Refreshing Your Computer Security this Spring
Spring is a time to kick the dust off of our boots, clean out our homes, and enter the new season refreshed and prepared for the rest of the year.
But does any of us extend that kind of attitude to our digital security?
The truth is that cyber security is more crucial to our safety in 2019 than ever before. And yet many of us don’t take the basic steps to make it a priority, no matter the season.
Here, we’ll talk about ways for you to prioritize your computer security this spring, and protect yourself from identity theft, lost files, and poor PC performance.
Update All Your Devices
Software and hardware manufacturers issue regular updates to address performance and security issues as they come up. That being said, depending on the developer or provider, you might find that you get more update notifications than you care for. Then you ignore them… and ignore them and ignore them until you get tired of looking at the notifications.
But consider that, according to a study by Javelin (a privacy consulting company), 16.7 million U.S. citizens were the victims of identity fraud in 2017. Many of these cases are tied to smart phones, either as the initial place where the security breach happened, or a place where thieves can access once they’ve got some initial information on a victim.
But failing to update your devices can lead to critical security issues that leave you exposed to hacking. With devices connected 24/7, it’s easy for hackers to exploit weaknesses in portable devices and software to access passwords or intercept your browsing history.
What makes this much more pressing than, say, updating your at-home PC is that
- Our smart devices typically have everything on them—passwords, account numbers, contact lists, everything.
- These devices are broadcasting on cellular or Wi-Fi networks 24/7.
Make sure that, if you have been ignoring those critical security updates, update them now. This goes for everything on the phone too, including apps. And if it takes an hour to complete the update… well, you shouldn’t have waited so long in the first place.
Update All Your Passwords, and Have a Safe Password Manager
We won’t lie and say that everyone we run into has impeccable password records. The truth is that many consumers use the same passwords for multiple accounts, and don’t bother to ever change them. This is a recipe for disaster.
This spring take the time to change up your passwords.
- Use complex passwords with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. These are harder to crack than passwords made of just letters or numbers.
- Use longer passwords, rather than shorter ones. At least 12 characters.
- Use a different password for all of your accounts. Not only does this make it harder for a hacker to get all of your information, but it limits the damage if someone does steal one of your passwords. If they are all different, then the thief will not be able to use one password to compromise another account.
- Use an encrypted password manager. These programs or services allow you to save passwords in such a way so that you don’t have to memorize or write down every single one.
The final point is very useful when considering your cyber security, because it allows you to simplify using multiple passwords without you having to do something silly like write them all down. There are several great free and paid managers out there, depending on how much security you need.
Review Your Social Media Profiles, and What You Are Sharing
Social media is quickly becoming a critical place for cyber security concerns. That’s because we spend so much time on our social media, and we often connect our social media accounts to other software and services (like music apps or our smartphones) which makes them a breeding ground for cyber-attacks.
But beyond that immediate security concern, social media is often a place where many individuals will gather information about your behaviors, including where you are, when you will be somewhere, and who you hag out with. Smart criminals can use this information to approach your friends, track your movements, and launch physical or cyber security attacks on your home or your home network.
This spring, triple-check all your social media settings, especially your privacy settings. Make sure that you are only sharing what you want with whom you want.
While you’re at it, also take stock of what you share. Not every picture or event should be broadcast online, and you’d be surprised what kind of information can be dangerous. Keep things private, and only share things that you would share publicly under other circumstances.
Declutter Your Files—Online and Off
Cloud storage and computing is a normal part of our lives. Google Docs, Office 365, and Dropbox are so common that most individuals and businesses have at least one of these services, if not multiple services.
Over time, however, it’s easy for random files to make their way into these services and your PC to the extent that you don’t actually know what files are where.
Do a quick sweep of your PC and all your cloud storage solutions.
- When cleaning up your PC, check out what files you need and don’t. Get rid of what you don’t need. Anything you do need for records or for archival purposes should go an external device, like a hard drive or secure cloud solution. Make sure that your PC hard drive only contains files that you need or use now. This will improve PC performance dramatically.
- When cleaning cloud storage, double check all the files you may have shared with others. It is easy to lose track and have dozens of files shared with people you don’t even speak with any more. Remove sensitive files and either load them on your archival hard drive or onto a safe, encrypted cloud storage solution.
If you have a lot of files, or files for your private finances or individual business, consider getting an automated backup solution so that you always have backup copies in a safe place. Cleaning your PC will keep that data safe while increasing its performance for the long run.
Update Your PC Security Software
Your PC should have some sort of security software in place. While we aren’t endorsing a specific software here, at the very minimum you should have
- Antivirus software,
- Firewall software, and
- A network manager.
If you don’t have these, get them. Your PC security depends on it. If you do, but you don’t update them, then update them right now. Much like your phone and app data, updates help security software keep up with cyber threats.
If you don’t feel comfortable managing this security, you can also consult an IT company to run managed security and backup. Professionals can keep up with security issues much more effectively than you can and can take a lot of the stress out of keeping your PC safe.
Backup Your Data
Speaking of backup… always backup your data.
And no, a Dropbox account isn’t a backup solution in and of itself.
At minimum, you should have an encrypted hard drive or cloud service to store files. Ideally, you also have software that can automate backups by uploading files to either of these places on a schedule. In either case, you should have a regular backup schedule so that no matter what happens your critical files don’t get corrupted and lost.
Many operating systems will offer backup services for your entire PC, and this is a really good idea. Not only will this back your files up, but it will also keep your PC safe in case of a crash. However, OS backup is no replacement for critical file backup discussed above.
Clean Your PC, Update Your Security, and Prepare for Spring
The spring season doesn’t really pertain to PC security in itself. However, we often view spring as a time for rebirth and renewal. Which also makes it the perfect time to clean up your PC and security so that you aren’t the victim of a crashed hard drive or identity thief.
If you are going to take the time to focus on your online identity and the health of your PC, then spring is a good time as any. Update your software and passwords, secure your mobile devices, evaluate your social media practices, and backup your files. If you do all of this, then you’ll enter the spring with a much better computer security outlook.