We think it’s quite normal to lock our house properly when we leave. But when it comes to protecting our computer, we make mistakes that are easy to avoid.
Keeping the digital door shut has become more important in recent years. Where criminals used to get involved, today they prefer to attack from a distance. To extract data, blackmail, or take a computer ‘hostage’ and release it only after paying a ransom. Bank and credit card details are especially popular.
Tips for safe internet browsing
You can have so many locks on the door, if you don’t use them when you need them, it’s useless. The same goes for your computer. An antivirus program and a firewall protect your PC and laptop, but if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing in the meantime, thieves can still get in. When using a secure computer, you should pay special attention to downloads, phishing, and good passwords.
Dangerous programs like viruses and ransomware often take advantage of harmless programs. Therefore, you avoid many problems if you are careful when opening unknown files and software. This applies to files you download from the Internet as well as files you receive via email. Always check such file before opening it with antivirus program or just delete it immediately. Only download programs from the Microsoft Store or the official website of the producer.
With phishing, you receive a bogus message or email, usually purportedly from a bank or the government. A popular trick is to lure you to a spoofed website via a provided link and have you log in there. Your details will be used to drain your bank account or steal your identity. If someone asks you for information in this way, never give it.
Create a strong password
To access the Internet to all your important accounts, such as the bank, you need a password. Many people use passwords that are too simple. For example, your name or date of birth. Easy to remember, but also easy for criminals to guess. A strong password contains different types of characters, such as uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and sometimes punctuation marks.
Set up two-step verification
As an additional lock on the door, it is advisable to use two-step verification if it is offered with an account. Every time you log in, you will receive an additional code by email or text message. This must be entered before you can login. This additional lock is an excellent defense against computer thieves.
Do not use an antivirus program
A survey conducted by Internet provider XS4all in 2020 showed that 20 percent of participants did not use an antivirus program. Using the internet without that protection is like leaving the doors and windows of your house wide open, as well as putting up a sign in the yard that says ‘Open House’.
Millions of viruses and other malicious programs, called malware, roam the Internet. Some viruses do little damage, but aggressive types can destroy files, programs, and sometimes even computers. Malware in the spyware category, for example, spies on everything you do on your computer. These programs secretly transmit keystrokes and other data to criminals.
Getting malware on your computer is faster than you think. Simply downloading an infected file or opening a bad email attachment. But something as simple as clicking the wrong link in an email or visiting a dubious website can also be enough.
Therefore, an antivirus program or a virus scanner is just as indispensable as a good lock on the front door. For a few dollars a year you can already have a good antivirus program from Norton, McAfee or Bitdefender. But the free Windows antivirus, Windows Defender, works fine too. As long as you keep an antivirus installed and up to date, your computer is much more secure.
Don’t use a firewall
A firewall is essential if your internet is. It is software that monitors if unwanted programs or people try to access the computer from the outside. A firewall also checks to see if a computer program wants to send data over the Internet without permission. And that can be personal information like address, phone number or account number. Windows has a built-in firewall, Microsoft Defender Firewall, which works fine. But you can also use a third-party firewall. This is usually included with an antivirus package. The firewall on a PC or laptop is turned on by default. Otherwise, you will automatically receive a warning about it from Windows.
Using unsecured Wi-Fi
Wireless Internet (WiFi) is ideal if you don’t have an Internet cable handy. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi is also vulnerable, as anyone nearby can see the network. If that network is not sufficiently protected, it is very easy for a hacker to gain access to the computer.
Using your own WiFi at home is usually safe. When installing Internet at home, a WiFi network is immediately created, complete with security and a password. You should have logged into that network with a password the first time using a computer, smartphone, or tablet. If that is not the case, the network is not protected and therefore not accessible to everyone. Next, a secure network must be configured. Setting up a Wi-Fi network and password correctly is actually a job for an advanced computer user.
If the network is secure, but the password is too simple, you are also at risk (see ‘Tips for safe browsing’). In that case, the password must be changed.
Work with an older version of Windows
Running an older version of Windows on your computer may not seem to do any harm. The possibilities of Windows 7, for example, are more limited than those of Windows 10. And what does that matter if you only do some mail and internet? Do not let the danger be in contact with the Internet.
Windows versions have a shelf life. Usually that’s around ten years. When a new version of Windows comes out, it usually has a year or three before its expiration date. That doesn’t mean you can’t use that version of Windows anymore. It means that there will be no more updates for your version of Windows. And that means no more Windows security holes to patch. Think of it like a window somewhere in the back of your house that can no longer close properly. Computer criminals love these windows. They are ideal for sneaking into the computer and then getting all kinds of things out of it.
Even if you have all your other protections, like antivirus, in place, a computer running an older version of Windows is still a big risk. Especially if you connect to the internet with your PC or laptop. On an old computer, where you only do some word processing or play games without contact with the Internet, you can still work with an old version of Windows. In all other cases, you must ensure that you have upgraded to a newer version on time. With Windows, this is free if the current version of Windows is not too old and changes in time.
Don’t make backups
If you just keep all your data on the computer, you will lose it forever if a hacker wants to damage it. You can avoid this by making at least one backup of all important files. And just as important: keep those copies off your computer. If something happens that causes you to lose data on your computer, you can always restore your saved files to your current computer or a new one.
Back up with a backup program, such as Windows Backup. If you set it to automatic, a regular backup is done without you having to look at it yourself. One drawback to this is that you always need the same backup program to restore files to a computer. You can also manually copy files, such as new photos or an edited document, to a location outside of your computer—for example, to a DVD or Blu-ray disc, an external hard drive, a memory card, or a USB flash drive. You can store a backup that is also safe in the event of a disaster like a fire, in the cloud on the Internet, like with Windows OneDrive.