Hacker Defense: Your NINE Point Tuneup

Category: Security

If you think the online world gets more dangerous every day, you’re not wrong. The AV-TEST Institute reports over 450,000 new malware samples are discovered DAILY. Thousands of social media accounts are hacked every day; and untold millions of consumer records compromised in data breaches are used by hackers in increasingly clever attacks. Your defense systems must be kept in tip-top shape. Here are nine ways to harden your system against hackers. (Don't worry, you won't need a screwdriver or soldering iron!) Read on...

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 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 nine 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 end-user applications to the operating system. Automatic software updates are the easiest, most consistent way to go. Make sure automatic updates in Windows Update are turned on, and in every application software package you have that offers automatic updates. Then install a “universal” software updater, such as Patch My PC. 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, it downloads and installs it automatically. See my article Here's Why You Must Keep Your Software Updated (and how to do it for free) for links to Patch My PC and other related tools that will help you safely install and update your software.

2: Activate two-factor authentication (2FA) 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 [DIGITAL LOCKDOWN] Authenticator Apps Protect Your Accounts describes how to use 2FA.

Hacker Tuneup

Here is a riddle whose answer will seem heretical: When is it safe to use “password” as a 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, they can’t get into your account without the second authentication factor - a code sent only to your phone, or a USB key in your pocket, or your fingerprint, or a scan of your retina, or whatever. 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.

You might wonder if it's safe to use the same, simple password on all sites where you have 2FA enabled, because the second authentication factor will be unavailable to a hacker. I'd advise against doing that; consider what might happen if you lost your phone.

3: Use Strong Passwords

For other things that need passwords but don’t offer 2FA, use a password generator/manager such as RoboForm, LastPass, or Dashlane. A password manager not only generates strong passwords for you, it stores them in an encrypted database, and enters them automatically for you on website login pages. All you need to remember is your master password. Dashlane can even update passwords regularly.

Password managers can help avoid weak, easily guessed passwords, and take the pain out of creating and remembering unique passwords for every online service you use.

Shutting Down Other Attack Vectors

4: 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, 10 and 11 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.

5: 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? Windows 10 and 22 offer finer control of app permissions. Type “privacy” in the Search box and open Privacy Settings from the results. The General tab lets you toggle broad categories of app permissions. On mobile, be careful to check the permissions that apps want (or already have). If you have the Android operating system, you can open Settings > Apps, tap an app’s name, then tap App permissions. From there, you can toggle individual permissions on or off. Does that fun word game really need access to your contacts, photos and messages? No.

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.

6: Defend against ransomware. Millions of ransomware infections were detected last year, costing consumers and businesses billions in losses. Clicking on malicious links is still the primary vector for ransomware attacks. My best advice is to make regular backups and be very careful where you click. The old advice of "Never click links or open attachments in emails from someone you don’t know" is no longer good enough. Remember that malicious links can be unwittingly sent by family, friends, colleagues, or forged to look like it came from someone you know. Malicious emails that mimic the look of your bank, eBay, Paypal, the police, the IRS, UPS or other companies familiar to you are designed to catch you with your guard down, and trick you into clicking right into the ransomware trap.

My article Ransomware: Are You at Risk? has some additional info and links for both prevention and recovery.

7: Upgrade your security software. I ditched Avast Antivirus and started using PC Matic's SuperShield back in 2018. As I described in my PC Matic review, SuperShield uses a whitelist approach that allows only known-good programs to run on your computer. This is in contrast to other security tools that rely on blacklists of known malware. Did I mention that 450,000 new malware samples are discovered daily?? It's nearly impossible for traditional anti-malware tools that rely on blacklists to protect you from all existing and emerging threats. So far, PC Matic has caught several things that slipped past Avast.

8: Watch out for phishing scams. Clicking on suspicious links or opening attachments from unknown sources can lead into a world of trouble. Some of the results can be malware infection, identity theft, and compromised passwords.

9: Secure your wireless network: Wifi is convenient, but if you aren’t careful to use strong passwords and encryption for your home and office Wi-Fi networks, it can leave you open to hackers and unauthorized moochers of your Internet service. See my article [ALERT] Nine WiFi Security Mistakes to Avoid for tips on locking down your wifi.

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

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Most recent comments on "Hacker Defense: Your NINE Point Tuneup"

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
08 Jul 2024

One more security measure, for your desktop computer, or the whole of your home network:
Use a firewall machine between your home network and your ISP router, and stop relying on the router wifi !
Up to now I have been relying od IPCop, running on an old Pentium box, but am preparing to replac that with IPFire (a derivative of IPCop, which is no longer supported) which will run on a RaspberryPi. Smaller, and less power-hungry.
BTW I also use another RaspberryPi running the PiHole software, that blocks most of the servers like doubleclick.google.com, that send adds to embed in webpages; makes them load a lot faster.
Comes with over 10,000 URLs of add-serving sites.


Posted by:

09 Jul 2024

Patch My PC is am excellent tool, but it does not ...

"catalog all software on your system, and finds your stuff in its database of several thousand developer sites that it monitors for new updates. When a new update that you need appears, it downloads and installs it automatically."

It only checks a limited amount of software. For example, I have 166 apps on the computer that I am typing this right now (according to the "Software Updates and News" app from another major software webpage, and only 19 are checked for update by Patch My PC.

But Patch My PC is excellent for the limited amount it does and I highly recommend it's use.

Posted by:

09 Jul 2024

This is great information. In addition to that, every few months, I assess what accounts I need to maintain. For certain online purchases, do I still need those accounts? If I don't need something, I just close down the account and delete. There is no need to manage more that what is important. I am also wary of what I download. Also, I remove bloatware and crapware from my system. Also, I block 3rd party cookies, If that "breaks" some sites, then I don't need to go there anyway. Last, since there is a lot of good information on the internet, there is also a cesspool of junk, misinformation, and lies out there; therefore, discernment is always a MUST! Thank you for another great article!711

Posted by:

09 Jul 2024

What about the idea that it's dangerous to leave the computer turned on and connected to the internet 24/7? Why not turn it off (or hibernate or sleep) when it's not in use?

Thanks for all that you do.

Posted by:

Breck Androff
10 Jul 2024

Bob!! Do you have any recommendations on accounting software??

Posted by:

Michael Davis
10 Jul 2024

I have read that LastPass has been hacked. Dashlane has now, after all these years, limiting one to a very low number of saved passwords and you now must upgrade and pay them monthly/yearly for a subscription. I have started using Bitwarden. Not quite as easy as Dashlane, but it's still a free app and it handles as many passwords you may have.

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