Having a feeling of safety in one's life is essential. Without it people can't grow or prosper, or worse yet, even function. Feeling safe using a computer and being online is of paramount importance as well. Without it, people will use just a small fraction of the resources available on their computers and the Internet. In this issue I'll explore ways to stay safe with an Internet connected computer.
The trident of anti-malware protection that I recommend is: ESET NOD32 antivirus, MalwareBytes anti-malware, and CCleaner. Each of these tools fulfills a separate (but somewhat overlapping) purpose in protecting a computer.
An antivirus provides "real-time" protection, which means that it is constantly scanning data as it reaches your computer. NOD32 from ESET does this well, and with a low resource footprint.
MalwareBytes comes in both a free and paid version. The free version is an "on-demand" scanner, which means that the user runs it when they believe they might have an infection. The paid version has a "real-time" component that well protects Internet browsers, and is required for businesses using the software.
CCleaner is a product that removes unneeded files/data from computers. I find it's most useful to flush out Internet browser caches. When you surf web pages, some of the content is stored away and used if you revisit the page. While this leads to faster page loads, if that page is infected it can lead to an infected computer (see the "Dangerous Advertisements" section below for more about using CCleaner). This product has both free and paid versions. The free version is adequate for home use, but businesses are required to have a paid license. Similar functionality can be had by using the "Click & Clean" browser extension for Chrome or Firefox.
PC Publican can help with the purchase and installation of the above products, and assess your overall computer security status.
Good Passwords (and How Not To Lose Them)
Using secure passwords, and keeping those passwords secure is important. Too many user-generated passwords are too simplistic and vulnerable to "brute-force" attacks, and far too many passwords are carelessly scribbled on notepads or left on Post-It notes stuck to computer screens.
I think it's important to store passwords in an encrypted environment, whether in an encrypted document on your computer or using a password manager like Dashlane or LastPass. Password managers include online storage of passwords for use across multiple computers/browsers, extensions for web browsers that allow for password auto-fill, and generation of highly secure (pseudo-random) passwords.
PC Publican can help you set up an environment for safe management and creation of strong passwords.
The Internet is actually a much safer place than it used to be. Content is considerably better organized and curated, and search engines do a better job steering users to where they actually want to go. That said, there are two areas where I still see users get into regular trouble: paid search results and "fake" banner ads on web pages.
When doing an Internet search the engine will return a page of links that it thinks will be useful. The algorithm that provides the results, however, is typically influenced by paid advertisers as well as relevant websites. The first number of results on a page are usually paid links, and may or may not be listed as such. Dishonorable companies and actors can use this paid placement to promote suspect products or infected websites, so exercise caution before following a particular link.
All of us have probably been the victim of a "fake ad" attack. These are banner ads on web pages that don't actually display an advertisement but rather pop up a window with a very insistent (and often scary) message like: "Call Microsoft now at this number," or "Your computer is infected. Call this number." These are always fake -- never call the number given or follow any given instructions. The best way to handle these attacks is to use the Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) in Windows, or Force Quit (Option+Command+Esc) on a Mac and close the browser the attack initiated from. Then run CCleaner to flush out the browser cache and reboot your computer.
If the above techniques do not work and you are left with an infected computer, PC Publican can clean it without removing any user data or disturbing installed applications.
VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, provide a secure connection from your computer to another. These are extremely useful when you need to process sensitive information/data from an insecure or public network (e.g. check your bank account from a coffee shop).
When you use a VPN client your data is strongly encrypted before leaving the computer and has a secure "tunnel" through the service provider's server before reaching its destination. Also, your computer's actual Internet address (IP address) is masked by the VPN, providing some sense of Internet "anonymity."
There are many good VPN services to choose from. I personally use NordVPN, and ExpressVPN is good as well. They all charge a monthly rate, which can be substantially reduced with a longer-term purchase (2+ years).
PC Publican can help with the purchase, configuration and use of VPN services.
Credit Card Auto-Renewals
Many online companies will auto-renew product subscriptions, framing this as a "convenience" for the end-user, or worse, burying this detail in the small print of the contract (that very few ever read). Antivirus vendors are among the worst culprits. Even after removing the software from a computer these "convenient" charges often still occur going forward. Few send out reminder e-mails before charging the card.
Pay close attention to the on-screen language, and even more attention to the state of check-boxes during the ordering process. Always monitor credit card statements for unknown or unexpected charges.
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