There are those who think of computer security as very technical, scary, complicated stuff. And, I suppose, in some cases it can be. But in those complicated situations, you can always call us at The Brain Mill and we can put our mind to work on the problem. But, it should be noted that there are several very simple rules to follow and things to do or not do that can greatly increase your computer/internet security. And with this article, I’ll lay out some of them.
Enable Automatic Updates
All the software we use every day is likely riddled with security issues. These security issues are constantly being found—whether we’re talking about Windows, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Adobe’s PDF Reader, Microsoft Office—the list goes on and on.
These days, a lot of operating systems and programs come with automatic updates to fix these security issues when they are found.. No longer do you need to click a button or download a file to update your software; it’ll update itself in the background without any input from you.
Some people like to turn this off for one reason or another. Maybe you don’t like that Windows restarts after installing an update, or maybe you just don’t like change. But from a security perspective, you should always leave automatic updates on.
Why You Need To Install Windows Updates Automatically
Keeping your computer up-to-date is the number one way to keep it safe against online threats. Microsoft provides updates for Windows and associated Microsoft products (Defender, Office) on the second Tuesday of each month. Apple doesn’t have a regimented schedule, but they also regularly provide updates. These updates not only fix bugs, but they patch-up security holes. So, the only way to protect yourself against the latest known vulnerabilities is by updating. Go ahead and update.
It seems like every couple of years an article will come out saying one antivirus is the absolute best. Three more will follow saying three others outperformed the first. On top of these, some security expert will write an article saying antivirus is no longer relevant and you’re dumb if you use it.
You Need An Antivirus on Windows, No Matter How Careful You Are
Let’s set the record straight: you should be running antivirus, even if you’re careful on the web. Which one? Well, the Brain Mill Bitdefender Antivirus is very much recommended and is very reliable. But, truly, it’s up to you—though when it comes to free, simple, and good, there’s nothing wrong with using Windows Defender. It’s built in to Windows, it updates automatically with the Windows Update utility, it has no discernible impact on performance, and it’s free.
But whatever you decide to use, the most important thing here is that you do indeed need to have antivirus/Anti-Malware running on your PC.
Craft Better Passwords, and Automate Them
You probably know passwords are important, but you probably don’t know how important—and how terrible most people’s passwords actually are.
Here’s the thing: we’re no longer in the olden days of the internet, where you can just use the same password everywhere and call it a day. Services get hacked all the time, and if you’re using the same password everywhere, you’ve given someone access to all of your accounts when one service leaks information. You need to use long passwords and you need to use different ones.
Now, I understand that creating unique passwords for all the various sites and programs you use may seem daunting. Still, some variation will help keep your data much more safe. There are things called password managers which I recommend reading more about. But just keep this oft-overlooked aspect of security in mind. It’s very, very important.
Never Leave Your Phone or Computer Unattended
This may seem obvious, but it deserves saying: never, ever, ever leave your computer or phone unattended in public. On your coffee table in your house? Sure. On your table at Starbucks? No way. Doing so is asking for it to be stolen.
If your device gets stolen, the best case scenario is you losing your expensive device. But if you leave something unattended and you haven’t followed all of the above advice, the worst case scenario is that someone has your expensive gadget and all of your personal information. All it takes is a kid with slightly-more-than-basic computer knowledge to get at all your data, and if they have your computer in their hands, it’s a lot easier.
Know Which Links Are Safe to Click in Emails
You hear it all the time: don’t open emails from people you don’t know, and don’t click on links in emails you don’t trust. But that isn’t enough. A lot of times, malicious links can come from friends who have been infected, or from emails that look legitimate, but are actually fake. This is known as phishing.
If you want to be truly secure, it’s best to never click on links in emails. But that’s not always realistic. The middle ground option is knowing how to investigate a link before you click on it—yes, even ones from your friends.
First, check if this link you received goes where it says it goes. If you hover your cursor over the link, the destination should pop up at the bottom of your browser window. If it doesn’t, Right-click on the link and select “Copy link address.” You can then paste this somewhere safe (like a Notepad document) and examine it.
If the link says “ebay.com”, but the real destination says “ebay.clickme.com”, something is suspicious, and you shouldn’t click. Remember, just because it has the word “ebay” in it doesn’t mean it’s going to ebay, either—it needs to be before that “.com” to be truly legitimate.
Be Careful About Programs You Download and Run
This tip may also seem obvious—you hear it all the time, and probably think you follow it. But so much of the malware Windows users encounter seems to be as a result of accidentally downloading and installing bad software.
So always be careful about the programs you download and run. Only download and run software that’s widely known and trustworthy, or recommended by trustworthy sites. Make sure you always get the software from its official website—if you want to download VLC media player, download it from VLC’s official website. Don’t click a “Download VLC” banner on another website and download it from someone else that may bundle malware or adware along with it. Even if you’re using a search engine, make sure it’s leading you to the real site.
And, when downloading software, be sure to watch out for advertisement banners disguised as “Download” links that will take you elsewhere and try to trick you into downloading possibly malicious software.
Don’t Trust Your Popup Notifications
Similarly, never download or install something you didn’t go looking for. If a website tells you Flash is out of date, Chrome needs to be updated, or a plugin needs to be added, pump your brakes. This is a common trick to get you to install something for an attacker. If you think the pop-up might be legitimate, you still don’t want to click on it.
Let’s use Flash as an example. A site may give you a warning you need the latest version to get that cat video to play. Instead of clicking the link (or button) to update, do a search for “adobe flash” and get the update from Adobe’s official website—not the popup from catvideos.com.
No, Microsoft Won’t Call You About Your Computer
This applies to “tech support”, too. Don’t believe any site that says it’s detected a virus on your system (or any calls from Microsoft). If a popup says you have a virus on your computer, don’t click on it. Instead, go to your Start menu, open your antivirus program of choice, and run a scan from there.
None of these ideas are particularly high tech. They’re not advanced. They don’t take complex programs or a degree in computer science to implement. They’re simple ways to adjust your behavior that will greatly improve your security—and everyone can (and should) use them. Have fun!