In the first part of this series, we took a brief look at the many different ways that hackers of the internet are scheming up to spy on, infect, backdoor, and ransom off your computer to the highest bidder with Bitcoin.
So now that you know what to look out for, it’s time to learn all the different methods you can use to put up a wall of safeguards around you and your family’s home network.
Watch Where You Click
To get things rolling, we’ll start with the easy stuff: don’t click on anything without knowing where it goes first.
If you’re checking out a site for the first time, peering past the fog to the road ahead can be as easy as just highlighting the link with your cursor, and reading the URL that displays in the information bar below. If you see anything else except exactly what you were expecting, you’re better off leaving it alone and looking for another source from a more trustworthy site.
Moreover, if it’s a link that’s randomly appeared in your inbox from an address you’ve never seen before, nine times out of ten it leads to a website that’s attempting to look like a legitimate login portal on the surface, while actually acting as a hacker’s personal piggy bank behind the scenes.
This is the genesis of those pesky “phishing” attacks we talked about last week, and of all malware exploits on the web today, they are far and away the most common.
Know Your Router
If companies like Nest or the August Smartlock have anything to say about what the home of the future might look like, it probably won’t be long before your front door, refrigerator, and toaster are all controlled by the same app from inside your cell phone. And so, as Internet of Things (IoT) devices continue to weasel their way into every corner of our homes, the ability to know how to properly configure your wireless router is soon going to become an essential building block in keeping the internet of tomorrow safe from harm’s way.
For a cell phone to talk to your home devices, it needs to make it through one very important gateway first: the router. When properly configured, you can be sure that the only open ports which allow traffic through are custom-tailored to each device in your house, thereby minimizing the risk overall. For example, if an app needs to talk to your home computer through port 8800, you can use the router’s internal settings to only send traffic through that specific channel, thereby blocking any other openings that a virus might try and use to sneak through.
Although we’d love it if there were a blanket guide that would apply universally to all routers, for now the exact settings you’ll need to fiddle with to get your home’s security wrapped up just right will vary depending on the vendor of your particular model. Netgear, Linksys, D-Link and Motorola all have their own way of doing things, so refer to your owner’s manual to find out what settings need to be adjusted to best suit your needs.
Don’t Download Files You Don’t Recognize
This is the big one.
Out of all the millions of infections that are launched every year, an unsettling amount are delivered successfully through drive-by, anonymous downloads that most people will agree to without ever thinking twice.
Like the phishing guard, almost all major browsers already have one form of download protection or another installed as a default in their application. This means that anytime a download is launched from a site, you’ll be asked whether or not you want to allow them to send a file to your machine before any link is made. Never download a file you didn’t explicitly search for yourself, and never agree to store any files on your computer that ask to run directly after downloading.
If a download launches immediately after you load a new page, it’s likely a malicious package that’s trying to transfer to your machine before you know what to do with it. By configuring your browser to “always ask me before downloading this type of file”, you’ll never be caught off guard by pop up websites or screenjacking prompts that try and distract you just long enough to get the payload where it needs to go.
What, No Norton?
By this point in the guide, you might have noticed a conspicuous lack of suggestions for which major antivirus software you should download first.
This is due the fact that although it’s obvious a little extra protection never hurt anyone – given that 95% of malware these days is being handcrafted with the specific intent of subverting the firewalls created by the likes of AVG, Kaspersky, Symanetc and McAfee – it’s growing increasingly difficult hard to recommend a product which even its own engineers don’t agree is nearly as effective as it used to be.
So then what should you use instead? Well, believe it or not, for Windows users the Defender application that’s automatically activated as a part of your installation has proven itself more than adept at fending off all but the worst of net nasties. As long as you keep it regularly updated with the latest virus definitions, both Microsoft’s Defender and OSX’s internal antivirus clients are up to the task of protecting you from the dastardly denizens of the dark web. As long as you remember how to surf smart, you won’t ever need them to step in to do the job you should have already been doing for yourself.
There isn’t a piece of software in the world that would be able to stand up under an endless onslaught of illegally torrented software, or mistakenly-opened spam emails on a day-in day-out basis. The true key to staying 100% protected depends on your personal ability to download, communicate, and surf securely, and knowing what to look out for before it has a chance to becomes a problem.
If you absolutely have to install an antivirus program to feel safe, Kaspersky is pretty much the only company left that still has any shred of dignity left to their brand, along with a newcomer to the field: Emsisoft. The others have all since jumped the shark as far as their credibility is concerned, gouging customers with exorbitant subscription fees and packing their downloads with every sort of extra freeware and adware that always ends up doing more harm than good.
It seems then that in in the case of staying safe online, the only reliable defense against malware or viruses, is a solid offense.
By knowing how to modify your browsing habits to adapt to threats as they occur in realtime, you can stay one step ahead of the competition, and ensure that all of your desktops or laptops installed with Windows and OSX stay free and clear of the worst viruses and infections that the net has to offer.
(And of course when all else fails…backup everything!)
What best practices and/or tools do you use to prevent yourself from getting infected with Malware? Let us know in the comments below, or by starting a new thread in our community forum.
Image Credit: Wikimedia