Protecting your privacy and securing your home computers is easier than you might imagine. Better security isn’t just for big organizations or the uber-nerds – everyone, regardless of their computer literacy, can take simple steps to better secure their data and their personal devices. Small steps really can make a big impact.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are five tips that will go a long way to keeping you and your information safe.
1. Use unique passwords for every service you use
As tempting as it might be to reuse the same password across various websites (less to remember, less to type, you might be thinking), this is akin to you using the same key for your front door, back door, car, garage, and everything else you want to keep a lock on.
As easy as it might make things for you, it makes things even easier for an attacker to break into all of your accounts. If a hacker manages to grab your password through breaching one site, they get the keys to your entire digital life. That’s why you really want to have a unique password on each and every one of the websites you log in to.
This might sound like a lot to wrangle – “I thought you said these would be easy!” – but this is where technology can really come to your aid. There are many tools available to you, for free, that will generate unique passwords for the websites you use and store those passwords for you so you don’t have to remember them. They’re called password managers, and we’ve written about several of them before.
Many of the password managers on the market will integrate with your browser so you don’t even need to look up or copy/paste the password in, they’ll automatically fill the correct password in for you.
Examples of password managers include 1Password and LastPass, or if you’re an Apple or Google device user you could also try the Apple iCloud Keychain or Google’s Password Vault. Whichever one you choose, the key thing is that it’s easy for you to use. A password manager that works for you is one that takes away the burden of creating (and remembering) unique passwords, so using those passwords becomes a piece of cake. Just make sure you have a super strong, super long password on your password manager!
2. Keep your software up to date
One of the main ways that bad guys can do damage to computers is by taking advantage of flaws in software. These flaws allow the criminals to make the software do things it normally wouldn’t, and often they’ll give an attacker a way into gaining control over the computer and the files on it. The people who make software know that attackers take advantage of these flaws though, so they often make updates and fixes to patch those flaws and keep the bad guys out.
That’s why it’s so important to update the software or apps that you use as soon as the updates are available: It gives you the best, most updated defenses against people who might want to break into your device or computer. You wouldn’t let a leaky roof keep dripping, would you?
3. Make backups of your files
So much of our lives are on our computers and phones now, from precious photos and videos of loved ones to crucial files and finances for work. For almost all of us, it would be devastating if suddenly we couldn’t access these files, or if these files were lost completely.
The easy solution here is to make sure you keep backups of your files, either via a dedicated cloud backup service (like Carbonite), on a cloud storage device (like iCloud or Dropbox) or on an external hard drive that you own (like TimeMachine), or on a mixture of all three!
The key thing is that you backup your files somewhere off the device where those files normally live, so if something happens to that device – you lose it, it breaks, or it gets infected with ransomware – copies of your files are still safe and sound elsewhere.
Getting a file backup service may take a few minutes to set up, but it gives you so much peace of mind should the worst happen.
4. Be mindful of what you share
A quiz on Facebook might seem innocent enough, or perhaps that’s what you might have thought before all the news about Cambridge Analytica came to light. Those quizzes that seem fun usually require giving the quiz a lot of access to your social profile – which usually houses data that could come in handy to someone who might need birthday or location details to impersonate you or break into your accounts.
Even if you’re not the type to do a quiz, public posts on your social profiles can give away a lot about you. One post on its own might not say much, but over time these posts can accumulate to paint a complete picture of you, your habits, your frequently-accessed locations, and other details that would be unsettling or possibly dangerous in the hands of someone with bad intentions.
The best way to avoid information getting into the wrong hands is to be vigilant about what you share and remember what you post online stays online forever (yes, even if you delete it). Err on the side of privacy and protect yourself first and foremost.
5. Use protective software to fight the nasty stuff
Sometimes legitimate websites get hijacked by malicious advertisements. Sometimes legitimate online services are attacked and their customers are affected. No matter how vigilant you are, a little extra defensive assistance can help keep nasty programs and ransomware at bay.
We’re a little biased here, but we think Sophos Home is pretty great. If any malicious program tries to install ransomware or spyware on your machine, it’ll stop it dead in its tracks. Sophos Home will also keep an eye out and stop anything that might try to disrupt your privacy – like programs that try to spy on you through your webcam, or steal your banking credentials as you type them in.