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Keep your family's computers safe and information secure online

It seems a day doesn’t go by without hearing about another digital security breach. Target’s credit card hack shocked the world when it was revealed that personal information of 40 million individuals was exposed. When the Heartbleed security flaw was discovered, it rendered the encrypted user data of half a million websites open to anyone simply looking for it. Not to mention a Russian cybercrime ring stole an estimated 1.2 billion internet user and password combinations, which is one of the largest intellectual property thefts to happen.

While we all enjoy the convenience of using modern technology in our day-to-day lives, it also brings with it an increasing number of risks.

Should we stop using credit or debit cards, or going online at all? Returning to the days of paying bills by snail mail or shopping only in brick-and-mortar stores with cash doesn’t sound very appealing to most of us. But what are the alternatives? How can the average guy or gal protect themselves without cutting themselves off from the modern world?


Do create strong password combinations

Strong password combinations are of the utmost importance. We need a password for everything, so be sure to create complex password combinations.

Despite the temptation, you do not want to use easy-to-remember passwords like your spouse’s or child’s name, or your date of birth. And make sure your password isn’t actually the word “password.” It would shock you to know how many people actually do that. Make certain that your password is complex using a combination of special characters, lower/uppercase letters and numbers. Because these types of passwords are neither easy to create nor easy to remember, it is highly recommended that you use a password generator and password manager service. Use of a password manager will help you create and store passwords that are difficult for hackers to crack.

In addition, make certain that you create a new password for every account you have. It sounds like a pain, but reusing the same password for everything leaves all your online information highly vulnerable to attack.

Do make sure your internet connection is secure

Always access online information only through secure internet connections. What does this mean exactly? Well, many of us access free Wi-Fi connections from cafés, airports, shopping centers and other public venues. This leaves our data vulnerable to be hacked and stolen. Always use secure networks – networks whose connections are encrypted – when accessing information such as financial, employment and anything else that provides a gateway into your life. This same rule applies when accessing social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. We don’t typically give it much thought, but many of us reveal a great deal of personal information through social media. Hackers know that and make it a point to look at our profiles and postings for ways to steal your identity.

Do log out of all social media and online websites that require a log-in

When you are finished using any online account, be sure to log out. This applies to everything you do – social media, online shopping, work-related and financial activities – basically anything else that requires you to type your password to gain access to your account.

Failure to do so leaves your personal information accessible with very little effort to anyone else using your computer. After logging, take the extra precaution of closing all open web browsers.

By the way, this also applies to ATMs. After you’ve finished your last transaction, hit “cancel” and make sure that you can no longer access your account. If you forget, the next person who comes along can potentially empty your bank account!

Do always use antivirus software on your computer

This sounds like a no-brainer, but many people either fail to install antivirus software (especially if they are on a Mac or spend most of their online time on mobile devices.) Another problem is failure to keep virus definitions up-to-date. Viruses and malicious programs (e.g. malware and spyware) are easily spread online and they travel quickly.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking you only visit “safe” websites. Your computer can get infected simply by visiting a website for a few moments.

Antivirus software generally works automatically and scans your computer on a regular basis to detect malicious threats. Be careful that your settings are correct, especially to enable software scanning in real time. This allows your incoming and outgoing emails to be kept clean and also checks the safety of websites you visit, including those on which you transmit sensitive information, such as banks.

Lastly, be sure you are using the latest version of your web browsers and keep them up-to-date.

Do use an online backup service

It is an extremely critical to disaster-proof your data. If you suffer an attack or lose your computer, having your data safe and secure with an online backup provider could be a lifesaver. They offer a convenient way to securely store files at an offsite location.

If you do experience the misfortune of being hacked or losing your computer or mobile device, having an online backup will allow you to restore your information quickly and be up and running in no time. There are a number of companies that provide cloud backup services, but be sure to do your homework to find a good one. Look for companies that have no history of security breaches and who store your data in high privacy jurisdictions, such as Switzerland. They should also offer tools like password generators and password managers, file sharing, private email communication and document tracking history.


Do not open email attachments that you did not expect to receive

Never open an attachment from an email unless you either know what the attachment is and/or who is sending the attachment. Sending viruses through email attachments are one of them most prevalent ways to spread malicious viruses. Be suspicious of any attachment that you were not expecting.

If you have already installed an antivirus program (as you should!) the software should scan any attachment you receive and detect potential threats. However, do not be lulled into a false sense of security, as no antivirus program is completely foolproof. Attackers are creative and many will send emails with dangerous attachments that look like they are from actual companies you do business with or even from personal acquaintances or family members. The safest thing to do is delete the attachment if you weren’t expecting it.

Do not save login and password information into web browsers

Let’s face it – it’s convenient to set our web browsers to remember our usernames and passwords. It makes it easy to quickly access frequently visited sites with a minimum of fuss. Unfortunately, this same easy access for us makes it just as simple for thieves with access to our computers to log into our accounts and retrieve any personal information that’s been stored.

The problem is compounded if your computer or mobile device is stolen. Whoever gains access to your electronics will have your personal information readily available.

In addition, it is important to note that there are viruses and malware designed to constantly scan websites in order to steal saved information from web browsers. Even if your computer or mobile device never leaves your side, you may still be vulnerable to data theft.

Don’t rely on your browser for safety and never allow web browsers to save your password or any other information.

Do not share personal information with social media

It’s no secret that as a whole, the public is sharing too much personal information on the internet. Most of us agree that the growing number of social media platforms are a lot of fun, but they also bring with them significant security threats.

Whether you are a user of Facebook, Twitter or any other social media gateway, be certain you keep your personal information as private as possible. In some instances, these sites will give you the option to set your account to “private.” This doesn’t provide 100% security, but it helps.

In addition, screen any invitations you are accepting. Do you genuinely want to add “friends” that you don’t really know? Accessing your private account by being a “friend” is an easy way for hackers and thieves to steal information about you. When in doubt, do not accept invitations or requests for information from people you do not know. Better yet, don’t use your real name or date of birth. It pays to be extra safe.

Do not use public computers

Using public computers are a major security risk. It’s wise to keep your personal online activities to your own computer and avoid the embarrassment and heartache of having your information revealed or even worse, stolen. Always assume that anyone who uses a public computer is a threat to steal your personal information – if you do, you’ll be one step ahead of keeping yourself safe.

From a security standpoint, consider your work computer to be a public computer. Many of us use our work computers to quickly log into websites we frequently visit – everything from social media to banking and financial sites. It’s common practice for people to do some quick Facebook checks, thinking it won’t hurt anybody. This simply isn’t true and is a big security no-no.

Besides employer policies which typically limit what employees can and cannot do from work computers, accessing personal accounts from work is a bad idea. From a hacking perspective, there will be many individuals in your work environment who probably have access to your computer. Always assume that anyone who uses or has access to a public computer to be a threat to steal your personal information.

If you must use your work or public computer for personal use, always remember the earlier advice about logging out of websites. Make it a priority to log off of any sites that you have tried to access.

If you think of hackers as always being out to get you, you’re probably right! Take the steps necessary to keep yourself safe.

Do not download free software

When something is too good to be true, there’s probably a catch. While free software is appealing, you should probably also question, “why in the world is it free?”

Free software programs are major carriers of viruses, malware and spyware which can be infiltrate your computer. Moreover, even if the software appears safe, the developer is under no obligation to maintain it to any particular standard of quality. That is, there is no guarantee of quality or reliability, nor is there recourse if your computer becomes infected or if poorly written code causes your operating system to crash.

In addition, there is usually limited support and protection to using free software. This all makes for risky business. You are far better off choosing software based on what type of protection and security the company will offer you -- paid or not. Generally, paid software comes with bells and whistles that include useful features in addition to extra security.

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Most of us love the internet. But to make the most of the experience, you should make it a top priority to keep yourself protected and secure. It’s easy to get lost with the sheer amount of opportunities the web provides us. If you follow the above do and don’ts, you’ll be off to a great start to keeping yourself safe online. These are simple precautions that you can easily follow and will help you understand the number of risks involved with online interaction. For extra privacy, use cloud services in high privacy jurisdictions, such as Switzerland. This ensures that your data remains your property and cannot be handed away to third parties by the service providers.

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Alain GhiaiCEO

Alain Ghiai is the Chairman of GlobeX Data S.A., a Swiss secure cloud services technology group incorporated and based in Switzerland with distribution partnerships in Switzerland, the USA, Canada, the MENA region, South Africa, Australia and Ja...

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