Keeping your digital life secure
January 27, 2021
I’ve been reading a book written in 2001 about hackers and cybercrime. The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver describes a talented computer hacker who sees little difference between online figures and real life people. He has moved from online games to killing people in the real world. Because he’s a master at hiding online and in different identities in the real world, law enforcement is relying on another hacker to track the criminal.
Since the book is nearly 20 years old, it is also a trove of computer nostalgia. Do you remember terminology like “codeslingers,” “MUDS” and “moby”?
In the book, the criminals often use dial-up modems for more online security. I remember the days when we relied on those dial-up modems. When he was home in the evenings, my husband enjoyed using his computer while sitting in front of the TV. Unfortunately, this tied up our landline. It was before everyone had cellphone, and our teenage daughter was quite frustrated at being unable to call her friends. We finally had to install a second phone line to keep peace in the family.
Reading this book also reminds me of how much more time we spend online and how much more information about our private lives is available on the internet. The latest publication by Consumer Reports contains several articles on how to protect yourself online. They cover identity theft, locking up your cash, keeping hackers away and preventing viruses.
To get all the information, look for the February 2021 edition of Consumer Reports. I’ll highlight some of the points from the list of ways to keep the bad guys out of your accounts.
• Get a password manager. Long, complicated passwords make sure no one can log into your financial, email and other accounts. And you need a different one for every account. A password manager application makes this easier and can generate passwords. You just need to remember one master password for the password manager itself. I suggest writing that password down in a couple of safe places in case you forget it.
Consumer Reports’ top-rated options are 1Password, Keeper and Bitwarden. In most cases, you’ll pay a small monthly fee for this app that can be downloaded to your computer and cellphone.
Of course, you can go old-school and keep a paper copy of passwords. While it has the disadvantage of possibly falling into the wrong hands, it might also help a relative retrieve your information if you become seriously ill or die. I am still figuring out passwords to my husband’s various accounts and devices nearly two years after his death.
• Use multi-factor authentication. Consumer Reports calls this belt-and-suspenders protection. Multi-factor authentication or MFA, also called two-factor authentication or 2FA, requires an additional verification besides your password. If someone has stolen your password, they won’t be able to log in with this enabled. Setting this up, you can opt for a one-time code to be texted to you each time you log on.
• Sidestep phishing scams. If you receive an email from the IRS, a bank or Apple saying you better log on right away to stop something terrible from happening, don’t do it. It could be a scam. Don’t hit reply or click on an enclosed link. Online criminals have become very skilled at making fake emails and websites look like they’re a legitimate organization.
Hovering over a sender’s email address or a link in an email can help you see whether the address or URL looks legitimate, but it’s easy to miss the subtle differences. To be safe, open a new browser tab and go to the company’s website yourself – don’t copy the link from the email. Then log in or call customer service to see what’s going on with your account.
• Update your software. Bad actors steadily find new ways to attack computers, phones and applications with malicious software that can spy on you, slow down your computer, corrupt or delete files, or even take control of a device. Keeping your system software updated gives you the latest protections.
• Opt for extra protection. Using an antivirus program on software can also help keep your devices clear of malware. Windows 10 has built-in antivirus protection called Microsoft Defender Antivirus or Windows Security. Macs come with firewalls you can turn on which can block traffic from dangerous site.
Recommended free antivirus software options include Avira Free Security Suite and Kaspersky Security Cloud Free for Windows, and AVG Antivirus for Mac. These have enough protection for most people, but paid versions offer some extra features.
• Back up your files. Many of us store cherished photos and important information on our phones and computers. But those files are at risk if our devices break or get lost, stolen or damaged by malware. You can rest easier if you back up (make copies) of your files.
Search for File History on a Windows 10 computer or Time Machine on a Mac. Once there, you can set up automatic backups, copying your files to an external drive in your home. You might also consider an online service, such as Apple iCloud or Google Drive, as an alternative or complement to local backups. With a smart phone, you can plug it into your computer and back the data up there or have it back up to the cloud.
These are just a few of the ways you can make your online life more secure. You can also find plenty of tips by searching the internet for ideas.