It's a harsh and dangerous world out there on the internet. Everywhere you look, there are retail data breaches, trusted database code vulnerabilities, and mutating viruses like ransomware all vying to steal your personal information and financial data.
However, there is a lot that a regular PC user can do to stay away from the worst of the worst. Here are five critical security habits you should be doing right now.
Oh, how I wish the password was dead. We all keep hoping for a simpler way to secure access to sensitive and important data, but until the "better mousetrap" is finally discovered, passwords are all he have.
The main problem with passwords is that to make one secure it has to include a lot of random numbers, letters, and characters. The harder a password is to crack, the harder it is for a person to remember. Enter the password manager, savior to all who take password security seriously.
A password manager is relatively simple to use and most will operate on multiple platforms, like Windows, Apple, and mobile devices. LastPass and 1Password are a couple of managers I use and suggest as a great place to start.
Two-Step, or two-factor, authentication is a security feature that bolsters the strength of passwords. Two-step is based upon the premise that more is better: you have your long, incredibly complex password and a second set of letters or numbers randomly generated according to a preset algorithm. Most of the randomly generated numbers come by way of an app or service, like a text message, and must be entered prior to access.
Two-step authentication isn't perfect, there are ways to circumvent the process and spoof the algorithms, but it's far more secure than passwords alone. Google's Authenticator app for Android and iOS is a popular choice for two-step code generation.
Use A Private Internet Tunnel
Public Wi-Fi is not secure. There are no if, and, or buts about it. A basic PC user with enough knowledge to know where to look can find the information on spoofing hotspots and sniffing packets from public Wi-Fi.
Ideally, you should be safe using websites with active Secure Socket Layers, indicated by HTTPS, but even this requires a bit of luck to stay secure over public Wi-Fi. The best option if you absolutely must operate your PC using public Wi-Fi will be to use a VPN service, which will create an encrypted tunnel between your device and their web-servers. There are a number of free VPN providers available, but as with most things you get what you pay for. Expect to pay $40 - $60 per year for a decent VPN service.
Shore Up Your Router
Your personal Wi-Fi router is the most sensitive connection to the internet you use. All of your personal data is connected in some way or form and your secure transactions, like internet purchases and banking, transmit through the same piece of hardware. Unfortunately, most people simply want to plug their routers in and forget they are there, leaving the simplistic and publicly known administration password as-is.
Securing your router is a simple process and starts with changing the stock user name and password for the device. For added security use a more advanced encryption protocol, like WPA2.
Encrypt, Encrypt, and Encrypt Again
Now that we know the NSA is actively sweeping up random information domestically and regularly requests data from internet providers, it's time to just shore up our security and encrypt everything. This goes beyond using VPNs and HTTPS whenever possible, personal data and drives must be encrypted as well.
If you use cloud storage for anything, encrypt it. If you walk around with a USB stick in your pocket, encrypt it. If you use an external drive at home, encrypt it. When your data is important and password security is at a premium, the only way to ensure you have the best possible security is to encrypt it all.