This past week, cybercriminals hijacked hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide. Cybersecurity experts now warn that a new wave of malicious attacks might still be on its way. Here’s how to lock down your digital life today:
Backup, backup, backup!
Want to know the most fail-safe method of making sure your precious family photos, business documents, tax files, and all of the rest of your digital belongings isn’t lost forever to a scammer, hacker, or virus? Make a copy!
It sounds insanely simple, and that’s because it really is. Both Microsoft and Apple have built-in backup software that makes a carbon copy of your most important files and stores them for you automatically.
On Windows they call it File History (just start typing “backup” in your Start menu and it’ll pop up) and on Mac it’s called Time Machine (found under your Utilities list).
“Microsoft includes File Recovery software with Windows 10 (or Backup and Restore if the computer is running Windows 7), while Apple’s Mac operating system has had the Time Machine program for backup since 2007.” – New York Times
These handy applications let you not only make a copy of your stuff in case it gets deleted or corrupted later, but you can even set it to automatically back up your data at regular intervals so you never have to worry about it again.
Never take a call from “tech support”
Believe it or not, scammers are even using your phone number to try to break into your computer. It works like this: You get a cold call from a random “tech support” representative who says they’re from Microsoft and that they’ve detected a virus or malware on your computer.
Then, the scammer will ask for remote access to your computer to help clean the virus up, but what they’re really doing is installing malware, viruses, and stealing your data! It’s one of the worst computer scams going, but you can protect yourself simply by ignoring any unsolicited calls from anyone offering computer help. Microsoft — and for that matter, any other legitimate company — will never spontaneously call you and claim they found a virus. If you hear it, hang up!
Pick a strong password
Passwords just aren’t what they used to be. What used to be a good password back in the days of MySpace is no longer good enough to protect you, and that’s because the hacking tools scammers use are better than ever at deciphering the most popular logins.
Login manager apps like LastPass and 1Password can automatically generate super strong passwords and then store them for you so you don’t forget them, and you can bet they’ll be a whole lot more secure than using your mother’s maiden name or your kid’s birthday. Passwords are the keys to your digital identity, so go all out!
As one New York Times article points out, it might actually be better to keep your passwords on Post-It notes somewhere safe at home and change them every two weeks.
“Not every security expert trusts password managers. Some noted that LastPass itself was hacked last year. So that means you may want to write them down in one secure location, perhaps a Post-it note at home. It seems more far-fetched that a hacker would bother to break into your home for a Post-it note than find a way into your computer. If you take that route, we suggest setting a weekly or biweekly calendar reminder to change your passwords.”
Updates are important
I know, I know, that little window that pops up on your desktop telling you to restart your computer for an update is annoying, and it’s so easy to click “remind me later” that you’ve been putting it off for weeks. Don’t wait!
Companies like Microsoft and Apple don’t push out updates just for fun. The vast majority of those software patches include seriously important fixes to various parts of the operating system, and even if you don’t think you’re at risk, take the 30 seconds to install and have some additional peace of mind.
Consider this: That huge WannaCry ransomware attack from this past weekend used a vulnerability that was already patched by Microsoft the Friday before, but because so many people delay their updates, it continued to rack up new victims over the weekend anyway. Updates are serious stuff, so treat them that way!
Don’t trust anyone online
One of the biggest reasons malware and computer viruses continue to be such a huge problem is that people are just too darn trusting. Have you ever been tempted to open an email or click on a link sent from someone you didn’t know? Or even on an email that’s a tad bit strange from someone you do, kind-of, know? We all have, but something as simple as a click can truly ruin your digital life.
Modern computer viruses don’t need to be downloaded and installed in order to do their damage. Just a click of a URL or opening an email attachment can be enough to install malware on your system which then opens the doors for additional exploits that can do everything from steal your credit card information to holding your files for ransom.
Don’t click any links in emails unless you make sure a person you know sent them. Use the spam and scam protection that is built into services like Gmail, and never trust a link sent to you on Facebook or Twitter unless you know and trust the sender.
There are other, more advanced ways to lock your digital life down too. VPN’s, two-factor authentication, using a search engine like DuckDuckGo. We’ll continue to help you navigate your way through all of this and stay as safe as you possibly can!