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Top 10 Sooper Smart Internet Security Tips, 2011

Scientific studies show that 10 out of 10 people who use email and the internet will also receive an email for low price RX medications or somehow be affected by a computer virus, hacker, or attempted cyber crime (Note 1).  Considering the stakes, the Sooper Smart Security Inst. has decided it is time to publish their list of  the top 10 Sooper Smart Internet Security Tips.  These assume you have taken such basic steps as installing antivirus software, ensuring your personal firewall is running, and avoiding email offers of cheap Rolex watches and Nigerian fortunes.  With out further ado, for your approval, they are as follows (skip to the bottom for the Cliff's Notes summary):
                       
1. Email Attachments

Never open an email attachment from anyone unless you are certain its contents are harmless (such as photographs from a trusted ally).  If the attachment contains a file that you have to double click to open, think twice.  First, contact the sender and double check he or she actually sent you the file (not a hacker or zombie computer).  Then consider the possibility that your contact could be lying, under duress, or an imposter.  Then ponder if the sender may wish your destruction (even if it the email is from your grandpa).  This also applies to clicking on links in email whether it is from a friend or from your bank, which leads us to phishing.

2.  Phishing

If you receive an email appearing to be from your bank or a company you've done business with but that looks suspicious, don't follow any links in it.  Go directly to their website instead.  Simply type in the company's dot com address (such as bofa.com or amazon.com) and check for a message or alert from there.  Alternatively, call or email the company's customer support to verify they sent the message.  Following said email link could redirect you to a fraudulent website and expose you to a virus or opportunity to steal your credit card or personal information.  The breach of Epsilon (the world's largest email marketing provider) it has made it even easier to target you with Spear Phishing.  See an example below of this from a fake Skype and Adobe.


A Newsletter from Skype?
An Adobe Acrobat Upgrade?
Wrong!  A Hacked Email Bathroom Fixtures Account.
Wrong Again!  Octopus Travel:  You've Been Hacked.

3.  Secure Connections

When banking or making a purchase online, always check for the 's' after the http in the address bar (https indicates a secure connection to the company's server).  In Google's Chrome Browser, it looks like the image below entitled "https".  If you would like to ensure your email correspondence is secure and encrypted, in Gmail, you can select to always use https by enabling it in your settings.  This is especially important when using public Wi-Fi.



4.  Public Wi-Fi

If you are using public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, bookstore, hotel, airport, or other location, be careful about where you browse, especially if you are not on an https connection.  Hackers may be able to view the data you transmit and receive.  Also, be aware of the honeypot scam whereby a nefarious person sets up a falsified wireless network (called mcdonalds or homedepot for example) at said location and monitors your data for information that could be used to hack your email or other personal information, such as passwords.

5.  Passwords

Passwords are like your keys.  You wouldn't use the same key for your home in the hills as for your condo on the beach you rent out or the same size key for your top secret lab as you would for your Squash locker.  In the same way, don't use the same password at every website.  It is recommended you use a different and secure password at each of your financial institutions.  A secure password would have uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, be at least 10-12 characters and difficult to guess (no pet's or relative's names).  At merchant websites (such as Amazon) you should use a difficult to guess password, but it doesn't have to be as long or secure as at your banks.  You should still make each somewhat different, by changing or interspersing the numbers within them.  For low security websites (where your credit card or other private information isn't stored) a less secure password is needed.

6.  Home Wi-Fi

Home Wi-Fi should never be left "open," that is you should always have security enabled on your home wireless connection.  It's different for each router but generally under the wireless security settings, make sure you have at least WPA security enabled.  WEP is commonly used as it is older and compatible with more devices but has vulnerabilities.  Also, if you purchased your own router, make sure to change the default username and password.


7.  Social Networks


Double check your Facebook privacy settings.  They seem to have changed often over the last few years and some information which you thought was private could be more public than you would like.  This is an issue since a hacker could use the information (like when you graduated high school, your school mascot, etc.) to defeat security questions at your online banking sites.  Other social networking information could be used to discover when you are away from home and target it for theft.


8.  Hardware Theft


If you carry a smartphone (like an iPhone or Android phone) you should setup it's built in pin/password unlock.  If it were lost or stolen this would make it more difficult for a thief to access your data.  You should also consider setting up the "find my phone" feature that may be available, such as the "Find my iPhone" or "Find my Droid" which allows you to locate your phone if lost or if stolen (or if you just want to play James Bond), also wipe it's contacts remotely from a web browser.  If you carry a laptop, you may also want to consider encrypting the operating system depending on your level of paranoia.  This can be done with the Ultimate version of Windows 7 or for free using True Crypt as described at the Lifehacker article, How to Encrypt and Hide Your Entire Operating System from Prying Eyes.


9.  Rogue Security Software


Beware of phony Skype calls, fake Windows antivirus programs, or other questionable transmissions claiming you are infected with multiple viruses or trojans.  If this occurs, open the antivirus software you actually installed and run a scan.  If you cannot execute the program, it's a sign that you are infected.  Don't interact with the fake antivirus software, but instead start Windows in safe mode and run a real antivirus scan from Malwarebytes.  Alternatively, call a tech savvy relative for help.


10.  Backups


Finally, and less of a security issue and rather one of data safety issue is performing regular backups of your important files, such as family photos, home movies or documents.  If you have anything important on your computer that is not backed up (i.e. not saved in a separate, safe location), they are at risk of being lost forever: in a hard drive failure--or worse--fire, theft, or other disaster.  To begin addressing this problem, you can save your files on a portable hard drive and store it in a safe location.  To add an extra layer of protection, you could leave it with a relative who lives in a different geographical region.  Or you could use an online backup system like CrashPlan or Carbonite which simplifies the process while adding a further layer of protection.


Cliff's Notes Summary
  • Don't open email attachments, especially those you didn't request.
  • Be wary of any email or website that looks even slightly suspicious.
  • Look for the the https connection when banking or buying online.
  • Remember public Wi-Fi isn't always safe.
  • Use strong and different passwords.
  • Lockdown your wireless router.
  • Limit information you share on social networks.
  • Password protect your phone/tablet/laptop.
  • Use discernment when dealing with viruses.
  • Backup, backup, backup.
In general, be careful and have your guard up when online.  Many of the above suggestions are a tradeoff of security versus time to implement/ease of use, but a little precaution can go a long way to prevent major headaches later on.




Note 1.  Dr. Sooper Smart, et. al. Soopeer Smart Security Study 2011
Sources:  TekzillaSecurity NowUS-CERT Cyber Security Tips

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