After touching on common sense protections for your person in part one of this article, in this second part we focus on your social media profile and on securing your computer.

If you are out and about in the world of social media, commenting, gaming, or online dating, it is easy to forget that weirdos and sociopaths are just a mouse click away. Predators from all over the world may lurk behind a friendly name and a cute photo they picked up on Google image search. Never trust a new online acquaintance with anything of value, until you (and better also a trusted friend) have verified the identity and intentions.

Tip 4: Don’t expose yourself

Using your real name and photo may expose you to serious risks for your reputation, savings, and even your health. Just as you would not give your personal details to strangers you just met in the street, protect yourself online by using a pen name. Perhaps the first name of one of your parents, plus the surname of an actor. Why not go online as Jack Wayne or Jill Hayworth?

If you want to put a picture of yourself out there, alter it enough to avoid unfriendly characters using face recognition software to track you down at work, in your social life, or among family photos. A fancy hat, a pair of glasses, and a hand obscuring part of your face can help. Online cartoonizers are useful and fun tools to avoid being tracked. Try www.befunky.com or www.cartoonize.net

Screenshot after filtered search
Image credit: Microsoft Inc

Tip 5: Keep your Windows shiny and your doors locked

Three out of four computers worldwide run on the Microsoft Windows operating system. It is no surprise that hackers concentrate on these popular targets.

As the owner of a Microsoft Windows computer, you need to keep on top of the game by updating your operating system and system drivers. Frequently new loopholes in these complex programs are exploited by criminals.

Once known, updates are released that will patch these holes in your system’s security envelope. However, do not rely on your computer doing automated updates by itself. Better check for yourself once a week by clicking on the Windows Start button -> Settings -> Update & Security – Check for Updates.

Microsoft usually releases patches and updates on the first Tuesday of each month. We recommend to check on Thursday evening our time. This will avoid the early rush.  

At the same time, it makes good sense to create a monthly system restore points you can fall back on, should the computer become unstable after an update.

Finally, backing up your files and photos on a regular basis, while keeping one backup copy offsite, perhaps with family or friends, is your baseline protection against hardware failure, theft or fire. The Microsoft OneDrive is now included with Windows can also be good backup storage, provided your NBN is fast enough and the available storage space suffices.

Windows has online tutorials: Learn about updating Windows | Steps to backup your files | Windows recovery options

Equally important is to lock down access to your modem. Make sure the factory default password is changed to one known only to yourself. Hackers may easily get into your Wifi network (and computer) from across the street, if your modem is still set to factory defaults. The manual that came with your modem will explain the necessary steps.

If you prefer hands-on assistance to set up a maintenance routine and secure your network, call on local IT experts like Ballan Computers on 03 5368 2611.

Tip 6: Trust good. Protection better

Computer malware aka viruses come in many forms: Keyloggers or spyware, bots, trojans, worms, browser hijackers,  phishing scams and ransom ware – to name the most common types.  

While Microsoft offers some protection through the free Windows Defender, criminals still exploit loopholes not covered by this basic offering. If you spend time online, you need to protect your privacy and valuable files with a proper Anti-Virus Program (AVP). However, the choice among contenders can be confusing: Norton/Symantec, MacAfee, AVG, Sophos, Bitdefender, Kaspersky and TrendMicro are the market leaders. These are followed by a long list of smaller, niche and specialist offerings.

Beware of free AVPs. While some are just downgraded versions of proper commercial products, some providers make money by selling your contact details (and access to your PC) to advertising partners. Often the performance of these freebies is not on par with the industry standard, patches come late, or never. For a decent product, expect to pay an annual fee for license and ongoing updates of between $50 and $100. Some plans will cover multiple devices in the same household or office.

Most AVPs are working in real time, meaning they start when your computer boots up and will continue to run in the background, watching every mouse click and inspecting every website and file you access.

Some AVPs offer more than virus protection: VPN, password vault, cloud storage, parental controls, identity protection and firewalls. While these extras may be useful to some, they can place a heavy burden on older and less powerful computers, making them run frustratingly slow. For example, Kaspersky Labs produces an AVP that is light on resources, while Norton/Symantec are notorious for slowing down older PCs.

The right AVP choice depends on your budget, but also on your usage patterns and your computer’s specifications. If you are not sure, why not call on our local IT experts to help you out?   

Kaspersky Security Cloud Free Review | PCMag
Image credit: Kaspersky Labs

Famous last words: “But Apple computers are safe, right?”

Wrong. Just because most hackers concentrate on computers running Microsoft Windows, does not make your MacBook, iMac or iPad invulnerable. Apple users are often surprised to find their devices are just as vulnerable and in need of protection.

Most AVPs are now available for Apple devices, as well as for Android tablets and mobile phones.

And yes, we recommend you use them.

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Ralf Schumann
Author: Ralf Schumann