You know the basics of computer security.

Use strong passwords, keep your anti-virus up to date, do your online banking at home. But does that mean you’ve got all your bases covered?

In this day and age? Not likely.

So what can you do to keep your computer and mobile devices safe? Follow these simple tips to keep viruses, spam and hackers at bay.

1)  Stay Away from Suspicious Websites

cyber security milwaukeeWhen visiting a banking website, entering your credit card information or accessing webmail, look for a green lock in the address bar.

You should see https:// at the beginning of the URL. If you don’t, leave the website immediately – it is likely a fake.

Find a good deal online? If it’s too good to be true, it is. If you’re unsure about a website, search Google for the website name used in conjunction with the word “fake” or “scam”.

There are many blogs and discussion forums online where people post complaints about fraudulent websites and these will likely pop up when you run this search.

2)  Confirm your Computer has a Firewall

If you have an anti-virus program installed on your computer such as Norton or MacAfee, these programs take precedence over your built-in computer firewall.

If you don’t, on a Windows computer go to your control panel and type the word firewall in the search box. Your firewall should say it is on or connected. On a Mac, you’ll need to click the Apple icon on your toolbar, go to system preferences, then security and firewall.

If you don’t do any file sharing, you might want to disable file media and sharing completely to further enhance security on your PC.

3) Never Open Unknown Emails

One of the most common ways for a virus to enter a computer is through email. For this reason, it’s important to avoid opening suspicious emails, even if the email appears to be from someone you know.

When an email account is abandoned, particularly once it becomes overrun with spam, hackers often gain access to the account and send spam and phishing emails to all their contacts. If you suspect this has happened to someone you know, notify them that their account is compromised so they can shut it down and avoid putting their contacts at risk.

4) Back Up Your Data

If your computer crashes or falls victim to the newest type of ransomware, you’ll be thankful you backed up your data. If this has already happened to you in the past, you’re likely already backing up your data (unless you’re a glutton for punishment of course).

Backups can be done through a back-up service or by transferring documents to an external hard drive. If you are backing up sensitive business data, be sure to use a business grade backup system to avoid accidental data loss or theft.

5) Keep Your Operating System Updated

Updating your operating system on a regular basis helps to minimize your chances of getting a virus. Windows regularly releases security patches that fix known vulnerabilities and errors in the Windows system.

Each year, malware is responsible for millions of dollars of damage worldwide, primarily because users don’t install these critical Windows updates. This creates a loophole for malware to exploit and this is exactly what cyber criminals are searching for.

To turn on automatic updates in Windows, click the start button, type ‘update’ and in the list of results, click Windows update. On the left side of the reading pane, click the option you want. Under recommended updates, select the “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates” check box and then click OK.

6) Watch out for Text Spam on Your Mobile Phone

text spamBy now, nearly everyone knows about email spam. But what about text spam? That’s right, spammers want to reach us where they can get our attention and for many, that’s on their phone through texts.

Often times, text spam is more successful at luring people in, due to the sense of urgency these messages create for unsuspecting victims. Avoid responding to lottery or contest messages with links encouraging you to click or respond.

As a rule of thumb, if you don’t know the sender and you’re not expecting the text, ignore it (even if it looks legitimate). If the text does appear legit and they identify themselves, pick up the phone and call the organization to confirm – don’t click.

7) Download with Caution

“Free” software is often loaded with spyware, adware or worse. Never install free software without fully understanding exactly what you are installing on your computer or smartphone – that goes for apps too.

We tend to think of our mobile phones as a phone and camera with internet access, but they are much more complex than that, storing tons of personal information.

There are many different apps you can install to keep your mobile phone safe from security threats. Research different apps and read reviews. You’ll want to be sure you install an app that will actually do what it says rather than become just another drain on your battery.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

These steps might seem overwhelming, but if you’ve ever lost all your data or mistakenly downloaded a virus, malware or spyware, you know these simple steps aren’t nearly as burdensome as the alternative.

The good news is, educating yourself about possible threats is more than half the battle.

If you follow just one of these tips, make sure you have a backup – it’s your silver bullet. You can replace your cell phone or computer, but those precious photos from your last vacation (that you didn’t back up or upload to Facebook) are irreplaceable.

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