How to stay safer on your computer
- Use an up-to-date antivirus program
I have run the gamut of antivirus programs. Some are free and offer excellent protection for your computer. I use reviews like PC Magazine reviews to help me make a decision about software. Reviews on this site are less likely to be biased and usually compare features for you. Often, computers come loaded with a trial of an antivirus program which simplifies the choices though they often are not the least expensive options.
2. Keep your software up-to-date
Letting your software become outdated is unwise. One of the primary purposes of updates is to keep software protected from the latest viruses. Hackers can burrow their way into software at an alarming rate but knowing that developers are trying to protect us is somewhat comforting.
3. Don’t click on links within emails
Scammers and hackers use links to get you to go to a site where you may pick up a virus. We like to think that no one wants to harm us and that we are safe as long as we are not on “bad” websites. The truth is that some people are just out to cause mischief and some will try to do us harm. Businesses using online services are particularly vulnerable to hackers. Healthcare institutions have become the latest targets of malware.
Hackers get into the systems and plant viruses that can encrypt the information and programs on their systems. They then send a ransom demand. Once paid they promise to decrypt the system, though they may or may not actually do that.
4. Use strong passwords
Have you ever been “hacked” on social media? Someone said they got a message from you that you didn’t send? It could mean that your password was too weak. Many people use similar passwords for all of their sites. They reason that it is unlikely that someone will try to break in. Today it is more important than ever to have strong passwords. A strong password requires more than just a jumble of letters and numbers it must be long. A lengthy phrase with spaces and a few misspellings is actually more difficult to break than a jumble of letters, numbers, and symbols that is short.
Trying to remember passwords is a huge task. Utilizing a password program can lessen the work. You remember one password to log in then the program generates strong passwords that can be updated. They range from free to over $50 a year for personal use. Often they work across different devices (set the password on your computer and access it with your phone). There are many to choose from. As with antivirus software, check an online review to select the program that meets your needs and fits your budget.
5. Use a pop-up blocker
Pop-ups are used on many websites as a mechanism to grab our attention. They can be annoying but they have become an almost necessary item. They work, even though they can be bothersome. Using your pop-up blocker can reduce times you have to click out of them. Unfortunately, you may need to unblock pop-ups on some sites to see what you want to see. Hackers can use them to trick you into downloading viruses or take you to sites where this can happen.
6. Be sure your firewall is enabled
This shouldn’t be a significant issue as this should be a default setting for your computer. However, I have been known to accidentally change some of the default settings that are for our good. Check to be sure your firewall is installed. Businesses may use more robust firewalls and may have to use virtual private networks to allow remote access.
7. Back up your computer
Backing up the computer just makes sense. If everything you need is only available on your physical computer hard drive, even dropping it could ruin documents and important files. Saving these important files to external drives or web-based platforms like Google Drive could help you avoid disaster.
8. Minimize downloads
While hackers can use passive methods to infect your computer, by far the greatest risk comes from downloading software. The download could contain malware or be a malware program itself. Download from reliable websites. If possible, scan the software before activating any exe. commands.
9. Be alert to scams
Keeping a finger to the pulse of the internet means paying attention to the methods used by hackers. They will do their best to come up with new ways to fool the average computer user. News outlets report on new viruses being propagated (like the current fearful “Goner” virus).
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