What is computer security? If you own a computer, you are probably familiar with computer security concepts like an Anti-Virus or Firewall. You might have even installed an anti-virus by yourself or with the help of a friend, or a computer tech professional, but did you know that this is just one small aspect of computer security?
Computer threats come in many forms. Some threats target vulnerabilities on the computer itself, and some, like phishing scams, target the user. In this article, we will explore some concepts and basics that can help you stay protected while enjoying the convenience your computer brings.
Understanding Computer Security
In order to understand the purpose of computer security, we need to take a step back and look at what is at stake – our personal information. Criminals want to steal our valuable information, and in the case of seniors, they want to scam them out of their life’s savings.
Unfortunately, one thing that an anti-virus cannot do is detect threats which circumvent the computer’s security by exploiting the user’s desire for convenience, fear or uncertainties about computers. So, for some users, there has been a gap in computer security involving the user’s inability to detect computer threats in which the attacker uses clever tactics to gain access to the user’s computer. According to the FTC, the total of money lost in computer related fraud was about 55 million dollars in 2018. This stresses why we need to demystify computer security and establish basic guidelines that anybody can follow to steer clear of computer related fraud.
Computer security is not only about preventing computer viruses, it is about protecting personal or privileged information and following safety guidelines that help us protect our money and our personal information while using computers. Your information is one of the most valuable commodities you have. It is the key to your identity and it can be the key to your money – so, you must protect it like you would protect any key to your valuables.
The Human Vulnerabilities in Computer Security
One of the toughest things to secure a computer against is phishing attacks and computer related fraud. This is mainly because these forms of computer attacks target the user and attempt to exploit what the user does not know, or exploit the user’s oversight and failure to verify things before taking action. Even some of the most computer savvy individuals fall for these types of attacks from time to time. So, when it comes to computer security, you can never be too careful.
Recently, there have been more instances where a scammer tricks unsuspecting users into giving the scammer access to the user’s computer over the internet. The scam artist may masquerade as part of Microsoft, Amazon etc., all in the hopes of exploiting the user’s assumptions, oversight or emotional vulnerability in some cases. Once the attacker gains access to the user’s computer, it’s too late in most cases. You have have to get into damage control mode quickly!
Most of the software used to gain remote access is legitimate software, so your anti-virus will not detect the software as a threat. Only an experienced computer professional can detect such Riskware (programs that can be used to cause harm in the wrong hands). Some users may not even realize that their computer was compromised. The attacker could go back into the compromised computer as they please. Sounds like fiction right? No it isn’t.
The goal of this article is not to induce fear, but to raise awareness and empower. These computer threats are real. Keeping people in the dark about these computer risks only perpetuates the problem. The best way to fight back is to raise awareness on these types of attacks and empower each user with practical security guidelines to help prevent such computer security threats.
Protecting Your Computer & Information
While there are some aspects of computer security that are best left to the computer professionals, there are things that you can do to help protect your computer. In addition to having a good anti-virus, we recommend the following safety guidelines to help you protect your computer and your personal information. In no particular order, here they are:
- Keep your computer’s software up-to-date: Updates often contain security patches to help protect your computer. Always update your Web Browser, Adobe reader, Java, Office and your operating system e.g. Windows or Mac operating systems etc. If you are not sure how to do updates, get help from a knowledgeable and trusted source.
- Clear your search history & cookies from your web browser(s): An attacker can learn enough about you to create a phishing attack or phone scam using your web history. In order to prevent this, it helps to get in the habit of clearing your web history and cookies regularly. However, before you clear your history and cookies; if you have websites that you automatically log into, make sure that you remember your usernames and passwords before you clear your cookies. Clearing cookies will log you out of any website that you automatically log into. So you will need to sign back in.
- Do not always trust the internet: For all the good that comes with the internet, there is also the bad. It’s relatively easy for people to be anonymous on the internet. This makes it easy for scammers to cast a web of bait to lure unsuspecting internet users into a cyber trap. The only way to stay safe on the internet is by having a good Internet Security program and by always taking time to verify things before you take any irreversible action online.
- Verify web addresses: Before you conduct any important transaction online, verify that you are on the correct or official website. A misspelled web address can land you on a fake website that could be setup to steal your personal information or install malicious software on your PC.
- Do not take emails at face value: Get into the habit of verifying emails before taking action. Always error on the side of caution when clicking on links or opening attachments, even if it looks like the email is coming from someone you know. Hacked email accounts can be used to spread malicious software as well.
- Avoid spreading chain emails: Even though they can be a fun way to spread jokes among friends, that very same behavior can be exploited and used as a way to spread malicious attachments.
- Be aware of tech support or customer support scams: If you get a random call from “Microsoft” or any computer manufacturer, it’s a scam! These companies do not call you unless you contact them first. If you get a pop up telling you to call a number because your computer is infected it’s a scam! If you can’t close the browser or shut down your computer – hold down the power button until your computer shuts down (not always recommended). After that, contact a trusted local computer service to fix any security issues on your computer.
- Beware of prepaid card scams: Always treat it as a red flag when someone you don’t know asks you to go and buy a prepaid card to send them money. Prepaid cards are often untraceable; therefore they can help scammers get an undeserved payday while remaining anonymous.
- Backup Your Data Files: Backing up critical files is a big part of information security. Backups come in handy in situations where the hard drive crashes or situations where ransomware locks the user out of their files. Always detach your backup device when you are done backing up your files.
- Be careful of what you download: The internet can be a dangerous place to download something just because the name sounds good or familiar. Here is why; a Trojan is a type of malicious software which is notorious for being disguised as useful software. So, names like “Perfect Driver Updater”, “My Private Network”, “Search Protection” or “Free Network Security”, etc. may sound appealing, but they can also be a perfect delivery system for malicious software. Before you download anything, do your research on the download and on the reputation of the site that is offering that download. Use web tools like Norton’s Safe Web to check a websites reputation and unbiased customer feedback before downloading anything new.
- Research and educate yourself to stay on top of scams: Big companies like Microsoft, HP, Dell, Amazon, PayPal etc. are usually aware of scams using their names. So they usually put out tips to help their consumers avoid scams. If you are ever not sure whether something is a scam or not, go to the official website of the company in question and read articles or contact support on the matter.
- Last but not least, be careful who you give remote access to your computer: There is no way that you can hold someone accountable for any wrong doing if you cannot see them or find them. So, before you give someone remote access to your computer, think about the potential risk to your personal information or finances. Never put convenience before computer security! If you really need computer help, it is better to get help from a local, trusted source whenever possible.
By now, you probably have figured out that computer security is an ongoing real-time process. And, just like driving, we have to stay vigilant, follow some guidelines and be able to identify and steer clear of potential hazards. We hope you found this article useful. If you know someone who can benefit from this knowledge, pass it on!