Free 5-Point Tuneup For Hacker Defenses

Category: Security

The online world gets more dangerous every day, it seems. Some quick statistics: 230,000 new malware samples are discovered daily; over 600,000 social media accounts are hacked per day; one in ten social media users has had an account hijacked by hackers. Your defense systems must be kept in tip-top shape. Here are five ways to harden your system against hackers...

Beef Up Your Security Defenses

You take your car for preventive maintenance on a regular basis. Engine oil, spark plugs, filters, wipers, and tires are five important things that need attention in order to stay safe on the road. But most people don't give a second thought to staying safe online. Here are five things you should keep in mind to "tune up" your computer against malware, hackers and data thieves. Failure to do so is like rolling the dice, and hoping to beat a set of odds that are stacked against you.

1: Update all of your software, from device drivers to applications to the operating system. Automatic software updates are the easiest, most consistent way to go. Activate it in Windows Update, and in every application software package you have that offers automatic updates. Then install a “universal” software update monitor, such as Personal Software Inspector. It catalogs all software on your system, and finds your stuff in its database of several thousand develper sites that it monitors for new updates. When a new update that you need appears, PSI downloads and installs it automatically. See my article Keeping Software Updated Simply for links to PSU and other related tools.

2: Activate two-factor authentication everywhere you can, on your devices and on all sites that offer 2FA. It may seem to add another layer of complexity that slows you down, but the opposite is true. My article An Extra Layer of Security describes how to use 2FA.

Five Point Security Checkup

Here is a riddle whose answer will seem heretical: when is it safe to use the password, “password?” No, I have not lost my mind or been paid a bribe by the hacker community. The answer is, when you have 2FA enabled! Even if a hacker guesses your password on the first try, he can’t get into your account without the second authentication factor - a code sent only to your phone number, or a USB key in your pocket, or your fingerprint, or a scan of your retina, or whatever. Another mind-blowing observation: it is safe to use the same, simple password on all sites where you have 2FA enabled; again, because the second authentication factor will be unique and unavailable to a hacker.

Google and Facebook call 2FA “login approval,” while Twitter and Microsoft call it “login verification.” Your bank may call it something else. Inquire about 2FA and use it wherever you can. For other things that need passwords but don’t offer 2FA, use a password generator/manager such as RoboForm, LastPass, or Dashlane. It not only generates strong passwords for you, it stores them in an encrypted database and changes them regularly. All you need to remember is your master password.

Shutting Down Other Attack Vectors

3: Encrypt your storage devices so that even if your laptop or phone is stolen, its data cannot be read without the encryption key. Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 include Bitlocker encryption. VeraCrypt is the free, open-source successor to the popular but now defunct TrueCrypt. Android and iOS have encryption enabled by default.

Just remember that if you don't have a screen-lock pin or password, all the encryption in the world won't help you when your computer or mobile device is lost or stolen.

4: Reduce the “surface area” that exposes you to potential attacks on your privacy and security. Start by uninstalling of programs and apps that you really don’t need or use. Most software has at least one vulnerability; why leave openings for hackers lying around? On mobile, be careful to check the permissions that apps want (or already have). (See Is Your Flashlight App Spying on You?) Don’t neglect all the apps that you have given permission to access your Facebook, Google, Twitter, or other “identity” accounts.

Go through the “app permissions” sections on each of your social media accounts and disallow apps you no longer use. Make use of the privacy and security checkup tools provided by Microsoft and Google, which I described in Tweak Your Microsoft and Google Privacy Settings.

5: Remove notoriously unsafe software. I've written about the never-ending wave of security vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash, Java and QuickTime. See my articles Adobe Flash - The Last Straw?, Time to Boycott Java?, and QUICK, Uninstall QuickTime. Using any of these tools to view online content or games will expose you to exploitation by hackers. If you can possibly live without them, my advice is to remove them from your computer ASAP.

Do you have any tips to share that are related to staying safe online and protecting you privacy? Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 29 Jul 2016


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Most recent comments on "Free 5-Point Tuneup For Hacker Defenses"

Posted by:

quacker
29 Jul 2016

What about all those apps MS has forced upon us with Win 10? I can get some--not nearly enough--off the Start menu, but can get them off my system.


Posted by:

Charles J Swoboda
29 Jul 2016

Is there any reason why I can't find the encryption app VeraCrypt on my Android phone? I did a search for it twice, but came up with nothing. I'm looking under "encryption apps for android", but have come up with nothing.


Posted by:

Jim
29 Jul 2016

Charles, according to the Codeplex website they have no plans to develop an Android version of Veracrypt.
https://veracrypt.codeplex.com/wikipage?title=android%20%26%20ios%20support


Posted by:

sirpaul2
29 Jul 2016

VeraCript does not currently have plans to develop a mobile version (Win, OSX, and Linux).
Google introduced full-device encryption back in Android Gingerbread (2.3.x), but on later versions, it’s enabled out-of-the-box. On older, or lower-end devices, you have to turn it on yourself in 'Settings > (Personal) > Security'. It can take an hour or so, so have your device plugged in before attempting.


Posted by:

JimM
29 Jul 2016

The best way to stay safe is to NOT use social media and use the Linux operating system.


Posted by:

CharlesP
29 Jul 2016

Got this message today:: Starting in August 2016, Social Security is adding a new step to protect your privacy as a my Social Security user. This new requirement is the result of an executive order for federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services. Any agency that provides online access to a customer’s personal information must use multifactor authentication.

When you sign in at ssa.gov/myaccount with your username and password, we will ask you to add your text-enabled cell phone number. The purpose of providing your cell phone number is that, each time you log in to your account with your username and password, we will send you a one-time security code you must also enter to log in successfully to your account.

Each time you sign into your account, you will complete two steps:

Step 1: Enter your username and password.
Step 2: Enter the security code we text to your cell phone (cell phone provider's text message and data rates may apply).
The process of using a one-time security code in addition to a username and password is one form of “multifactor authentication,” which means we are using more than one method to make sure you are the actual owner of your account.

If you do not have a text-enabled cell phone or you do not wish to provide your cell phone number, you will not be able to access your my Social Security account.


Posted by:

BobD
29 Jul 2016

When Windows 10 bricked my desktop, I brought the machine to the computer store. This gave the store access to my C drive. Sure, I keep my precious info on an external disk, but there's always leakage. E.g., deleting a file on the C drive plants it in the Recycle Bin on C, unless you delete it "permanently". Also, assorted apps store working files on C. I found tax-prep files on C.
Bob, thanks for the pointer to VeraCrypt. They claim almost no performance loss. Is that true?


Posted by:

Paul
29 Jul 2016

Anyone dumb enough to use "password" as their password probably has no clue about what 2FA is. If you are the least bit security conscious you would not use that as your password in the first-place.


Posted by:

Bob Price
29 Jul 2016

I have disabled Flash for all the good reasons, but I'm a news junkie, along with sports, movies, and games.

I have to "allow" Flash to run probably 15,20 times a night. Various sites say get rid of it but never offer a solution or substitute.


Posted by:

b
29 Jul 2016

I love VeraCrypt and use it all the time. However, other security sites claim ranson-ware will also encrypt VC files. The only safe solution is backing up to an ext drive and keep it disconnected until in use.


Posted by:

Scott
30 Jul 2016

I have a Logitech 5.1 hooked into my computer, but Windows 10 fails to recognize it. Only two speakers ever produce sound. Is there a foreseeable change coming anytime soon?


Posted by:

Artful
31 Jul 2016

Although the title of this software sounds attractive, this thing is totally lame for several reasons.
First it brings you to very confusing links to update.
Second, you do not really need to update most programs in the first place.
Third, you can simply avoid this confusing program by downloading the program and installing whether you need it or not every 6 months or so from a trusted download site and I recommend majorgeeks.com or filehippo.com ... definitely NOT and stay away from download.com


Posted by:

Pj
01 Aug 2016

Can you tell me why all of a sudden I am getting nasty xrated emails, many of them? Do you know how I can stop this filth from coming through? Thanks.


Posted by:

Stephanie
06 Aug 2016

So, what happens if you have two-factor authentication (2FA) and then you lose your cell phone, or you change your cell phone number, or you close your cell phone account? What happens if RoboForm, LastPass, or Dashlane goes out of business and all of your passwords go along with it? I'll stick with my password-protected spreadsheet that contains all my online accounts' login information and my passwords! Bob, thank you for everything you do for us.


Posted by:

Clairvaux
03 Sep 2016

There is one case where you should not use 2FA : when you use Tor, and anonymity is more important than the risk of losing your account to hackers.

Suppose you have set up a pseudonymous mail account through Tor, therefore it cannot be traced to your real identity. If you give a phone number to the mail provider for 2FA, chances are that this number is tied to your real identity.

Indeed, if such is your case, you should seek a mail provider that does not ask you either for a phone number or another email address.


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