Computer Security Basics: How to Protect My Computer from Hackers?
Your computer is one of the most valuable things that you own. It allows you to do things and see and talk to people you wouldn't be able to without it and much, much more.
But for how much we use our computers, we often forget that we sometimes tell them too much about us and that there are those (namely cyber-criminals) who would steal this information.
That is why you need to learn how to protect your computer from hackers and that is what this article is all about.
Why Do I Need to Protect My Computer from Hackers?
Those are some scary and hopefully, wake-up statistics that will show you just how active hackers are around the world. They will take advantage of any weakness in your computer security that they can.
But why do they do this?
There are a few reasons hackers will try to break into your device and gain unauthorized access:
To Steal or Leak Your Personal Information
Like we said, your computer contains countless data, including your personal information, financial info and other sensitive data you wouldn't want to get into someone's hands.
Yet that is exactly what most hackers want. To steal your information so they can then do whatever they want with it, such as sell it online, threaten you with ransomware, or make an identity theft even and use your private information to take out a loan in your name or transfer money to their account from yours.
To Disrupt or to Shut Down a Service
No business, regardless of its size, is completely safe against online threats.
In fact, hackers often don't even need much of a reason to disrupt or shut down your service and Internet-connected devices.
They might do this in order to demand money out of you (ransomware), because they are motivated by something (political motives, ideology, hacktivism, etc.), or because they simply don't like your company (didn't give them a return).
Whatever the case, they will try to do it and they usually employ a DNS DDoS (Domain Name Server Distributed Denial of Service) type of attack to do so.
Just in the 1st half of 2021, there were 5.4+ million DDoS attacks, which was 11% more than in the same period of the previous year.
Companies and governments have been spying on one another for as long as they existed, but now the image of a spy in disguise, sneaking around to avoid detection has been replaced by a hacker behind the computer screen.
It is all about gaining a competitive advantage. If one company has some valuable data, the other will inevitably try to get it for themselves as well and sometimes they will even employ hackers to get it for them.
Sometimes, there is no financial incentive, no political or activism motivation and no corporate rivalry behind the cyber-criminal's reasoning.
Sometimes it's just pure vandalism and the desire to show off to other hackers.
How to Protect My Computer from Hackers?
Now that you know why hackers might attack you, you're probably wondering "what do I need to protect my computer?"
Here are a few important things that you should do:
1. Use Strong Passwords to Make Your Computer Secure
Most of the time, a data breach occurs because the hacker was able to crack your password.
The stronger the password, the less likely the hacker will be able to figure it out and gain unauthorized access to your system.
But how do you create a strong password?
Well, first of all, don't use the same password on multiple accounts. If the hacker manages to breach one account, they will do so with others as well. Always use a different password.
Your password should be fairly complex and long. We recommend making your password at least 10 characters long and including both lower-case and upper-case letters, numbers and special characters in it.
However, at the same time, we often forget our passwords and, as a result, get locked out of our accounts.
As many as 65% of users will forget a password unless they write it down, which is why using a password manager can be a real life-saver for when you have dozens of complex passwords to remember.
2. Use Two-Factor Authentication
However, while a complex password is a good way to deter a simple brute force attack, there are other ways that hackers will try to get your login info and they often succeed.
For instance, we already mentioned that a lot of people will write down their passwords so that they don't forget them. Great! That means someone other than them can see them.
So what do you do when a password is not enough (and it isn't) to protect your computer and accounts?
You add a second layer of cyber defence in the form of two-factor authentication.
What this means is that anyone who wants to gain access to your account will also need to provide a security code, PIN, or token, which will be sent to your phone via SMS, in addition to the username and password.
3. Keep Your Operating System and Software Up-to-Date with Automatic Updates
Never forget to install new security updates for your operating system and apps/software as this might be the only thing that prevents a hacker from gaining access and stealing your data.
Fortunately, you often don't even need to install these updates yourself manually and can instead use automatic updates. These just take a few minutes to install, but that time will be well-spent as it serves to protect your OS and software.
4. Review Your Browser Security and Privacy Settings
Today you are being tracked whenever you go on the Internet. Websites will use trackers and cookies to monitor your online movements and action and this, in turn, doesn't do wonders for your online privacy or security.
The good news is that you can prevent many, if not all of those trackers by simply changing a thing or two in your browser's security settings, so be sure to review this from time to time.
What features does a secure web browser include?
- Automatically upgrades websites from HTTP to HTTPS (where possible)
- Loads websites in a sandbox environment to isolate malicious code
- Blocks active content such as Java and Adobe Flash
- Protects against trackers, disables fingerprinting and blocks cookies
- Includes phishing protection
Here are a few secure web browsers that we would recommend in 2021 and beyond.
5. Install Antivirus Programs
Malicious software of all types, like viruses, trojans, etc. are everywhere.
And just like a regular virus, you can't fight computer viruses alone and without help.
That is where a good antivirus program comes in.
They will detect, isolate and even destroy viruses and other malicious software and protect your computer and OS against them.
However, it's not enough to install antivirus software. You also need to use it regularly and to keep it updated, so make sure to keep a regular quick scan and check for automatic updates for your antivirus program.
6. Install Anti Spyware Software
While a virus is something that a hacker might use to cause damage to your computer and software, spyware software is a little trickier as it doesn't necessarily do any harm in the same sense, but instead, secretly steal your data.
This can be more dangerous in the long run as there's really no telling how long has your computer been infected with spyware and how much data has already been stolen by the hacker.
For this reason, you should always have anti-spyware software installed as this will provide real-time protection against this threat.
7. Keep a Firewall On
You should also use firewall software to keep your Internet-connected devices safe from untrusted applications and external devices.
A firewall is a barrier between your device and network and the rest of the Internet and prevents communication with your computer from hackers getting in and absconding with your data.
Luckily, you don't have to do much when it comes to firewalls as most operating systems already have it built-in, so it's just a matter of keeping it on. However, if your OS doesn't have a firewall installed, or you want a better one, you can always install one by a third-party company like Comodo, McAfee, or Azure.
8. Use a Virtual Private Network
All of the above are computer security basics, but if you want to take your online security and privacy to the next level, you should start using a Virtual Private Network or VPN.
So what is a VPN and why do you need one for your personal computer security?
When you browse the Internet, the websites that you visit can see almost exactly where you are thanks to your IP address. This is something that you might not want for a couple of reasons.
A VPN is a great way to hide your IP and your activity from websites and even your ISP by simply re-routing your traffic through a tunnel and through a completely different server located anywhere in the world. The result is that the other side will see the VPN's IP and not yours.
This can be great if you need to access geo-restricted content or if you live in a country with high censorship.
9. Encrypt Your Data
We left the best for last, of course.
All that we talked about so far, using strong passwords and two-factor authentication, installing an antivirus and anti-spyware software, keeping your operating system, software and browser security up-to-date and even using a VPN won't amount to much if the hacker eventually manages to steal your data.
What can you do if your sensitive data like your private information, credit card info and other get into the wrong hands?
Luckily, there is still a way to make them unusable for the cyber-criminal and all you need to do is encrypt them.
What will this do?
Encryption is the process of scrambling your data into an unreadable ciphertext using an encryption key and the only way to make it readable again is to use a decryption key that can turn the data back into plaintext, thus protecting your important data from bad actors trying to steal it.
Protecting your computer against hackers and online threats is incredibly important as that way you also protect your important data and your privacy. All of the points that we made here stand, but the best way to protect your computer isn't to use just one or two, but all of them.
Only by doing this consistently can you ensure your personal computer security.