Know the Threats
Spyware. Scareware. Phishing. Malware. Adware. These terms might seem outdated, but they are all still very real threats to computer and internet security: in November 2012, a virus was discovered that hacks users' computers to copy all of their photo files. And with online shopping gaining popularity, especially during the holiday season, hackers are targeting consumers in an effort to steal personal information. Smartphones, which have made quick advances in both ability and popularity, are targeted by hackers too. How can you protect yourself from these threats?
First, familarize yourself with the types of threats are out there. When you don't know what cyber threats you face, you're more likely to infect your computer or fall prey to a scam. In the worst cases, your identity is put at risk. More likely, your computer will be compromised by a hacker. Rather than spending time and money trying to clean up a big mess later, take time now to prevent the problem from ever occuring.
Protect Your Computer
- Keep your computer's operating system, applications and software up to date.
- Use virus and malware protection software from a trusted company (see OTS recommendations here)
- Use a firewall. Both Windows XP and 7 have a built-in firewall which can be configured to block many threats. (Microsoft article: How to turn on or turn off the firewall in Windows 7.) You might also consider obtaining other firewall software such as that from ZoneAlarm or Symantec.
- Don't install or run programs of unknown origin
- Make regular backups of files
- Encrypt files with personal or sensitive information
- Create an account for your computer with basic privileges and use that to log on instead of the full privileges of an administrator account
Note: All Windows workstations connected to the UB domain (CIS) are configured to receive critical Windows updates and have current antivirus software installed.
Security threats faced when accessing the web:
Adware: software which has advertisements embedded into the application in order to provide it to a user free of charge. Some adware is legitimate and will disappear when you stop using the software (or pay for a premium version) but some embeds itself into your computer (see Spyware).
Hacker: a malicious user who seeks control of a computer to either gain personal information or to use it in an attack on other computers or websites -- this way, the attack cannot be traced back to them.
Malware: Software which seeks to damage or disable computers or networks.
Phishing: Any one of several tactics in which a malicious user poses as a trusted organization to acquire your personal data -- contact information, credit card or bank account numbers, etc. (Learn more here).
Scareware: Aka "fraudware," this is software which attempts to "scare" a user into installing it (whether for a fee or free of charge) by claiming that the user's computer has viruses or other security threats that the software can fix. Scareware, once installed, may use a variety of methods to collect a user's personal data.
Spyware: Software that installs itself onto a computer and gathers information about a person's internet use, including personal information such as passwords.