Protect your devices from Web and email threats
By now you should already know the basics of online security: Don’t send money to a Nigerian prince, don’t click on that picture of Britney in a bikini, and don’t run your PC without a security suite. All those basics still apply, but as technology moves forward, so do threats to your privacy and your devices. Today, we need to protect not only our computers, but also our smartphones and tablets. Fortunately, protecting yourself and all your devices can be easy with the help of some sound practices and good software. The first step, however, is to understand what threats are out there.
Never forget that your smartphone or tablet is actually a full-fledged computer in a smaller package. You can surf the web with it; check email; and use it to download and upload documents, photos, mp3s, videos, and software in the form of apps. That’s why we love handheld devices, of course, but it also means they are susceptible to attacks just like PCs are. To make matters worse, your phone or tablet can be the seed that carries an attack to all the hardware devices in your network, as well as those of anyone you email, text, or share data with.
Know The Threats
There are so many different kinds of threats out there, it can be hard to keep track: worms, botnets, viruses, spyware, phishing… You’ve probably heard of all of these without knowing exactly what they look like or how they work. They’re all basically different types of software threats, known collectively as “malware,” or malicious software.
A worm is malware that is designed to spread itself from computer to computer across the Internet. Once it’s in your system, device, or network, it can make your computer perform unwanted actions.
A botnet is malware that turns infected hardware (like your PC or phone) into an unwitting host for its creator. You won’t necessarily know you’re infected, but meanwhile your hardware is being used as part of a large, powerful network of similar “bots” that their programmer weaves together into one big system. Botnets can be used to attack other networks, such as the “denial of service” attacks on the news to sites like Amazon, Citibank, and even the U.S. government.
A virus is self-replicating malware that is usually attached to legitimate programs or files, so that when you launch the infected program or file, the virus launches too. Similar to a virus is a Trojan horse, which starts out as a file that you feel confident opening, such as a picture or presentation file, but is actually a virus in disguise. Once a virus is on your computer, it can make a wide variety of unwanted changes to your files.
Spyware is any type of software that collects information about the user of an infected device. Some spyware can be legitimate—parents or others might install spyware to monitor how a computer is being used. When spyware installs as a threat, it often arrives as a Trojan horse or through adware, which is any advertisement that installs malware after it is clicked.
Phishing is a type of threat that requires you to interact with it. Typically, the purpose of a phishing attack is to collect your information—like your web logins, passwords, and credit card or bank account information. Phishing attacks are often disguised as emails or websites for large banks or online retailers, prompting you to click a link to log in and enter personal information. If you do as prompted, you will be giving your login info away to a predator.
Why You Should Care
All of these types of attacks can compromise smartphones and tablets just as readily as they can hit your PC. These threats can come to you through email, text message, social networks, QR codes, or even through cloud computing—all of which you probably use on a regular basis, if you’re like most people with a PC, smartphone, or tablet.
So, what can happen if you fall prey to these threats? First of all, most threats will slow your device down because they are using up memory running malware. Sometimes they even install programs that can make it impossible to use your device. And many of these threats can steal your personal data and use it for fraudulent purposes. Your information might even be used to give someone a passport or government identification using your name, social security number, and other details. In milder cases, your Facebook login, email account, and other personal data can fall under the control of malicious strangers intent on stealing from you and your friends.
Solve It with Software
Now that you know the worst of it, what can you do to stop these threats? Good security software can keep you off the victims list, and there are also several simple things you can do just by changing how you use your device settings.
Start by buying a trusted security suite that protects all of your connected devices. Be sure to choose a product that will protect smartphones and tablets in addition to your computer. Considering the number of things we plug into our computers these days—from “thumb” drives to smartphones—having single, trusted source of protection is a huge advantage. If you choose separate antivirus protection for each piece of hardware, you’ll lose the advantage of having a single place to see and control all of the threats on your network. A single piece of software also has the advantage of only having to “learn” a threat once, rather than risking that it will be caught every time it hits one of your devices.
Good security software should be highly customizable, so that it can automatically run checks on your system as often as you like and check exactly what you ask it to check. Some software will even watch over you as you surf the web and signal that a given site or link is safe to use. These automatic checks can even extend into your social networks, showing which posted links are safe. If you need to check an individual site to find out if it's safe, you should only be a click away, with icons for the software appearing on your desktop and in your browser.
Buying and using antivirus software is critical, but it's also important to use good sense as you use your online devices. Many threats come in predictable forms: attachments in email, links that set off malicious downloads or lead to malicious apps, or QR codes from unknown sources. All of these have one thing in common: You have to set them off. Without your input, these threats are harmless. Learning just a little about malware and phishing can give you almost everything you need to beat these threats on your own. Almost, that is. Unfortunately, the folks who build malware tend to be pretty sneaky, so it’s essential that you have up-to-date software on all your devices to back you up.
Full Service, Please
In addition to security scanning, backup is another feature your full-service security software should offer you. By backing up your data automatically into the cloud, you can be sure that regardless of what happens to your hardware—broken, lost, stolen, or hacked—you will have access to all of your files. What about protecting the files left on a lost device? You’ll want to look for the ability to remotely lock your device and wipe your files from it. With these software features, your loss is minimized to merely hardware instead of all your valuable data.
Smartphones and mobile computing have solved many problems in modern life, but they have created some new ones, too. Everyone knows someone who has lost his phone or had her computer stolen from a public place. Harassing calls and texts, whether from bill collectors or angry exes, are also a 21st century problem. A robust software solution should give you the ability to track a lost device via GPS mapping, as well as to filter calls or text messages from an unwanted source.
Mobile computing, whether by laptop, tablet, or smartphone, has permanently changed how we live our lives, mostly for the good, but there are new threats as well. To protect yourself, learn all you can about the threats that exist, use common sense practices, and, most importantly, find a turnkey antivirus software that protects all of your devices and offers a wide range of services to access your devices remotely. Relying on one good cross-device software solution will make responding to threats fast and easy, giving you peace of mind as you bravely go forth to surf the web.