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Keep Your Computer Running Smoothly and Protect Yourself from Malware

Simple steps to take daily - or at least weekly - to keep your computer and backup systems virus free and running smoothly!

Daily Steps:

1) Use strong passwords

Use strong passwords, write them down and physically secure them. Use multiple passwords - it’s okay to use a fun pattern, like your high school teachers’ names or favorite TV characters. The pattern should be something only you would know. If you use 10 different sites, use at least 3 different passwords and change them quarterly.

A hacker would have to break into your home and find that paper to steal your passwords. Like car thieves, most hackers are looking for the easy mark – an unlocked car with the windows open and the motor running! Do the equivalent of locking your doors and they’ll likely move on to an easier target.

The hacker who wants your data may be 6000 miles away - he doesn’t know that your passwords are kept underneath the dog food bag in your pantry.

2) Look over your shoulder

If you are online in a coffee shop or in a public place, assume that someone is watching your keystrokes, even if you are typing on your phone. Avoid visiting sensitive sites or typing in passwords in public places. Protect your keystrokes like you would protect your credit cards. Don’t leave them in plain site and look around to see what security cameras might be turned to you. Sometimes the theft of your data is an inside job. If you are on a public computer, never use a password that you aren’t willing to have compromised.

3) Don’t open suspicious packages or suspicious emails – an email may be today’s equivalent of a letter bomb.

I like to look at an email on my phone first, in the preview pane. It’s not foolproof, but it a way to get a look at whether the email seems to be from a trusted source. Viruses and other malware typically infects via innocent-looking email.

4) Don’t text and drive In other words, don’t be careless – rushing critical tasks is a sure way to be unsafe!

Weekly/Monthly Steps:

1) Stay virus and malware free while keeping up the speed Set aside a time each week, say Sunday evening at 9 PM to make sure your software is up to date. Stay current with operating systems, browsers and supporting software - let big companies like Apple and Microsoft do the work for you! Many viruses attack out-of- date versions – protecting from this malware is free. After you refresh your software, remove unwanted files, empty your trash and optimize your hard drive using tools like Apple’s Disk Utility.

2) Test your Restore Process

We are told to back up our data but the secret no one tells you is the restore is more important than the backup.

The old-fashioned way to back up is to copy your data to a disk, magnetic tape or USB key. You keep possession of the backup. Today, most people back up to the cloud. Regardless of your method, do a test restore to ensure you can retrieve your data.

Suppose you have a thousand family photos on Apple photo and your hard drive fails. Can you retrieve the photos via your Dropbox account? Can you recover them from your external USB hard drive? If you can’t work through the process to recover your photos, assume your memories are lost!

In our 20 years of consulting to the most prominent global corporations, I can’t tell you how often they skip this critical step. The biggest name companies that you trust with your safety, such as airlines and hospitals, sometimes can’t recover their own data!

How to protect yourself against today’s most common computer threats such as spyware, malware, and the most dangerous viruses.

Why is spyware scary? Imagine you are at home, privately doing your banking or socializing on your computer. Now imagine that someone is looking over your shoulder...that is spyware. It’s a bad guy watching your every move and recording your every keystroke. That bad guy sees the sites you visit and the passwords you type. Now he’s got your bank account number and your password. He’s waiting until you go to sleep to drain your account.

How did that spyware end up on your computer? You opened an innocent-looking email, seemingly from DHL or FedEx saying that your package couldn’t be delivered. When you clicked on the tracking number, the malware was installed on your computer. It may be set as a time bomb, and not even do anything for a month or two, meaning that you suspect nothing, all the while the bad guy is gathering your data, looking to maximize his take.

Ransomware A ransomware attack is when your data gets kidnapped until you pay a ransom. Small businesses like medical practices and law firms are often targeted. You may remember the “WannaCry” attack this past May that hit 200,000 computers in 150 countries and hit hospitals, universities and banks. The hackers wanted to get paid in Bitcoin or virtual currency. Many of the affected machines were in UK hospitals still running Windows XP, which Microsoft came out with around the time of the September 11th attacks.

Hackers are always looking for an “open window” to enter into a business’s computers. Older devices and outdated software versions provide are the open windows for persistent hackers.

How to protect yourself

1) Stay lean, current and avoid complexity

Today’s computers include phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, gaming and other devices that you connect together. Don’t tangle technologies too much, to the point where you can’t untangle them if you need to! Get rid of old devices that you no longer need – take a hammer to them and wear your safety glasses!

2) Don’t bother to backup unless you can restore (discussed above).

3) Keep things in the cloud but don’t totally rely upon it.

Despite hosting provider’s claims of 99.99% reliability, when real world outages occur and you can’t access your data, those impressive metrics provide little comfort. The best approach is probably to keep a copy of your data both in the cloud and on a device that you can physically access. Make sure your passwords are strong!

4) Give yourself a break.

You can’t protect everything – eating right and exercising daily doesn’t guarantee health, but it’s a great approach to life. The same is with your computers and data: Be prudent in protecting yourself but accept that you can’t avoid all vulnerabilities, unless you go back to pen, paper and wired telephones!

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