The combination of good security software and you, the individual, makes a formidable team that can successfully safeguard your money, your privacy, and your personal information. Your behavior online and your diligence in keeping your devices well maintained are critical aspects of security. We do everything we can to protect your data on our end — so help us help you!
Your behavior online and with your electronic devices is one of the most important aspects of good security — if not the most important. You must remain constantly vigilant of the schemes you may encounter online. Many hackers are nothing more than 21st century conmen: they gain your confidence (and access to your money and information) by pretending to be something they’re not.
Here are two habits to cultivate that will help you avoid some of the most common traps:
Be suspicious of unsolicited offers & requests
Numerous email scams make their way around the internet. Some claim you’ve won the lottery or plead for your generosity to fund a life-saving surgery; others want you to verify information immediately to avoid a deactivated debit card or closed account. In these cases, the fraudster presents you with a serious problem and a sense of urgency to do something now! In other instances, you may receive an email with an attachment purporting to be an invoice, leaked pictures of a celebrity, or images of a recent news-worthy event.
When you see these kinds of emails, delete them. Do not click on the links and do not open the attachments! The links route your internet browser to sites that contain malware (often undetectable by your anti-virus) that is downloaded into your system. The attachments can contain malware or programs that open “back doors” for the hacker to remotely access your computer. A healthy dose of suspicion can save you from these pitfalls.
Don't let scary popups cloud your judgement
If you get a pop-up that sports an FBI, Windows, or other official-seeming logo, telling you that certain images or malware have been detected on your computer and to “Click Here” or “Call this number” to pay a fine or download software to get them removed, do not do it! This is a more recent tactic that scamware employs.
If you do get scamware on your system, never call the number, click the link, or pay to get the program “cleaned” off of your computer. The Bad Guys will just take your money and pretend to let your system resume normal operation. In reality, they will probably just put more malware on it. If you are infected, you might be able to use your anti-virus program emergency boot procedures to remove it, or it may take a professional to remove the malware. No matter what, do not give the hackers your information.
Be very careful how you browse the internet. It is an exceedingly dangerous place, and your device can become infected by merely visiting a website. Use caution and diligence. If visiting a site or clicking a link from a Google search doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t — don’t do it.
Securing Your Device
Most traditional computer systems, like the Windows operating system and even the internet itself, were originally designed to DO things, not to do things securely. One can hardly fault this philosophy, because at the time of development, functionality was the primary goal, not security. All computer programs, be they Windows, Apple, Android, or others, are fundamentally binary (1s and 0s) in construction and operation and are inherently susceptible to compromise. Just as there is no perfect person, completely impervious to all sickness and human failings, there is no flawless computer system or program.
It is imperative that you understand there is no magic bullet that will keep your information secure, on any computer system, whether it is operated by JP Stone, Wells Fargo, US Bank, the New York Stock Exchange, or even the US Military. However, there are several steps you can take to ensure your device is as secure as it can be. We recommend the following measures be taken on any device you own.
Be sure your computer system is running some sort of Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware (AV/AM) package. There are many options available; some are free and others require payment for the service. Irrespective of the program you choose, be sure it is regularly updating its virus definitions (updates that tell the AV/AM software about the latest known viruses or potentially dangerous behavior on your computer). A common mistake is not renewing an AV/AM subscription. While the software will continue to run in many cases, it will not have access to the latest data, putting your computer at greater risk of compromise.
While AV/AM is very important, it is not a magic bullet that will protect you against hackers! Remember to do your part, too!
Every operating system (OS), from Windows to Apple to Android and others, periodically releases software updates. Most of the time, these updates contain security patches that fix vulnerabilities and help protect against hackers. Depending on the OS and your individual settings, these might update automatically or may require interaction from you. It is important to apply updates in a timely fashion.
Application of patches from third-party software (that is, non-OS software like Adobe Reader, Java, etc.) is another critical step that is often overlooked. Hackers love to exploit vulnerabilities in application software, so keeping these patches up-to-date goes a long way towards keeping your system secure.
System hardening involves the removal of all unnecessary and unused software. Many devices come with a lot of programs on them that you do not need and will not use. Uninstall these programs in order to completely close as many potential doors on your system as possible (though be careful in this process because you might be using one without realizing it). There’s no way a hacker can take advantage of a new vulnerability if the affected program simply doesn’t exist on your system!
Web Content Filter
This defense mechanism tends to be very underutilized. Web content filters block access to websites based on category. For example, they can be configured to block access to pornographic or online gambling sites. Many of the better filters can also be configured to block access to “Uncategorized” sites — those that have not been vetted for legitimacy. While malware can reside on legitimate sites (they get hacked, too), blocking un-vetted sites is a good step towards better online security.
Secure, Air-Gapped Backups
Using offsite backups like iCloud and iDrive is a great defense against ransomware. If your system is encrypted, you can rebuild it and restore your critical files from backup. Even a removable USB drive, with your own encryption on it, can help you survive a ransomware attack without paying the hackers. Backups also protect against regular, old-fashioned system crashes and hardware failures. At some point, every electronic device you have will fail. Having a backup is the best way to protect your data.