Using a quality antivirus, strong passwords, and a VPN for internet connections, with regular software updates and data backups, improves your cyber security.
In previous instalments of this series, we discussed the basics of computer viruses and other forms of malicious software, and considered the basic principles and practices of cyber security itself. Continuing our discussion on security, in this article we’ll be looking at five simple steps you can take right now to improve your cyber security.
1. Use a Good Quality Antivirus
The first line of defense against computer viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, adware, ransomware, and other forms of malware is your antivirus software suite. Using a good quality antivirus remains an essential element of an effective cyber security regime.
A good antivirus should be able to detect and deal with malware based on file signatures. These are essentially digital fingerprints uniquely associated with specific files, which have been identified and documented as malware in a regularly updated virus database at the heart of the antivirus system. The daily updates your antivirus software will require are primarily aimed at keeping its database of malware signatures as current as possible.
The problem with virus databases is they’re only as complete as current knowledge allows. Unknown strains of malware aren’t included, and file signatures for existing strains of malware which have mutated or been doctored by their developers won’t be included either.
To combat this, most antivirus software will also supplement its signature-based approach with what’s known as heuristic or behavioral analysis. This consists of constant monitoring of your running software and processes, to see if they exhibit any abnormal or suspicious behavior which may be caused by an infection.
Any such behavior can then be red-flagged, with the antivirus software giving you the option of terminating the suspicious process and/or putting the suspect files into quarantine where they can do no harm until they’ve been properly assessed.
2. Use A Virtual Private Network (VPN)
With unscrupulous practices in targeted news and advertising making their own headlines through scandals like the Cambridge Analytica affair, internet users are now looking for more ways than ever to protect their privacy online. Using a VPN is an effective way of improving this aspect of your cyber security.
A VPN uses data scrambling or encryption to create a safe channel between your system, the VPN service infrastructure, and the internet at large, one which can’t be readily deciphered by anyone looking to eavesdrop or trying to understand the information stream which is passing through it.
Besides the encryption they offer, VPN services also typically have servers and infrastructure scattered across the globe, enabling users to pick the geographical location of the internet access point that they’re virtually connecting from. This enables people in areas where internet access or content are restricted to bypass many of these limitations.
The VPN market is growing rapidly, with access to VPNs available via online services, mobile apps, desktop software, and web browser extensions. And of course, with so many VPNs to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to our best VPNs to use in 2018 to help you decide.
3. Always Use Secure Passwords
Lax password practices are consistently named by cyber security experts as one of the principal reasons for successful hacking attempts, data breaches, identity theft, and a host of other problems.
The use of weak or duplicate passwords makes life much easier for hackers and cyber-criminals, empowering them to hijack personal accounts, infiltrate corporate networks, steal data and funds, or distribute malware.
A strong password policy should include the following aspects:
- Passwords should ideally be eight or more characters long, and contain a mixture of numbers, letters, and symbols.
- Hardy old chestnuts like “12345678”, “qwerty”, or the name of your dog are not advised. These are the quintessential weak passwords cyber security experts always complain about, since combinations like this are so widely used.
- Default passwords and PINs issued with new hardware or freshly registered accounts should be changed as soon as possible after acquiring the equipment or starting your online activity.
- Using the same password for multiple accounts is a definite no-no. This also applies to using slight variants of the same password (JoeBlogs1, JoeBlogs2, etc.)
- Keep your passwords private and don’t share them with anyone. Even if you trust a person with your credentials, there’s no guarantee that the information won’t fall into the wrong hands through email phishing, or other social engineering tactics.
- Even the strongest passwords won’t stay strong forever. So you should make a point of changing your passwords on a periodic basis. Most businesses insist on this for their employees, with mandatory password renewals occurring regularly.
- Use a password manager. If you’re like most people, you’ll have several different accounts, and multiple passwords to juggle and remember. Password managers ship as online services, web browser extensions, mobile apps, or desktop software, and do the remembering for you.
4. Regularly Update Your Drivers and Software
Downloading and installing tweaks and new releases of desktop software and mobile apps is a great way of ensuring that your programs have the latest tools and features, improvements to their user interfaces, and include fixes to pre-existing bugs and glitches. But that’s not all that software updates can achieve.
Cyber security professionals are also widely of the opinion that regular updates to your operating system, device drivers, and application software are an essential element in improving and maintaining your cyber security. This is because older editions of these programs and utilities may contain weaknesses and errors hackers and cyber-criminals can exploit to gain access. These vulnerabilities are usually addressed in the latest versions of the software.
Fixes for newly discovered vulnerabilities can also be issued via security patches – small-scale updates that focus on solving a particular problem. This is the philosophy behind many operating system updates.
With a typical user having several applications installed on their system at any given time, keeping track of the update process can be a bit of a challenge. Therefore, it’s recommended that automatic update options should be enabled wherever they’re available.
To make software updating easier, there’s a class of program known as automatic software updaters, which enable you to easily find and select the software updates you need, and even to schedule when and how they should occur. Avira Software Updater Pro is a good example.
5. Back Up and Periodically Restore Your Data
For individual and corporate users alike, having reliable and up to date information available always is a must. Documents, photographs, media files, applications, and other information need to be in an uncorrupted and usable form.
To ensure this, it’s essential to have a back-up strategy, whereby an image of the current files on your system is captured on a regular basis and stored in a safe location where they can be restored to your hardware at a moment’s notice. This safeguards your essential data in the event of a hardware failure or network error that adversely affects your files, or a cyber security incident that leads to the corruption or compromise of your programs and documents.
Saving information to removable hardware such as tape drives or portable hard disks is one option. However, using a dedicated and hosted backup and recovery service like Acronis helps ensure you’ll have continuous protection against hardware failure and other mishaps.
Redundancy (having alternative storage facilities, network connections, and communications infrastructure) is key to the backup process, and systems that implement backups with cyber security in mind will also have measures in place to ensure fast and comprehensive disaster recovery. Recoverit Data Recovery Software is a leading name in this area.
To ensure your backups are reliable, it’s also a good idea to periodically restore your files from the most recent archives that you’ve created, to test them for data integrity and usability.
Cyber security can be a complex and many-layered affair, but with these five simple steps you can easily boost and maintain your defensive capabilities.
As a final and additional move, be sure to pay regular visits to the FileHippo website for news and analysis on cyber security and other issues, essential software updates, and new software releases.