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Protecting your PC

Article posted on 7/29/2021

We all love a good hacker movie moment, right? The clock is ticking, the success of the mission or survival of the world hangs in the balance, and one lone computer-whiz whips their hands across the keyboard and watches a bunch of scrolling lines on a screen, then - BAM! Database hacked, world saved, let's all go have cake.

Hacking in real life is significantly less exciting - usually because, as an average person, we're often on the receiving end of those hacks. If you've ever had a credit card number stolen or had accounts opened up in your name, then you know the pain and the feelings of violation. Unfortunately, with technology and the Internet the way they are, hackers are now an inevitable part of the landscape that we have no choice but to learn to navigate.

It’s true that malware and hacker methods continue to evolve and improve, making life difficult for users of the Internet everywhere. However, malware defense and anti-virus apps do their best to keep up with that evolution in order to combat “bad actors,” as the industry calls them. While the industry tries to keep up with new methods, there are things we can do for ourselves in the meantime in order to help protect our personal information. Let’s take a look at a few!

Keep your PC Up to Date

This probably seems like a given, but there are so many people who don’t realize the importance of accepting all of those updates that Windows and other OSes keep throwing at us. I know that an update when you’re right in the middle of something can be annoying - and I’m certainly not saying that you need to immediately drop what you’re doing in order to take care of it! - but it’s important to make sure you set a reminder for yourself to do it later.

Updates for your web browser, your operating system, and other frequently used apps are important because they usually contain additional methods of defense against malware. This is what I mean by constant evolution - and why how easy it is to download patches and updates is such a convenience in our efforts to keep our personal data safe.

Find a Good Antivirus/AntiSpyware Software

There are a lot of options for antivirus software out there, especially nowadays. There are several free programs, but make sure you do your diligence and research before you download a new program! Read other reviews, see what other users have said, and make sure you consider your options before you select one.

There are plenty of reputable programs out there - Avast, Norton, and so on - and it’s important to find one that works for you and keep it up to date. Antivirus protection will scan your files and incoming emails for viruses and delete anything that is malicious. 

Antivirus software is frequently updated in order to keep up with all of the new bugs and viruses that are constantly cycling around the Internet. You can set your antivirus software to download updates automatically and will want to make sure it’s continually running so you don’t leave your PC vulnerable.

Some antivirus programs also have spyware protection, but if they don’t you’ll want to make sure to get a separate spyware program. Spyware is software that is installed without your knowledge and can monitor your online activities and farm personal information from you. Keyloggers are particularly insidious; they record everything you type in, including your passwords and financial information. Best to make sure that kind of software doesn’t have the opportunity to take root!

Sure, sometimes antivirus software can be obnoxious and try to block legitimate programs. It might require you to jump through a few extra hoops once in a while, but the peace of mind is worth the occasional inconvenience. Most of the antivirus software’s websites will offer you advice on how to troubleshoot these issues, too, which will make fixing these problems significantly easier.

Keep Your Firewall Active

Believe me, I get it - Firewalls can be an absolute pain. But they’re important! Firewalls block hackers from entering and using your computer. Hackers search the internet the same way some telemarketers dial random phone numbers by sending pings to thousands of computers and waiting for responses.

A properly implemented firewall will block these pings from sources that you don’t permit. Some operating systems have built-in firewalls (like Windows), but it may default to the ‘off’ setting, so you’ll want to check to make sure that you enable it anytime you get a new PC. As with any other PC protection program, make sure you keep your firewall updated!

Use Strong Passwords

Passwords can be a huge pain, but a good one is absolutely necessary in order to ensure your online safety. It’s frustrating, though - experts say to never use the same password for multiple sites, to not use anything remotely personal to you, and so on - and they also say not to write them down.

How the heck are we supposed to remember these, then!?

Changing passwords frequently, while annoying, is also another way to help keep your information secure. Since it’s so hard to keep track of all the passwords swimming around in our heads, I recommend a program called LastPass

LastPass generates strong and secure passwords and also remembers them for you so you don’t have to. It allows you to safely and securely share passwords with trusted sources and sends personal alerts to you if any of your data is at risk of being breached.

My coworker, Spencer, taught me about LastPass when I first got to Stardock and I started using it right away. It makes things so much easier, and I have some peace of mind when it comes to my personal data because of it.

Two-Factor Authentication

It’s an extra step, but enabling two-factor authentication wherever possible is one of the absolute best ways to protect yourself. When signing into a site or an app, two-factor authentication will send a message to you, usually via a text message, with a code. Since it goes to your personal device and expires after a certain amount of time, it adds a layer of security to your data that makes it much more challenging for hackers to get into.

I do this for several sites and gaming accounts. I have heard horror stories about friends’ accounts being hacked and them losing years of gaming progress, and the thought just makes me sick to my stomach. You’d better believe that I’ll take any steps I can to prevent things like this!

There are tons of other ways to help keep yourself safe online - the above is just a few examples. What do you do to keep your data secure? Share with me!