IT security is a fast moving and complex area which can have a significant impact on your online safety and security. Practicing some fundamental principles can help reduce the chances of being targeted or succumbing to an attack.
Your goal is to make yourself much less attractive to hackers usually by significantly increasing the time needed for them to gain a foothold – “time is money” is as true for hackers as anyone else who’s self-employed.
Hackers have realised that one of the easiest way to bypass IT security is to manipulate you. They will do this either to:
- gain access to systems (“Hi there I’m from Microsoft, we’ve noticed a problem with your system and would like to help, can you just …”)
- get you to divulge your information like username and passwords (“Your Amazon package could not be delivered, click on the link and sign in to review further delivery options”)
- trick you into installing malicious software (“Demand for overdue payment! Please find attached an invoice for immediate payment”)
In some cases it takes just minutes to take control of a machine or device once the initial comprise has happened via deceptive attachments or clicking a link to a malicious site.
Hackers will attempt to make you feel as if you’re obligated to do something, either to receive a benefit or avoid a penalty. Take time to review any communication (email, sms, phone call or instant messaging) that has any of the following features:
- imparted urgency
- carries an explicit or implied benefit/threat
- expects you to take an action (click on a link, divulge information)
Common sense will help you weed out the attacks relying on you to succeed.
Passwords need to be complex, long and unique (CLU).
Simple, eight character passwords in general can be cracked within minutes by determined hackers. Mixing in upper and lower case, numbers as well as symbols make your password harder to crack.
Increasing the password length can also have a big effect on the time taken – aim for at least 12 characters but more will significantly increase the time taken.
Don’t use the same password across multiple sites/services as hackers will scan hundreds of sites with hacked username/email address/password combinations to see what else can be compromised.
Hackers and companies are engaged in an arms race to uncover/secure vulnerabilities in products released to the public. Out of date software is a boon to hackers who make use of tools to automatically check for a wide variety of exploits and flaws and report on the ones that offer the best chances to take control.
Anything that can be connected to the internet needs to be kept up to date and doing so reduces the opportunities for attackers and making it much harder for them to hack you. Ensure automated updates are turned on for all your devices and operating systems.
Where possible install Anti-Virus/Internet Security software from a reputable company and ensure it is kept up to date. Companies like Kaspersky, AVG, F-Secure, Sophos, McAfee, etc spend significant amounts of money identifying, researching and defending against new and emerging threats and make it significantly harder for hackers to get a foothold.
Even with these precautions you may still be hacked. The arms race between hackers and companies often means that hackers notice and exploit a vulnerability first as they’ve the most to gain from it. Where a compromise has occurred you may lose access to your personal files, photos, music or other information.
Often wiping the device/computer and re-installing is the only effective way to be certain the problem has been dealt with. In these cases (where your files have been locked away by an attacker or a wipe and re-install is required) the only way to get your files back is from a backup.
Make sure you do regular backups of important information and just as importantly, make sure you can restore them. This can be as simple as copying the files to a usb stick or backup hard-drive.