the name of your cat. If possible use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters like $, % or !. I strongly recommend using my free Secure Password Generator to create a bullet-proof password. It is also important that you do not use the same password on more than one site.
Make sure to store your passwords somewhere safe. Don’t use sticky notes attached to your monitor or keyboard. If you have to write them down it is best to just write clues that will help you remember them, as opposed to writing down the actual passwords. However , a more secure method is to use a password management solution. The combination of an encrypted hard drive AND password management software provides the best solution for keeping your password list safe from hackers and eavesdroppers.
2. Keep Your System Software Updated
Hackers love to exploit vulnerabilities in applications, operating systems and software drivers. There are entire databases on the web that list all of these vulnerabilities. An attacker only needs to search the databases for a popular software version in order to find a vulnerability that will allow him remote access to your computer. Once they have decided which software and version to exploit, the hackers will use large networks of malware infected computers in order to scan the Internet for more targets.
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Virus protection software is only as good as it’s last update. You need to realize that even after you have updated your virus scanner, your web browser, your operating system and other software, the hackers have already started creating new methods to break in to your computer.
In order to protect your family network, you need to make certain that you are regularly updating everything on your devices, both mobile and desktop. This needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. There are many open source (Free) products that you can use to automate and keep track of these updates for you. Both Windows and Mac computers have software already built in to keep track of operating system and driver updates.
Most computers and mobile devices these days come pre-installed with some sort of virus protection software. However, as I stated above, this software is only as effective as it’s most recent update.
Check to be sure that your friends and family members are using the most recent virus definition database for their software. If the virus protection software requires a subscription to receive updates, make sure that the subscription is not expired. Once automated updates are enabled you will be one step ahead of the cyber criminals that are seeking access to your computers.
4. Enable WPA or WPA2 Encryption on Home WiFi
If your friends or family members are using an unsecured WiFi connection, or even WiFi with WEP encryption, take a few moments to switch them over to WPA or WPA2 encryption.
You may have already set this up for them in the past, however it is always possible that someone has done a factory reset of the WiFi router since then. Even if you find that the WPA encryption mechanism is enabled take this opportunity to change the encryption key, or pass phrase, while you are browsing through the configuration interface.
Many people incorrectly believe that they can just use features on their WiFi router such as hidden ESSID’s and MAC address filtering for security It is important to note that these features are used for safety NOT security. Please watch the following video to learn more about these mythical security features.
5. Schedule Daily Backups
Even if you do everything right, there is still the chance that you could become the victim of a cyber attack. It is important to remember that your only recourse in the event you are hacked is to restore some sort of backup to recover your files.
Make backup copies of all important documents including photographs, financial information, word documents, legal papers, etc. If possible enable daily backups to run automatically. You should keep backups for at least 7 days before erasing them to make room for new ones.
My suggestion would be to get an encrypted hard drive, share it on your local network so all devices have access to it, then configure your backup software to store files in the one centralized location. For optimum safety you could go a step further and create hard copies of backup files on DVD’s prior to deleting them.