The digital era has opened the door to an array of new security threats which is why having a good understanding of computer security is key. As data breaches of computers, networks, and other digital devices become increasingly more frequent, unsuspecting users are more vulnerable than ever before.
Whether caused by human error or technical failure, a data breach can be devastating on multiple levels. From monetary loss to lasting reputational damage, recovery from a security breach can be a long and tedious process.
Studies have shown that bad end-user practices cause most security breaches. That means the ability to protect your data is largely in your hands. Following are some best practice measures and proactive steps you can take to protect your confidential data, safeguard critical assets, and minimize your risk.
Create Robust Passwords
Creating unique, complex passwords is essential to effective computer security. If a cybercriminal figures out your password, it could give them access to your company’s critical networks, systems, and data. A common technique for decoding passwords involves hurling every potential combination at your computer or server, eventually uncovering the password that ultimately turns the key. That’s where creating longer passwords can be your best defense. More characters create more complexity for a hacker to solve. In short, strong, complex passwords can help stop cybercriminals from accessing company information, while short, simple passwords make the task substantially easier. Consider creating passwords with at least 10 characters and includes symbols, numbers, and capital and lowercase letters. To keep things fresh, companies should have employees change their passwords on a regular basis.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication techniques add an important extra layer of protection to your existing password identification defense barrier. Once two-factor authentication is installed, users are prompted to input one additional identifier, such as a PIN number or a different password. Why take the extra step? Because once an entry point is opened, hackers will often use the same password to work their way into other systems. Authentication can help thwart these attempts regardless of how the cybercriminal obtains the password. Multi-factor authentication takes protection a step further. Here, users are prompted to input additional authentication identifiers after entering their username and password. Companies often require multi-factor authentication to access highly sensitive networks or applications. While the technology is straightforward, authentication provides a highly effective data protection technique.
Stay Vigilant Against Phishing Attacks
In a phishing attack, a cybercriminal attempts to trick users into clicking a link or download a file that allows them to unlock sensitive or confidential information. This tactic often appears in email as an attached document (concealed with malicious software). Or it may appear as a link that redirects you to a sham website to steal your login information. Some common signs that you might have landed on a phishing site include misspelled words, incorrect domain names, or unfamiliar pages. Even experienced computer users fall victim to phishing attacks. That’s why it’s critical to be extra careful with attachments and links within emails from people you don’t know. With a single click, you could open the door for a hacker to penetrate your organization’s security defenses. Many identity thefts and ransomware attacks originate from successful phishing attempts. If you are not sure about the authenticity of an email or digital message, contact your IT or security team for guidance.
Connect to a Secure Network
Your confidential data can become particularly vulnerable when transmitted over a public network as it can be more easily diverted and stolen by other network users. If a public network is your only option, be sure to avoid browsing high-risk websites such as your banking or investment accounts. If you access public networks regularly, a VPN, or virtual private network, is the best solution. A VPN allows you to access the web covertly by redirecting your connection through a VPN channel that shields your location and identity and encrypts the transmitted data. Your destination site recognizes the data originating from a VPN and reveals the VPN location, not your IP address or geographic position. VPNs employ encryption techniques and other security protocols to help protect network data transfers. VPNs are also subjected to ongoing performance checks to help ensure that the network and your data remain secure.
Install Good Malware Protection For Increased Computer Security
Antivirus software provides effective detection and prevention against viruses and deceptive programs like trojans, worms, and malware. These programs scan your email and attachments, checking for vulnerabilities as they enter your inbox. If suspicious activity is identified, the software will inform users of the questionable material and may quarantine the identified content to prevent it from being mistakably transmitted. Similar to phishing, malware can compromise your security on multiple levels by stealing your data, deleting information, holding files for ransom, tracking your online activity, and even hijacking your webcam—all without your knowledge. Warning signs that your computer may be infected include unfamiliar icons on your desktop, pop-ups showing up everywhere, and system tools disabled. If your organization sends out reminders for malware software updates, be sure to follow the instructions promptly. The same applies to your mobile devices that you employ at work.
Don’t Leave Your Devices Unattended
Physical protection of your computers and other devices is equally as critical as their operational security. Like any other property of value, if you need to leave your computer for a period of time, be sure to properly secure it or lock it down so no one can access it. If you store data on a detachable storage device, make sure it is encrypted and inaccessible as well. When working on a desktop system, be sure to follow the same protocol―log out and shut down your computer when stepping away for a bit or not using it.
Safeguard Email with Encryption
Widely used email platforms like Outlook and Gmail usually don’t include robust encryption capabilities to sufficiently safeguard data and applications against today’s increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. Off-the-shelf encryption programs can help close some email security deficiencies, helping to safeguard information in transit and on endpoint devices. For even greater protection, consider full-disk encryption, which encrypts the complete hard drive, safeguarding the data as well as the applications and operating system. Keep in mind that some encryption programs can diminish the end-user experience. Encryption tools are only effective if they are properly applied and incorporated as part of a user’s standard workflow.
Backup Your Data
Whether from a computer security failure or a malware infection, you may find yourself locked out of your computer and your data inaccessible. That’s why it’s vital that you regularly back up important information―and verify that you can restore it. If you are a victim of a security breach, the only guaranteed way to restore your computer is to erase and re-install the system. In some instances, your IT team may be able to offer a server-hosted backup solution to meet your needs. This will help ensure that your data is protected and available when you need it.
Staying Diligent in An Era of Threats
While there is no silver bullet method for preventing all cyberattacks, there are reliable, best practice measures to detect and block threats. These baseline methods provide a solid framework for helping to protect sensitive business systems and computers from unwanted intrusions without hampering productivity.