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. Given this, our privacy is put under an ever-growing threat by hackers who launch cyber attacks to obtain our precious information every 39 seconds.
Considering the above, securing your gadgets is a crucial thing. Of course, unless you don’t mind cyber-criminals shuffling through your folders, work materials or private info.
And please don’t just assume that you can’t be targeted by hackers just because you are not a top-notch company. Just think what a criminal can do with your personal 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, spywares, phishing etc.). Follow the 9 steps below and ensure your devices are protected.
1. Adopt these 5 habits to keep hackers away
Habit #1: Awareness
Hackers can be incredibly ingenious in finding ways to get their hands on your data. Not being cautious when you surf online is one of the main ways through which they get access to your information. Therefore, you need to start spotting what is suspicious on the world wide web. In a word, 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, you see unwanted shares/posts on your social media accounts, you send out spam, your device got slower etc.
Habit #2: Pay attention to emails
There were countless cases when large amounts of people were tricked into opening infected emails. Usually, people are tricked by the headline or by the format of the emails which can be strikingly similar to the one sent by 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. I know it’s not so practical, but it’s much safer to have them in a physical place – a drawer, a suitcase etc. 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.
Basically, virtualization means that you use a virtual desktop, a virtual browser and virtual apps. A couple of programs that enable you to use this feature are: Parallels and VMware Fusion.
2. Lock everything down
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 it was stolen from you. 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
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, just 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 hackerproof password is easily obtainable if you follow the next 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.
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 is in addition to your usual password. Many sites – including Facebook, Google, Microsoft -, started introducing two-factor authentication to provide their users with enhanced security.
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 spywares 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. By using encryption, your IP, activity and personal info is protected.
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 this malicious things 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 potentially threatening.
5. Don’t trust everyone! Get a secure internet connection
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. Therefore, 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, companies update their security measures more often than ever. For these improvements to affect your device / apps, you need to accept software updates. Do this as soon as possible.
7. Deceive hackers with encryption
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
You got virused 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 include: Mac’s Time Machine, Windows’ File History, purchasing an external back-up hard drive (we recommend Seagate)
If you follow these simple guidelines, your security will improve tenfold and the possibility of being the victim of a cyber attack will be greatly diminished. Better safe than sorry!