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 two-factor authentication (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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Most recent comments on "5-Point Tuneup For Hacker Defenses"

Posted by:

23 May 2017

Do not use computer in administrator mode, use a guest account and password both.

Posted by:

23 May 2017

All good suggestions. However, I would add #6 to this list. Switch to Linux Mint Cinnamon desktop.

Posted by:

23 May 2017

I can't agree WRT updating device drivers. Unless there's a specific problem with a peripheral that I need to solve, or some compelling feature that's added by a driver update, I leave them alone. I've had too many devices stop working or become erratic after a "routine" driver update. I also never accept drivers from Windows Update; instead, go to the device manufacturer's website and download the update package directly. MS has been known to have mix-ups with driver versioning that bricked devices by pushing incorrect drivers.

Posted by:

23 May 2017

Joe, I understand what you are saying about device drivers. Windows 10 shut down my home recording studio for a while because of a bad audio driver update. But many other updates from Microsoft are "security hole pluggers" which should almost always be accepted. Do you (or Bob) know if there is a way to opt out of driver updates via Windows Update but subscribe to the others? Or maybe a way to selectively "uncheck" individual driver updates?

Bob - Great website. It has helped me for years and I often refer friends to it. Obviously you put in a lot of work evaluating software and issues.

Posted by:

Phil Fitzgerald
23 May 2017

What media players can I substitute for Flash Player or Shockwave?

Posted by:

Dave Moran
23 May 2017

Disable SMB v1

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
23 May 2017

As usual, great stuff, Bob. THANK YOU!

On my W7 desktop, I have two optional dates that I keep ignoring because I have no problem with my printer or serial port:
1. AMYUNI Technologies – printers – Amyuni Document Converter 450
2. FTDI – other hardware – USB serial port

Is there any security risk in not downloading these two items?

Posted by:

24 May 2017

I agree with the 2FA recommendation (and I recently received an email from my Uncle Sam regarding enabling it for SSA.GOV). However 2FA is also not perfect (it can be hacked - Google it). You will also be 'up sh*t creek without a paddle' if you lose your access to your phone.

Posted by:

24 May 2017

Phil, VLC is a good viewer, and I haven't heard anything unsafe about it.

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