If the US elections can be hacked, so can your data. Are you protected?
I took my concerns and my computer to Steve West at Fearless Computing to see what I could do to keep my data safe.
MAC v. PC
“You’re already using a Mac,” Steve said, “which puts you way ahead of the curve.” This makes me feel a little better about spending significantly more for a MacBookPro than a run-on-the-mill PC. But truth be told, my first computer was a Mac. I bought it in 1984, before the internet was a way of life.
Well that’s changed, and so have the cyber threats that come along with connectivity.
According to Steve, ransomware is probably a bigger threat than malware. Ransomware is malicious software that blocks access to computer data until a sum of money (usually in untraceable bitcoin) is paid. But if you’ve backed up your computer securely, what the kidnappers took is worthless, because you still have your data in another location.
Even back in the days of floppy discs I was meticulous about backing up my data. I kept three discs and backed up to a different one each day, so I always had the last three versions of my work. With Time Machine, I just have an external hard drive, which Steve says is not enough. He recommends I also back up remotely, to the cloud, and that’s on my “to do” list for this week.
back up, back up, back up!
Since I have more data than most freeware will cover, I’m going to spend $5/month on Carbonite, which buys me a year’s unlimited storage for one computer. I was initially skeptical of cloud storage, but Steve convinced me that since security is what Carbonite sells, they have a vested interested in protecting my data and their reputation.
firewalls & vaccines
I also spend $30/year on NetBarrier and VirusBarrier by Intego. There’s freeware you can download to keep a firewall between you and cyber infections, but you have to remember to run it. Mine is on all the time my computer is on, and am I ever glad it is. I’m currently judging a statewide writing contest, and one of the submissions launched malware when I opened it up. VirusBarrier blocked it. Whew!
Protecting financial data
Of course, it’s not just my work on my computer anymore; it’s also my business and my household accounts. In this modern age, I do most of my banking and bill-paying on-line, and a certain amount of shopping, as well. Without getting too fancy, there are a few safeguards that help protect your financials.
- First, use a password protected wireless area network. Better yet, connect via Ethernet.
- Next, when signing in to a financial institution or shopping site, look for the “s” in “https,” which stands for “secure.”
- Finally, use strong passwords that include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Don’t use the same password, and change them from time to time. And really: don’t stick passwords to your computer with post-it notes!
To limit the number of passwords I have, I make on-line purchases without logging in or creating an account. When that’s not an option, I use 1Password. This is yet another security program; this one’s designed to keep track of my passwords – and it does. All I have to remember is the password that unlocks it; the program does the rest. I chose 1Password on my brother’s recommendation and after a thirty-day free trial. It costs about $36/year.
There are other programs out there, including free ones. These recommendations are what I use. I don’t work for any of these companies, and I have nothing to gain if you use their products. So ask around. Do some research. Find the security programs that work for your budget and your needs. And then stay safe: practice good cyber security.
What do you do to protect your data?