Safe Surfing in Cyberspace

6 Feb

Those of you who have read Part I and Part II of this 3-part series on cybersecurity may be tempted never to turn your computer on again.
But take heart. While there are villains out there who seek to take control of your machine — and they may even be successful – you are not defenseless against hackers.

Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.

Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.

Part III:

Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, says several steps can be taken to protect your machine. “Unfortunately, no single solution exists to protect your computer from all of the risks that are out there,” she says. “But securing your computer and your digital transactions should be thought about in layers.”

Here are her suggestions:

  • Layer 1: Operating System – Regardless of the operating system you use (e.g., Windows 7, Windows 8, Mac OS X, etc.), always apply updates when you are notified. Most, if not all updates, are released to patch one or more security vulnerabilities. On your Windows machine, set the updates to happen automatically. On your Mac, when you see your App Store icon indicating that you have new updates to apply, do so immediately.
  • Layer 2: Internet Browser – It is critical that your browser stay up-to-date. “Historically, vulnerabilities in your browser have been a goldmine for hackers,” Lancor says. “Some browsers automatically check for the most recent version and if you don’t have it installed, it redirects you to update your browser before it allows you to access the Internet.” You can usually check if you are updated by going to the “About” page of your browser.
  • Layer 3: Third Party Applications and Plugins – Third party applications are stand-alone programs that work with your system, but are written by someone other than your operating system provider. Third party plugins are software widgets that add a feature to an existing software application. Adobe FlashPlayer, Adobe Reader and Oracle’s Java are examples of third party software. Always update this software, but beware of fake update messages for these and all applications and operating systems. Never click on a link to apply an update. Instead, manually navigate to the corresponding site and apply the update directly from the site.
  • Layer 4: You – This may be the most important layer of security. Many attacks are designed only to have an effect if you are duped into running malware. “As someone who studies this area, I have on several occasions almost been fooled by some very clever and targeted phishing email attacks,” Lancor says. “There was the UPS tracking message that appeared to be sent from Amazon during the holidays and then the very clever looking faux-Facebook email that enticed me into checking out some comments that ‘friends’ wrote on my wall. The friends listed were actual Facebook friends – clearly an attack that was targeted just for me.” The best way to handle these types of attacks is to never click on links in your email – simply navigate to the site manually. In the event that you need to click on the link, always hover over the link in your email and make sure the domain matches the site you are going to visit. Also, update your antivirus software. “If you don’t update your antivirus engine and signature file, your system won’t be protected from the latest known malware  that is out there,” Lancor says.

“The key is to be smart when surfing the Internet and always think like a hacker so that you can protect yourself from having your machine taken over,” Lancor says.

Happy and safe surfing!

Note: Lisa was interviewed Tuesday on WTIC’s (1080 AM) “Mornings with Ray Dunaway” about some of the latest hacking incidents and what people can do to protect their computers.

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