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8 Best Ways to Protect Your Computer/Phone From Hackers

Whether we like it or not, a large part of our lives is stored on computers, phones, on social media networks and in huge databases that are always targeted by all kinds of hackers, so it’s a no-brainer that we need to learn how to protect ourselves from their cyber attacks, especially as these happen every 39 seconds.

Considering the above, securing your gadgets is a crucial thing. That’s unless you don’t mind cyber-criminals shuffling through your folders, work materials or private info. 

And don’t assume that hackers are not interested in you because you are not a top-notch company. Think what a criminal can do with your details and bank credentials. Seriously! And remember: they attack every 39 seconds!

With this in mind, we put together a hackerproof guide that you can follow right now in order to dramatically reduce or even eliminate the risk of being the victim of a cyber attack (viruses, spyware, phishing etc.). Follow the 9 steps below and ensure that your devices are protected.

1. Adopt these 5 habits to keep hackers away

Man surfing the web carefully to protect from hackers and cyber attacks

The easiest way to protect your data from hackers is to have healthy digital habits. Install the following 5 such habits straight away and make sure you steer clear from the many traps lurking on the internet.

Habit #1: Awareness

Hackers can be incredibly ingenious in finding ways to get their hands on your data. They always look for reckless internet users. Thus, you need to start spotting what is suspicious on the world wide web. Simply put, be aware of your actions – what you click and where you click.

Also, if you see signs of malicious activity anywhere on your device, take action immediately and run your antivirus program. 

Signs of malicious activity

  • Ads pop out of nowhere;
  • Unwanted shares/posts on your social media accounts;
  • You send out spam;
  • Device got slower etc.

Habit #2: Pay attention to emails

Gmail logo; surf through emails carefully to steer clear from malicious hacker attempts

Large amounts of people are tricked into opening infected emails daily.

Usually, the headline and the format of the emails are the ones fooling the people. This type of emails can be strikingly similar to the ones received from your bank, friends or work colleagues.

Another common format of malicious emails are the ones that state that you won the lottery, or the president of Zimbabwe wants to send you money.

All in all, cyber-criminals can be pretty inventive, so you need to think twice before accessing any links from your inbox.

Habit #3: Manage your Google Chrome extensions

Some Chrome extensions can track your data and then use (or even sell) it to third parties. Therefore, you need to install only the most reputable extensions. As a rule of thumb, extensions with high ratings and the ones under ‘Editor’s Picks’ section are considered safe.

Habit #4: Don’t store important data online

Your laptop or smartphone is not Fort Knox. Don’t keep sensitive data – ID card info, bank statements, insurance documents etc. – on your device more than you need to.

It’s much safer to have them in a physical place – a drawer, a suitcase etc. – even though it’s not so practical. This way, if a hacker manages to breach your system, chances are he will be utterly disappointed.

Habit #5: Use virtualization

If you like to live dangerously by frequenting unsafe sites, then you need to use virtualization to add another layer of security.

Virtualization keeps hackers away.
Photo: resources.infosecinstitute.com

Basically, virtualization means that you use a virtual desktop, a virtual browser and virtual apps. A couple of programs that enable you to use virtualization are: Parallels and VMware Fusion.

2. Lock everything down

Protect your computer, laptop and phone from hackers

Think of your devices like you would think of your personal journal. Would you leave it unlocked, so anybody who passes beside him can take a little sneak peek? Of course not.

You can’t put a padlock on your laptop or smartphone, but you can do these things instead:

  • Lock your laptop/computer’s screen (add a password)
  • Be sure you lock your mobile device with a PIN or a password (avoid ‘1234’ or ‘0000’)
  • Shut down your devices when you don’t use them
  • Lock your USB, flash drives and external hard drives as well (unless they are empty)

However, there are cases when you lose your device or you suffer a theft. In these situations, don’t forget to use Apple’s ‘Find my iPhone’ feature or the ‘Android Device Manager’ to track your lost gadgets.

The Android Device Manager can help you locate, lock or even clean up your device, so it’s a very useful app.

3. Password like you would guard 1 billion dollars

Credit: Fast and Furious 5

The last thing you want to do if you wish to avoid a cyber attack is to set a poor password. Hackers have developed many algorithms that let them decipher your ‘vault’.

Think of them like they are professional thieves. You know, like the ones you see in heist movies. Their advantage is that they are masters of the computerized world.

Now, our role as potential victims is to set a complex lock for our safe – just like the owners of cash-filled vaults do. As a result, hackers will find it almost impossible to break your systems.

How to choose a good password

A strong password will protect you from hackers and it’s easily obtainable if you follow the following guidelines.

  • Use a combination of upper-case, lower-case, numerical and special characters. Examples: DINOsaur?81, M0NEYi$F0Revery0ne, GOhome!0101.
  • Be sure your password has at least 8 characters. Have you ever seen the struggle of a bank robber when he has to decipher a vault with only 4 digits? Well, imagine him doing that with a 20-characters long password. Not a chance.
  • Don’t use combinations that represent something connected to you like: birthdays, names of family members, your address etc.

Considering the above, a strong password is not so easy to remember. Especially as you should use a different password each time you need one. Therefore, the solution is to use a password manager. 

Password managers store all your passwords and encrypt them, so they can’t be touched by hackers. Some reputable password managers are LastPass, Dashlane and Sticky Password.

Two-factor authentication – Power up your security

A complex password is a difficult test for cyber criminals. But if you want to take things to the next level you need to use two-factor authentication.

Use 2F authentication to steer clear of hackers.
Photo: docs.opnsense.org

Haven’t heard of it? The 2F authentication method requires you to type a numerical code (usually sent to your phone or email) when you log in. That comes in addition to your usual password.

Many sites – including Facebook, Google, Microsoft – started introducing two-factor authentication to provide enhanced security to their users.

If you think passwords aren’t worth all this fuss, think again. According to the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 81% of data breaches in the accommodations sector (think hotels and the like) involved stolen credentials. 

In fact, most data breaches involve criminal hackers gaining access to or guessing passwords,

writes Single Grain

4. Gather your cybersecurity arsenal – Must have tools

You can’t go to war without weapons, so you need to equip your devices properly. Viruses and spyware can be very persistent and they become more and more dangerous. Some of them can track your keystrokes or even activate your camera against your will.

Moreover, malware take a wide variety of forms. You can get them from downloads, shared files, USBs and, if you still use them, CDs as well.

VPNs – Go undercover

By using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) you practically activate your stealth mode. VPN is a service that connects your device to a server from another part of the world. Using encryption is one of the best ways to protect your IP, activity and personal info from hackers.

Reputable VPNs: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish, Norton Secure VPN

Antivirus programs – Get bodyguards

Without an antivirus program, your device is continuously at risk. It’s like you would walk unarmed through a dark alley in a rough neighbourhood. To avoid this situation make sure you download a free or paid antivirus program.

Also, remember to run or schedule virus scans from time to time to steer clear of threats. Trusted antivirus programs: Bitdefender, Avast, Malwarebytes.

Firewalls – Shield your device

Like a wall defends a fortress, firewalls prevent unauthorised users to access your network. Microsoft and Apple operating systems do come with a firewall, so you probably already have one installed. However, make sure of that by checking. Search firewall in your control panel and see if it’s active.

Anti-spyware packages – Your private detectives

Spyware is a kind of software that collects your information and watches your actions. Nothing new under the sun. But you need to know that these are very hard to detect. Unless they don’t show unwanted ads, as they sometimes tend to do.

To catch these malicious things and protect your devices from hackers’ mischievous attempts, you need an anti-spyware package. You can get one from Webroot, McAfee or Norton. These ‘detectives’ will put all incoming information under the loop and block what is threatening.

5. Don’t trust everyone! Get a secure internet connection

Red internet sign reminding to protect your connection from hackers

Using public Wi-Fi networks is like going into enemy’s nest. These networks are the easiest to hack if the cyber criminal is around. Hence, avoid public networks and remember that school or work Wi-Fi connections are usually monitored.

Regarding your home network, make sure you set a password to your router. Otherwise, any trespassers will be able to access it.  

6. Keep up with the hackers! Do not postpone software updates

Cyber villains always work to find new ways to hack systems. Fortunately for us, cyber security companies update their products more often than ever. But for these improvements to affect your device/apps, you need to accept software updates. Do this as soon as possible.

7. Protect from hackers with encryption

Encryption letters to protect from hackers

Encryption is practically writing your information in an unreadable way for other users. This way, if anyone manages to hack your data, they will be looking at meaningless digits.

To encrypt data use BitLocker (Windows user) or FileVault (Mac user). Your web traffic, as we talked about, can be encrypted by using a VPN.

Strong advice: Shop only at encrypted sites – those starting with ‘https’ on the address bar.

8. The safety net: back-up your data

Let’s say your device was infected with a virus and none of the weapons in your cybersecurity arsenal can clear it away. Your only solution is to reset your device or to erase everything in it and reinstall the operating system.

The problem with the instructions above is that you will lose all your files, pictures and documents; unless you made a back-up, of course. Backing-up your most important stuff on your devices is crucial. Yet, very few people do it. 

Back-up tools

  • Mac’s Time Machine
  • Windows File History
  • External back-up hard drive (we recommend Seagate)

In conclusion, if you want to protect your computers, phones and especially the precious data on them from dangerous hackers, you should have healthy digital habits and put everything under a lock using strong passwords, cybersecurity tools and secure internet connections. Also, make sure you back-up your data. Better safe than sorry!

Claudiu Pop
Founder of Unfold Today

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