Sunday, September 28, 2014

Basic Tips for Network Security

In light of a recent security breach suffered by my wife and many others who's websites were shut down by hackers, I thought I'd give some basic tips on keeping yourself safe online and keeping your information out of the hands of criminals. Before I do this, however, I want to make it clear that nothing can give you a 100% guarantee of anonymity or guarantee that your information can't be compromised. The idea behind network security, at least in my view, is to make it difficult enough to steal your data that criminals bypass your information for other, easier targets.

1. Usernames/Passwords
Just about every site you log into requires either a username/password combination or a link to your Facebook or Google+ accounts. If you want to be secure, don't use the same username and password for everything you do online. If you're in the habit of doing this, realize that if someone figures out your password, they could get access to your email, Facebook accounts, bank account, anything you use that username and password for. Do yourself a favor and vary your passwords for each of your sites. Yes, this might be a pain, but so would trying to rebuild your credit after getting your identity stolen. While it might be convenient to link everything to your Facebook account, realize that this means that if your Facebook is compromised, so is everything else you've linked to that. You should also change your passwords regularly. If you've had the same password for over a year, consider changing it.

2. Web browser choice
Historically, third party web browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc. have been more secure than OS browsers like Internet Explorer. With recent versions of IE, this has been less true than in the past. However, Chrome and Firefox are still the best choice as far as internet security and privacy goes. You can shoot yourself in the foot, though, by saving your password in the browser. Yes, it's convenient, but it can seriously jeopardize your online security. Resist the temptation of convenience when it comes to your security.

3. Updates
This is one that's easy to overlook. Make sure that your computer's/phone's/tablet's/etc. operating system has the most current updates. Oftentimes, older versions of operating systems can be insecure, save passwords in plain text, lots of different things. Make sure that your antivirus software is current as well. Speaking of which...

4. Antivirus/Internet Security Software
Make sure that your computer/phone/etc. has a current antivirus program installed and updated. My favorites are Avast, Malwarebytes, and Spybot. Avast makes an antivirus for mobile platforms as well, so you can use it on your phone and tablet as well as your PC. Make sure you run regular scans of your system.

5. Email
This will be short and simple: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don't answer unsolicited mails about contests, surveys, raffles, prizes, desperate Nigerian royalty, British lotteries, etc. If you didn't enter a contest, you didn't win a prize. If you don't know who an email is from, don't respond to it.

6. Websites
If you own/run a website, make sure you are hosting it with a reputable domain registrar, such as GoDaddy or Wix. This way, you'll be able to enlist their help if something goes sideways and your site goes down or information is compromised. If your site is an e-commerce site, see if your merchant services processor has a module they can link to your site to handle credit card processing, or consider accepting PayPal. Any steps you can take to keep your customers' information safe should be of the highest priority.

That's all for now. This post will be updated as things change and more will follow later.

Stay safe out there!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Some basic internet ground rules.

Ok, since I've been dealing with this sort of thing a lot lately, I'd like to address a few things for the people in my audience, such as it is, who might not be as internet savvy as others. This post is going to be about a few things that you should absolutely avoid if you want your computer to live a relatively long and happy life.

#1: Do not, under any circumstances, click on any popup claiming to be an antivirus program. These things will show you a screen that looks legit. They'll show you some "virus" erasing your files and whatnot and then give you the chance to download their program to fix the problems. DO NOT DO THIS!!!!!! These are always, without exception, viruses/trojans/bad bad things. They will, invariably, screw up your computer, sometimes irreparably. Any antivirus program that you haven't explicitly sought out yourself that tries to get you to download it is POISON!!

#2: On the other hand, there is such a thing as too many antivirus programs. One program should suffice if it's backed up with an antispyware/antimalware program. AVG free edition is a very good antivirus program and if you back it up with Malwarebytes' AntiMalware you should be good to go. Comodo makes a great suite of programs that are all designed to work together and most of them are free. Having 3 antivirus programs can often cause more problems than they solve.

#3: Porn sites are breeding grounds for viruses. The best way to keep your computer healthy is very simple, don't go to them. And if you do, be honest about it. The tech that's fixing your computer is going to know how you got the virus, so saying "I don't know how that happened..." isn't going to fool anyone. We won't call you on it, but trust me, we know.

#4: If you haven't downloaded a legit antivirus program and you get something in your email about an antivirus program that you should download, don't even open the email. Send it to spam/blacklist the sender/delete it. Don't open unsolicited emails about antiviruses/Nigerian princes who need help getting their money/other get rich quick things/anything you didn't ask for and don't immediately recognize the sender of. These are ALWAYS scams. They will take your money and make you feel stupid and ashamed. There's no such thing as getting rich quick and spam emails are certainly not going to make it happen for you. Sorry.

#5: Mac users tend to claim that their computers never get viruses and that Macs are so much better than PCs because of this fact. It is true that there are exponentially fewer viruses written for Mac computers, but they are not, repeat NOT, impervious to viruses. The hard truth of the matter is that the world, by and large, runs on PCs. Macs simply don't have enough of the market to their name yet for people to bother writing viruses for them. But they will. Mac has been aggressively marketing itself for years and it's starting to pay off. Mac products are everywhere now and I would not be surprised to find that there are a lot more viruses coming out for Macs in the near future.

Macs are great computers, don't get me wrong. They really are great for productivity and video editing and things of that nature. They're better than PCs in that regard as there's a lot more software written for that purpose for Mac. If all you need is something to check your email on and put together family videos/photo editing/music composition or whatever, then Mac is the obvious choice, if you can afford it. For everything else, especially gaming/business/etc., PC is the reigning champ. Honestly, either computer platform will work for the average user. The differences between them are much more important when getting into more specialized uses than in decided what to update your Facebook status on.

That's all for now.