Home Cybersecurity & Privacy Tips

  1. Trust but Verify – You are the best weapon against cybercrime in all of its forms. Being highly skeptical of the latest email or social media post about miracle cures or sensationalized current events will go a long way. If you receive an email from work or a friend, particularly if you end up on a web page that is asking for your credentials, stop! Take a few minutes to verify that this is legitimate. Take a break while you give them a voice or video call.
  2. Updates – As painful as it can be, updates really do serve a purpose. In addition to Windows or Mac updates, do remember to update Google Chrome, Firefox, and any other browsers you may use. If you have to use apps like Adobe Flash or Java, make sure you keep up with those as well. It is safest to perform the updates from within the application itself as opposed to searching for the updates online. There are many websites dedicated to distributing fake updates. In fact, this would be a great time to uninstall all those 3rd party tools that are bloating your system. If it isn’t installed, you don’t have to update it. Lastly, do remember to update your firmware in things like wireless routers, access points as well as the BIOS of your computers.
  3. Change Default Passwords – If you use default passwords, you can’t claim to have been hacked! That would like leaving the front door open and claiming you were robbed.
  4. Be a User, Not an Administrator – Keep your computer’s admin account separate from your everyday user account. It is all too easy to set up your user account as an administrator. Just don’t! Over the last five years, 88% of the Critical vulnerabilities published by Microsoft were mitigated by the removal of admin rights? Yes, you read that correctly – 88%! Removing admin rights does not mean that you can’t make changes to your own system. It just means that there will be an extra step to verify that you really want to make the change. I haven’t been an admin on my own computers in well over 10 years!  Create a separate account used for tasks like installing applications. When a change is necessary, you’ll simply be prompted to enter the necessary username and password. Boy, do I have stories about admins making mistakes on their own systems…
  5. OpenDNS – As most of you know, we have been advocates of the OpenDNS platform for a long time as a Managed Security Service Provider. As a home user, you too can benefit from tools for free. You simply have to change your computer to point at their DNS servers (208.26.222.222 and 208.67.220.220). Better yet, reconfigure your home router to do this so that all of your home devices benefit from the security. You don’t even have to sign up for anything!  If you have young children in the household, you can also use their Family Shield servers which filter adult content as well. For those seeking a bit more control, you can subscribe to one of their paid plans. https://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security.
  6. Web Of Trust – I have always liked a hybrid approach to security, mixing commercial and community-driven security tools. Web of Trust is a great browser add-on that helps keep your web surfing safe and away from malicious or suspicious web sites. It is a free add-on for Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers, even mobile platforms. https://mywot.com
  7. AdBlock Plus – Not only are ads annoying but they often are harbor malicious content. This free browser add-on does a good job suppressing the ads found on many websites and can actually improve your Internet speeds. You may need to make exceptions for your reputable news sites if you are actively keeping up with current events. https://adblockplus.org/
  8. Separate Your WiFi – Creating separate WiFi networks for work, home, and other devices is a really easy and fast way to reduce your risk. Most routers support four or more networks so you can keep things separate – particularly any non-computer devices like smart TVs, door, or security cameras. All those other devices are just computers hidden away in a different box and just as susceptible to being compromised as your computer. Did you ever hear about the clothing irons that were used to distribute malware and hack WiFi networks?
  9. Separate Your Email Accounts – If you have been an Internet citizen for a while like me, you are likely to have that one email address that you’ve used for everything from email, to Geo Cities, My Space, AIM, Amazon, eBay, banking, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and some newfangled thing called TikTok. By using a single address, you are at a greatly increased risk of having that email account compromised and losing access to all those linked systems. An easy to start reducing this risk is to create an email account for social media, newsletters, and promotions. Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and even AOL are good options for this and are free. You can later create a separate account for financial transactions. Oh and please don’t use the same password for each of these!
  10. Multifactor Authentication – Without getting into a discussion of good passwords and password managers, most modern online services support some form of additional authentication factor. This might be a text message to your phone (my least favorite method and susceptible to SIM-jacking or SIM-swapping). A better option, if possible, would be to use an authenticator app such as Google or Microsoft Authenticator. This additional factor is further protected because, you are a good person, and good people secure their devices with passcodes or biometric security. Subliminal messages are fun! Once set up, these provide you with codes that you have to enter in addition to your password in order to access a resource. While not invulnerable to compromise, these do help and can also alert you to a hacker trying to use your credentials somewhere. Also, turn on and pay attention to the account alerting options prevalent in most services. If you see connections coming from another country at an unexpected time, you might want to be concerned!

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