8 Ways to Protect Your Tech and Online Privacy
Use these tools to protect your data from cyber threats
We all know the benefits our technology brings us—access to a world of information, convenience through tools such as online banking and shopping, a wealth of ways to be entertained and a constant connection to friends and family.
Along with those many benefits, however, are risks. We store and exchange personal information on our technology, which leaves us vulnerable to identity thieves, spammers and hackers.
The following tips are offered to help you protect your home computer, so you can protect your privacy and your family.
1. A strong firewall: Your first line of defense
A firewall is a layer of internet security that attempts to let good traffic through while blocking hackers from entering and using your computer. Hackers send out pings (calls) to thousands of computers and wait for responses. Firewalls prevent your computer from responding to these random calls.
Most wireless routers already have a firewall, and you also have a firewall on your operating system. There might be occasions when you or someone working on your computer turns a firewall off. For example, when installing a program, there could be a conflict with the operating system firewall, and sometimes turning the firewall off temporarily resolves this.
Here’s how to check if your firewall is on or off. Note that the verbiage will be slightly different depending on what operating system you are using:
On Windows 10:
+ Click on the Start menu and type windows firewall in the search box.
+ Pick the Windows Firewall option that pops up in the search results. You will see if the firewall is on or off and be able to make adjustments.
On a Mac:
+ Open System Preferences, which is the icon in your dock with the gears (usually near the far right).
+ Click on Security, which is in the top line of icons.
+ Go to the Firewall tab.
+ Click the small padlock icon in the bottom left-hand corner. Enter your password when prompted. You will see if the firewall is on or off and be able to change the setting.
If you have turned the firewall off for any reason, you’ll want to make sure to turn it back on whenever you’re on a Wi-Fi network that isn’t in your home. Unless the firewall is causing you problems, it’s best to keep it on at all times.
2. Keep anti-virus software updated
Anti-virus software helps protect your computer from viruses that slow down or crash your computer, destroy your data or allow spammers to send email through your account. But it must be kept updated.
As quickly as one virus is identified, new ones are being created. Most anti-virus software includes a feature to download updates automatically when you are online. You will want to make sure the settings for the software you choose checks your system on a regular basis, especially if you are a heavy internet or email user. Some programs do this in the background while your computer is on. I prefer to schedule a time to have my computer scanned and updated during a time when I am not using the computer to avoid any slow-downs or conflicts.
3. Use anti-malware software
If you see a sudden flurry of pop-up ads, get redirected to a website you didn’t choose, or you receive a suspicious message that says your computer is infected and you must call the number on the message to fix it, you’ve likely been hit by malware, also known as spyware.
Malware is a software installed without your knowledge or consent. This dangerous software can monitor your online activities and collect personal information while you surf the web. There have even been incidents of brand new in-the-box computers being infected with malware that is activated the first time the owner logs onto the internet. Don’t click on any of the pop-up windows or take any action. Immediately turn your computer off with the power button (not the menu), reboot in safe mode with networking and run a program such as Malwarebytes.
Spyware protection is included in some anti-virus software programs, but it doesn’t hurt to run more than one. Just like anti-virus software, anti-malware software needs to be updated regularly.
Spyware is often contained in many “free” programs downloaded from the internet. Download software only from sites you know and trust. If you are unsure, do a Google search of the name of the software and “is it safe” and read other user comments.
3. Manage your system and browser to protect your privacy
Hackers are constantly trying to find new ways into your system. It is recommended that you set your internet security settings to, at least, medium. To adjust these settings, check the Tools or Options menus for how to do this. Update your system and browser regularly, taking advantage of automatic updating when it’s available. Windows Update is a service offered by Microsoft. On Macintosh systems, patching can be run automatically to update its operating system.
5. Use a strong password, and keep it to yourself
Consider a password like keys to your house—it is the key to your personal information, so don’t share it! The strongest passwords contain at least 8 characters, upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use common words, pet names or anything else that can be easily guessed. One of the easiest ways to create a strong password is to make an acronym out of a sentence you can remember: “Did John and Susan arrive for dinner at 5?” translates to DJaSafda5?
6. Secure your wireless network
When using a wireless network in your home, make sure it is protected, too. A common mistake many people make is leaving the encryption password as the factory default. With a quick internet search, anyone can find the default password for your wireless router. Follow the instructions the router came with to reset the password, or look up the manual on the Internet and reset the router with a new, strong password.
Wireless networks on public hotspots might not be secure, and you should avoid sending any personal information. As an alternative, you can buy your own hotspot—a mobile broadband device that plugs into your computer, laptop, PDA, or smartphone and uses a mobile phone signal to provide high-speed internet access. They are sold by cell phone companies and require a monthly service plan, but can be affordable when bundled with your existing service.
7. Shop safely online
8. Use parental controls
Your children could unknowingly risk your family’s privacy. Make sure they know how to use the internet safely. Set parental controls that limit the sites kids can visit. Parental controls can be stringent when kids are younger, and more flexible as they mature, but remember software is not a substitute for parental supervision. Make sure you know what your kids are doing online.
Connect wisely, and stay safe out there on the internet.