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    Protect Your Online World

    As our everyday world becomes more dependent on Information Technology (IT) everyone must take steps to protect themselves from malicious threats. Government agencies and large corporations have large budgets for cybersecurity teams to prevent, detect, and respond to intrusions. Unfortunately home users typically do not.

    I’m sharing my thoughts on how to protect yourself and your family. Some steps may seem obvious to those who work in the IT field, but I hope you still find this information useful.

    Email Account

    Your primary email account is one of your most important assets. If someone can access your email account, they can do some very bad stuff:

    • Read your private correspondence.
    • Impersonate you by sending email from your mailbox.
    • Read information about your contacts, and use that to attack them.
    • Prevent you from accessing your email by changing your email password.
    • Reset your other passwords as most services allow a password reset by emailing you a link to click.

    You should take extra precautions to protect your email account. I recommend the following steps to protect yourself:

    1. Use one of the major online email providers like GMail, Outlook, Yahoo, or iCloud Mail. They typically invest in the latest security technology and provide the most user friendly experience. If you use your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to host your email, you will need to change your email address whenever you change your ISP.
    2. Use a complex and unique password.
    3. Turn on multi-factor authentication.

    Passwords

    Nearly every website and service you subscribe to asks you to create an account with a username and password. Unfortunately it is increasingly common for websites to be compromised which can expose your password to the attacker. For these reasons, I recommend that everyone use a password management tool to keep track of them.

    1. Use a password manager. Consider an online service such as 1Password, BitWardenDashlane, RoboForm, or LastPass which can synchronize your password database among several computers and handheld devices. Apple has a built-in password manager called iCloud Keychain for iPhone and Mac. Alternatively you can use software such as KeePass, or Password Safe which keep your password database protected on your own PC. If you’re really old fashioned, a paper notebook and pen will work though you run the risk of losing it.
    2. Use long and complex passwords. If your password is short or easy, malicious software can easily guess what it is. If you can remember a password, it is probably not a good password. Every website and service has different requirements and limitations. I recommend at least 12 characters with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Password managers make this easy. They can generate and type complex passwords for you automatically.
    3. Never reuse passwords. If you reuse passwords, attackers will capture your password from one hacked site and use that to access your other accounts too. Password managers make unique passwords easy, and can even warn you if you reuse a password unintentionally.
    4. Safeguard a backup copy. Regularly make a backup copy of your password database and keep it in a safe place. This might be on a USB drive in a small safe at home, or in a safety deposit box at the bank.

    Multi-Factor Authentication

    To establish who you are, most services require only a username and password (something you know.) Other secondary factors might be something you have (such as a cellphone or token) or something you are (such as a fingerprint.) Requiring the use of multi-factor login makes it much more difficult for someone to impersonate you or gain unauthorized access to your account. Your ATM card operates on a similar principle, your card is something you have, and your PIN is something you know. Someone with both can withdraw cash from your bank account.

    Tokens come in both physical and virtual form. Your most important accounts like email and banking should support two factor authentication. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, 1Password, and Facebook all support multifactor authentication. Turn it on!

    • SMS – After you login with a password, you will receive either an SMS text or phone call with a one-time code. You must also enter that to continue.
    • TOTP – Time-based one-time passwords. A six-digit code that changes every 30 seconds. Often simply called Google Authenticator, even though several alternatives exist such as Authy.
    • FIDO – Often a standalone USB token such as YubiKey.
    • PassKey – Integrated into Apple devices with FaceID or TouchID.

    Automate Backups

    Use an automated backup solution to keep backup copies of your important files, photos, videos, and software. Backups are “recovery points” that can be restored in the event of hardware failure, data corruption, or malicious attack. More frequent backups provide more recovery points.

    External hard drives are a low-cost and effective place to store backup data. Both Mac and Windows come with free backup software that works with external hard drives. Consider using more than one external drive, and occasionally rotate them between your desk (for daily use) and a safe (in case of fire or theft.)

    If you have a fast internet connection, also consider a cloud provider such as Carbonite, iDrive, Backblaze, or Acronis who can keep backups in your home, and in the cloud.

    Software Updates

    Apply updates to your device operating systems such as Windows, Android, MacOS, and iPhone.  Flaws and vulnerabilities are found in software on a regular basis. If possible, enable automatic updates for trusted software so you don’t have to remember to do it.

    DNS Service

    Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) includes DNS service which translates the easy-to-remember names like google.com to more complicated IP addresses.  Consider using a third party DNS provider which adds security features by making a configuration change to your home router.  This change will provide protection to all devices that use your home network.

    Consider these alternatives to your ISP DNS service:

    Note: Updated on April 3, 2018.

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