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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

5 computer security tips for the new year

Jan 05, 2019 11:00PM ● By Adam Cochran

Each new year is accompanied by the fantasy of getting your life in order. Declutter, organize, set goals, become a better human.

Unfortunately, over the past 20 years or so, a lot of that clutter and disorganization is unseen to the human eye because it resides in cyberspace or on a computer hard drive. I could write a book on keeping your computer running well, but for this column, I will to focus on the topic of security.

Unless your computer is more than 10 years old or it was a bargain basement model, your computer is probably not too full. If it’s slow and unstable, the problem is most likely related to a security problem.

Computer security includes everything from passwords and firewalls to prevent hackers to viruses and web browsing habits. It’s a vast topic, but here are some things you need to know:

1. Modern digital bad guys rarely infest your computer with viruses.

In fact, we don’t even talk much about viruses anymore. Instead, we talk about malware.

Malware is any program designed to do something you don’t want it to do.

Malware may be a virus, but it’s more likely a program designed to bombard you with advertising, hijack your web browsing, or cause problems as a means of extorting money.

2. Your expensive antivirus probably isn’t doing much good.

Most malware is actually installed with your permission.

Have you ever seen a window pop-up that says something like, “Internet Explorer would like to install…in order to view this website?” If you click YES, you have given that program, possibly malware, permission to install itself on your computer.

If you give a program permission to install, your antivirus will ignore it.

3. Too much security causes many of the same problems as too little security.

If you install an expensive security suite, your computer will likely slow way down.

Computer retailers love to install multiple bulky security programs for two reasons: First, it drastically decreases their liability if your computer gets infected with something. Second, they usually get a commission for installing the security software onto every machine they build.

4. Use lots of passwords and a password manager.

I like the program and browser plug-in called LastPass. These password managers save and encrypt all of your passwords for you.

Once you have added the usernames and passwords into your password manager, you don’t even need to remember it anymore. Whenever you visit a website that requires a password, the password manager will fill it out for you.

5. Learn about encryption and stop worrying about online security.

This advice is not for big banks or commerce websites. I am talking to you, BEACON reader.

Recently, Marriott announced that as many as 500 million former customer credit card numbers were potentially vulnerable to hackers. Target had a similar problem two years ago. Hopefully, you’ve also noticed that there haven’t been any stories about 500 million cases of credit card fraud as a result. That’s because credit card numbers by themselves are useless.

Even credit card numbers with an accompanying name and address are useless without the security code on the back. In order to use a credit card, you either need the tangible card or you need all of the information that appears on the card as well as the owner’s address. Each of those pieces of information is connected through unbreakable encryption.

In reality, being listed in the phone book or handing your credit card to a waiter is a greater security risk than using your credit card on the Internet.

Don’t spend the new year paranoid about malware or hackers. You have driven an automobile and eaten fast food your entire life. Using your computer to shop or surf the web is far less dangerous.

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