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As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the ads for Christmas deals have already been playing for weeks. Inboxes are full of email with more of the same, notices from accounts, and less savory items like phishing attempts, spam, links which don’t lead to where they look like they should, and possibly even infected messages. Depending on the device you access email from, you may not see all the warning signs and risk falling victim. Phones, tablets, web browsers and email clients all display messages differently. Knowing the limitations and functions of yours is important, as is taking what steps you can to strengthen their resiliency. Additionally, where and how you use them affects their security. Web browsing is fraught with risk from bogus search results, compromised links in ads, snooping and tracking activity, and unsecured payment portals.
First and foremost; every device, whether computer, tablet or smartphone, needs malware protection. A product such as Webroot SecureAnywhere® Business Endpoint Protection, which operates primarily via cloud, provides responsive protection without impeding device operation. A good protection will secure browsers and block malicious content. Additionally, all downloads and installs will be scanned for safety. Rooting a phone or tablet or disabling the protection of either the Apple Store or Google Play Store is ill-advised because it leaves your device very vulnerable to compromise.
Whether computer or mobile device, keep it up to date! When notified of a system update, installation is recommended since this is the primary means for discovered vulnerabilities to be patched. If you’re like most, you have installed software at some point for any number of reasons. Go through those applications from time to time; remove what is no longer needed and update those still in use. Some computer applications can be set to automatically update and is recommended, but still may require interaction from you to complete the process. For apps that have no update mechanism, searching the vendor site for the most recent version is typically the only way to find it. If something has not been updated in years, it’s best to remove it. Do you leave device-to-device communication or Bluetooth enabled at all times? Both of these may be no issue in the office or at home, but anywhere else, should be used only as needed.
A secured network on which you use your device is also important: it should be protected with a strong firewall to prevent intrusions from the outside world into the private network. Every business should use a business-class firewall capable of inspecting encrypted traffic; only the newest devices are capable of this and only some do so without severely throttling your bandwidth. Consider enforcing VPN connections to the private network by mobile users. Mobile users should use a modern wifi router at a minimum on their home networks and secure it with strong credentials. Wifi networks should also be secured as much as possible. Relegating guests and unprotected devices to guest networks which are separate from the private one provides some security as well. If you use guest network access in someone’s home, realize that it may be as exposed as public wifi and should be treated as such. Free and public wifi, even if “secured” is far from secure for end-users. Anyone else on that same network has potential access to compromise your system–hence the need for system protections such as software updates, malware protection and, in the case of computers, system firewalls. Use of Cisco Umbrella protection can prevent misdirection of web traffic and when managed by a corporate policy can restrict access to certain categories of content and defined URLs.
So, the first requirements are met, what next? The same “safe computing” tips you’ve heard for years:
- Secure your computer or phone with a strong password
- Limit who uses the device
- Make sure the link you click on is actually the link you think it is (hover your cursor over it) then validate it in the browser address bar
- Before you enter credentials or other private information, make sure your session is encrypted (the URL should begin with https://)
- Review an email before opening it and that goes double for attachments
- Do not do your most sensitive transactions on a shared network
Some additional steps you might take:
- Encrypt your data (most new computers, phones and tablet support encryption)
- Set up a VPN to a network you know is secure and conduct all activity within that session
- Disable Bluetooth on devices when in public
- If you frequently work in public places, consider a privacy screen for your laptop, phone or tablet
Finally, be prepared for the worst. Have current, usable backups–hopefully with at least a few options available. Drives permanently attached to a computer, including most file-sync utilities unless they specify otherwise, are vulnerable to exploit if your system gets hit.
All of our customers subscribing to managed services have multiple layers of protection to thwart some of these threats, but even so, should remain diligent.
Be safe out there! Questions and inquiries welcome–we’re here to help.