It’s another cold wintery raw night in Boston. You’ve survived another evening of Rt 93 traffic. As you turn the corner toward home your mind drifts to a warm dinner, a glass of wine and relaxing with your family viewing the city from your vantage point ten floors above the bustle and cacophony below. As you pull into the garage bay you press the garage door opener, as is your routine, only this time nothing happens. You try again. You check the batteries. Why can’t you get in? Thru the movement of your wiper blades you notice a building manager approaching. The garage door system has been hacked! You have to park a block away and walk home until they get the system repaired. How is this possible?
In the blink of an eye you went from a feeling of happiness at arriving home to anger.
In some ways our computers can lead us along a similar path. They bring us a modicum of happiness by providing a mechanism for us to get our work done, vacation plans made, access to the school records of our children, review our bank accounts and pay our bills. (OK so maybe happiness isn’t the best way to define those tasks but you get the idea).
Unfortunately, “in the blink of an eye”, these systems can elicit from us a wrath of anger when their usual smooth operations decide to go south. Todays networked environment that we connect to in order to perform our daily tasks are getting riskier by the nano-second. Our computers not only contain vast amounts of personal information but an equally large amount of our financial and professional information.
Most of us are ill equipped or lack the knowledge needed to protect themselves in an arena as harsh as this. We install antivirus and antimalware software on our computers, pat ourselves on the back for being vigilant, and go on our merry way. After all, we have a firewall from our internet provider, we did our bit by installing these programs. They run on their own. What else could we be expected to do?
So that’s where the vast majority of you leave it. Unfortunately for most, your information is probably vulnerable.
Here’s the easy part. I’m going to give you some tools to go the extra step. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet but it doesn’t take much to improve your odds.
First and foremost. You paid a reasonable amount for your computer and the information on it in many cases is sensitive. Don’t cheap out and get free versions of antivirus or malware protection. In most cases they don’t provide the same level of protection and also slow your systems down. For short money, probably under $100.00 you can purchase a good antivirus application and malware protection.
My favorites for antivirus are Webroot, Bitdefender or ESET, but there are other good commercial products available. For malware protection, (and yes you should have both), I’ve relied on Malwarebytes for many years and have never been disappointed. Another favorite is SpyBot. Once installed and configured to perform scans and remove suspected issues, don’t just walk away. Pick a day and time to check it. Has it been running? Has it been updating? Look at the log files it creates. That’s why they create them.
Next make sure your operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux), has the latest security updates. Don’t assume the updates are being installed, check it yourself. These updates are issued when they find vulnerabilities that could make your system susceptible. They’re important. You can look to see when they were last done or run them manually yourself just to make sure.
Email. With all the above protections you’ve put in place, YOU are still the weakest link. If you don’t recognize the sender, don’t open it. If you recognize the sender and there’s a link, check to make sure the link takes you where it says it is. Emails that appear to be from trusted friends and relatives are one of the easiest ways to get hoodwinked into compromising your system. Hover over the link with your mouse. Does the wording that comes up match what the link says? If not then be wary. That email may not be from who you think.
Lastly, if your system seems to be running a little slow, shut it down and turn it back on. A simple reboot fixes a multitude of sins. You should be doing this once a week anyway.
Tom owns and runs Parsec Systems Inc., an IT support and consulting company that’s been providing service in the Boston area since 2003. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions and comments.