11 Steps to Improve your Personal Digital Security

 Everyone with an account on a smart phone, tablet, laptop or PC also knows about phishing, scamming, password and identity theft, and to some degree, file intrusion and hardware destruction through advanced malware. Probably less well known is the fact that savvy hackers will focus on individuals in specific businesses and high-end residential zip and area codes for maximum effect.

Attackers are smarter, more focused and better prepared.

The best way to protect yourself from this hostile environment is to reduce your digital profile –to make it harder to be hacked or hurt. Here are some ways that you can keep your families and your businesses safe online, across all aspects of your digital profile..

Connectivity

  1. All “free” email offerings are not alike.  Many have privacy policies that aren’t in the best interest of the user.  You can start by choosing an email system with highly reliable spam filtering capabilities to reduce your exposure to nasty scams.  Gmail does a reasonably good job of this. Supplement this with a mass-unsubscribe service such as unroll.me to automatically drop spammy email out.
  1. Use a DNS filtering service instead of the basic DNS services provided by your ISP. OpenDNS typically offers superior web filtering services to reduce spam and phishing attacks. OpenDNS also has robust parental controls that help keep your children away from potentially dangerous sites.
  2. Browser  plugins such as Disconnect create a “Do Not Track” barrier for web pages that use cookies to follow you.  This will limit the tracking of your browsing behavior and prevent data gathering by internet marketers.
  3. Use passwords on your home Wi-Fi router to ensure others cannot tap into your network to download illicit files.  Open Wi-Fi access points provide malicious users ample bandwidth to perform their nefarious acts while limiting their exposure from the ISP and law enforcement.
  1. Try to avoid public Wi-Fi, especially those that advertise free connectivity.  Instead, use a MiFi  access point from your telecommunications provider or tether your computer to your phone.  If you must use public Wi-Fi and you want your browsing to be secure from malicious users eavesdropping be sure to utilize a third-party VPN service. These services provide for an entirely encrypted transport from the device to the Internet removing the opportunity for someone sitting in the coffee shop with you to “snoop” your traffic.

Privacy

  1. Routinely update your social media privacy settings to ensure your profile is appropriately protected. . Check back regularly since many social media platforms  modify their interface, which often compromises previous privacy settings.
  2. Trim your contact list regularly and ignore friend or chat requests from strangers on social media or Skype. These are often scams or phishing attempts which can be a vehicle to leverage your account to spend SPAM to those listed in your address book.
  3. Pirated software, movies and music come with unforeseen dangers.  Many copyright protected-assets that are on the Internet as “free downloads” are laden with malicious malware designed to steal passwords and potentially other data you store on that system.
  4. Be aware of “Location Services” on your mobile devices and social media platforms.  This capability adds a geolocation parameter to posts, pictures or even simple web browsing.  This allows anyone viewing this information to have your location information signaling to the world if you are at home, work or elsewhere.

Authentication

  1. Most operating systems have multiple accounts for users to access the system.  For example, Windows operation systems have a Local Admin Account which allows a “Local Admin” to configure and modify all aspects of the system.  Conversely, Windows also has a “Local User Account” which is removes many of advanced permissions.  Most malware requires a “Local Admin” account in order to install and operate.  Interacting with the system on a lower privileged account can keep you safe, so reserve the “Local Admin” account for just administration tasks (updates, software installation, printer installation).  Passwords remain a critical aspect of authentication still to this day.  Heed the warning not to use duplicate passwords and make sure to use complex passwords for sites that contain private information, such as financial or healthcare sites.  To help you remember all of those uniquely crafted passwords you can leverage a password manager that plugs directly into your browsers.  These managers keep your passwords safe and many have the option to auto-fill the password fields make logging into your websites even easier.
  2. Alternate forms of authentication are starting to take hold across the Internet.  Biometrics which take into account human attributes such as fingerprints, voice or even facial recognition provide a higher level of security during the authentication process.  Though not widely used currently, Biometric authentication provides a very seamless way to interact securely without remembering all those passwords.  Additionally many institutions are deploying multi-factor authentication capabilities.  Two-factor authentication takes into account something you know (like a password) and something you have, such as a token or code that is sent to your email or via SMS.  Where these features are available I would highly recommend utilizing one.

Be sure to utilize all the protections your IT systems provide.  For example, many financial institutions provide limits on how much can be transferred or withdrawn electronically.  These help customers limit the impact or damages due to fraud or illicit activity on their account.  Many programs exist for your safety, so find the best one from your financial partner that will suit your needs. Perhaps even more important than some of these tips is good computer hygiene.  For example, be sure to regularly install OS and application updates, keep an up-to-date copy of malware protection on your systems, and always maintain a good backup of critical files. For an extra layer of safety in your maintenance regime, you can encrypt your  storage (with BitLocker, FileVault or TrueCrypt, among others). Also, consider purchasing identity theft insurance, and always wipe your devices clean before selling or disposing of them.  Finally, shut down your computer at night. It may not stop the phishy emails, but it will keep your PC from becoming a bot attacking others while you sleep.

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