Computer Privacy & Security Tips
With the convenience of technology literally at our fingertips, millions of people use their personal computers to read the daily headlines, communicate with friends, and balance their checkbook. It's become part of the American daily routine. But in these trying economic times, criminals are finding ways to access personal information from your computer, smart phone or tablet simply by attacking this routine.
For example, you receive an email from a friend with a link to visit a website. You click on the link and enjoy a two minute video trailer showing Peter Parker and his uncle talking about the responsibilities of being Spiderman. Harmless, right? Maybe not. Sometimes, these websites run background programs that download malicious software on your computer without your knowledge and record your activity on the Web. After you visit the link, you make a purchase online and your credit card information could be compromised because of the software that was downloaded while you watched the video.
So, how can you stop it?
"Don't be alarmed, be informed," says Charles Beierle, AVP of Information Security at RBFCU. Beierle suggests some simple precautions consumers can take to protect themselves from malicious programs called "spyware" or "malware."
"One of the first things you can do is keep your device's operating system up-to-date," explains Beierle. "By updating your operating system, you reduce the chance that a hacker can take advantage of the flaws in your software to gain access to your information." Updating isn't just for computers; mobile devices need updating as well. Click here for information on how to update your computer operating system. Consult your wireless carrier or smart phone manufacturer for update assistance on those devices.
Another important piece of advice is to install and maintain up-to-date anti-virus software. There are two major types of anti-virus software: fee-based and free. Free programs generally come with no warranty and limited support, but are still a great alternative to having out-of-date or no options. Since new viruses emerge every day, the companies that make fee-based anti-virus programs automatically update the software to catch the latest versions. Click here for a list of the most popular fee-based and free anti-virus programs for computers. The anti-virus choices for smart phones and tablets are limited, so search your device's AppStore for offerings and read the reviews.
Computer users with high-speed or broadband Internet connections carry additional risk, because hackers are drawn to their enhanced online capabilities. However, Beierle suggests using a personal firewall even if you don't have a high-speed connection. "This software is a first line of defense against attackers who attempt to gain access to your computer," he says. If your computer doesn't already have a personal firewall installed, many of the fee-based anti-virus programs include personal firewalls.
Consumers should also develop an awareness of the type of information that identity thieves need to pretend to be you. Regard account numbers of any type as sensitive information. That goes beyond credit union/bank accounts to utility billing details and cell phone accounts. Hackers who sneak into your computer to "steal" your identity will seek out any type of relationship that offers significant personal information, like social security numbers or birthdates, which can then be used to stage an impersonation.