If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's how to properly wash our hands, avoid touching our face, and how to shy away from other humans. Internet hygiene might sound like another keep-it-clean method to avoiding disease, but it's really a way to steer clear of cyber-attacks and online scams. Here's what you need to know to add some online hygienics to your life.
All it Takes is One Unlocked Virtual Door
For most people, the beginning and end of cyber-security is a piece of anti-virus software. Thinking there is nothing on their computer worth stealing, some users don't take their online security very seriously. That attitude continues to work in favor of hackers.
One such cyber-attack, a malware, recently infected around 10,000 computers. It allowed hackers to remotely control infected computers and launch attacks on major websites. In technical terms, this is called a botnet attack. In addition, hackers launched a Ransomware attack so the users found their personal files encrypted. A pop-up window created by the Ransomware informed them that unless they paid a large ransom, they would lose their data forever.
How do These Attacks Happen?
Hackers lure users to click on links that exploit the existing vulnerabilities in a particular software. Just imagine browsing a news website and a third-party ad showing something that interests you pops up luring you to click on it. If you do, this action can trigger a script that exploits your outdated, unprotected internet browser allowing the attacker to get control of your device. From there, the attacker can make you a part of a Zombie Network (Collection of compromised devices) to spread malware that can propagate along the networks and compromise devices on the way.
Security expert Tom Kellerman compares the state of a compromised computer to a neighbor who always leaves the front door to an apartment complex unlocked. Not only can thieves break into the neighbor's apartment, but they can use their expanded building access to more easily break into other units.
If you aren't taking proper security measures on your computer and being vigilant about what links you click, you are putting your own security at risk, and you're creating a window for the attackers to expand their territory on to your friends, co-workers, and family.
The Lesson is Simple
Computer malware can spread a lot like a human virus. You wouldn't sneeze on your hand before pushing buttons on an elevator, so please practice safe internet behaviors too. How? You don't need to be a tech guru to stay safe. Security experts consistently recommend these five steps.
- Download anti-malware software program, like Avast or Malware-Bytes and keep it updated constantly. Schedule updates for it to run when your computer is on, and don't interrupt the process. If you're using Windows, make sure the default anti-malware "Windows Defender" is turned on. All of these programs will release updated malware strain signatures every few weeks to protect your device.
- Run both anti-virus and anti-malware scans weekly. Just like people with strong immune systems can get sick, healthy computers can be infected with malicious programs. If you're on the internet, you're at risk. You can schedule these scans automatically in the settings.
- Update software immediately. If your computer gives you a message that it needs to download or install critical updates, do it the first time you see the warning. It's annoying to stop what you're doing and restart your computer, but it's better than having your computer compromised. When IT professionals call something a "critical update," it usually means it fixes a known software exploit. IMPORTANT: Make sure the message that pop up is from a trusted source. There are malware programs around that use fake "critical update" pop-ups to infect your computer.
- Ignore email links to unfamiliar sites. That includes websites, family, and friends' emails. These emails are frequently generated by bots to keep malicious software spreading. If you click the link, you could make your computer another virus vector.
- Investigate unrecognized software before you download, install, or run it. If you're installing software that might be dangerous, you're putting your computer and the computers of everyone you know in jeopardy.
- Update your passwords often. That includes updating the username and password on electronic items such as modems, wireless routers, security cameras, televisions, wi-fi enabled thermostats, and other internet websites you use which carry your personal information. Often these devices come with a standard "admin" username and a rudimentary password. Changing it would decrease the risk of your device being compromised.
With a world of information at your fingertips also comes the responsibility to maintain your system's the health. Do your part — install and update security software and constantly be on guard for scams and malicious intent.