15.1 – Implementing computer and mobile device security-2014-10-02

Insuring computers and mobile devices security should be your TOP priority when surfing the internet. There’s hardly a month that goes by that you don’t hear or read about costly and/or devastating breaches of personal and corporate security and/or privacy. This is by far the biggest threat of using computers and mobile devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. This article shows what computer and mobile devices users should do, to significantly improve computer and mobile devices security and minimize privacy breaches. You should also read a complementary article on personal privacy protection at: 15.2 – Protecting your privacy -2014-10-02

The need for computer and mobile devices security

Computers and mobile devices are powerful tools that offer great possibilities. The internet is most probably the greatest invention of the 21st century, offering impressive openings to the world. The varieties and number of apps that are available offer countless benefits to each and every one of us. No one, in this modern age, can work or play without getting involved, in one form or another, with computing technologies.

The fact that a lot of corporate and personal information is stored in one form or another in many places over the internet is quite powerful and productive to carry our day to day activities. On the other hand, it invites ill intended people to try to access and use this information to their own benefits. Also, certain information technology techies (Hackers) derive pride of being able to break the most complex protection mechanism as a demonstration of their abilities or their evil-mindedness.

Even though we hear a lot about hackers’ break-ins on large corporation and government computers, it rarely affects anyone of us. We are the biggest threat to our own security. Here are some of the things that a lot of people do that increases their exposure:

  1. The use of weak passwords. This is covered in more details below.
  2. Storing password in easily accessible locations: for example, on a spreadsheet inside your computer. You should use a password app that encrypt your information instead, such as eWallet GO . I have been successfully using this app for years. I have it on my mobile phone and my laptop. It backs up encrypted passwords info to Dropbox at least every 14 days or on demand.
  3. Surfing questionable web sites. Hackers try to use human weaknesses to exploit them. Be careful with porno sites, sites promising that you will make money, and the like. Remember when it’s FREE or too good to be true, be careful.
  4. When you receive a request from what appears to be your bank or broker or any other request for information, be careful. Hackers copy institutions web sites appearance to fool you. Check with your bank or broker to confirm that it is from them. Verify that the address of the sender is exactly the same as legitimate requests from your institution. If by mistake you get caught, immediately change your password.

The next sort of threats is the typical hacker’s threats. The industry has developed a lot of security apps to try circumventing these threats. Below we will look at such apps and recommend what you should do.

Virus and malware protection

As indicated earlier, certain information technology techies (Hackers) derive a pride of being able to break the most complex protection mechanism as a demonstration of their abilities. Others are crooks. To show off, certain such individuals have been able to find ways to bypass normal computer protection mechanisms and add virus or malware to computers. In view of these threats, a set of apps have been available for many years now, and are able to circumvent the majority of such threats quite effectively. Many come installed when you buy a new computer. Very often they come free for the first year and you have to pay to continue the service thereafter. Here is a list of well-known virus and malware protection software: Windows Defender, Norton AntiVirus, McAfee AntiVirus Plus, Avast! Pro Antivirus, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, AVG Antivirus

A number of these suppliers offer a FREE basic version to later try to have you buy their more sophisticated version. Amongst the most popular are Avast and AVG.

I personally have been using AVG Antivirus FREE for many years without ever being infested. Here is why I recommend AVG:

  1. One of the problems I encountered several years ago with pre-installed virus protection software, such as Norton and McAfee, was the fact that they often significantly impaired my computer performance. This is what prompted me to research apps that had minimal effect on my computer performance. In the process, I found AVG Antivirus FREE. I have been using it ever since, not upgrading to the more encompassing paid version in fear of slowing my computer performance.
  2. Another important factor one must consider when selecting a protection software vendor is the vendor’s reliability and accountability. To be truly effective, protections apps have to significantly intrude into your computer. This gives a lot of your computer’s control to the protection software vendor. This is why you have to choose a vendor that has a lot to lose if he took advantage of you. A large company that only produces protection software is what you should be looking for. AVG is one such company.
  3. AVG is a market leader for protection and performance software. As mentioned many time, I stick with market leaders to avoid bad surprises.
  4. Another reason why I use AVG is the fact that they offer a variety of protection and performance enhancement apps. As I have mentioned in other articles, I want to limit the number of vendors once again to avoid bad surprises. Therefore, when selecting a vendor, I will try to find several quality apps that such a vendor can offer. Once again, AVG offers a variety of complementary apps to address my computer and mobile devices protection and performance.
  5. Finally, AVG supports Windows PCs, Apple Mac PCs, Android and Apple iOS mobile devices (phones and tablets). This encompasses most of the technologies in use today.

AVG protection and performance apps

AVG Antivirus FREE – Now repackaged into AVG Protection

As mentioned earlier, I have been using AVG Antivirus FREE for many years and have been very satisfied. I continue to use it for my mobile devices (phone and tablet) protection. With the advent of Windows 8.1, Microsoft has enhanced Windows Defender which is now quite powerful and integrated into Windows 8.1. This minimizes operating system interference to maximize performance. For this reason, I now use Windows Defender instead of AVG Antivirus FREE on my laptop. Microsoft is also part of my list of preferred vendors.

If you use an older Windows version, I recommend that you use AVG Antivirus FREE for Windows which is available at http://free.avg.com/ca-en/homepage. To download and install, just follow the instructions.

AVG PC TuneUp – Now repackaged into AVG Performance

I have been using AVG PC TuneUp for at least two years with great results. It provides more speed, less crashes, longer battery life and ad more disk space by monitoring your computer and taking or suggesting the actions required to achieve the above. I strongly recommend implementing such an app so that your PC will be taken care of automatically to provide the best performance possible.

AVG Ultimate

After making a number of acquisitions of complementary protection products, AVG is now offering AVG Ultimate. This new products packaging offers most of the Protection, Performance and Privacy software that you would ever need operating under AVG Zen which allows you to overview the protection, performance, and privacy status of each device you want to cover, all in one place. Before this new packaging came about, I had already implemented most of the applications it encompasses separately. If you don’t have any or few of these products for each of your computing devices, I recommend that you take a serious look at implementing AVG Ultimate.

AVG Privacy Fix

AVG Ultimate incorporates AVG Privacy Fix which is a terrific app to help you identify and rectify the privacy controls of the social media apps you use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, YouTube… Trying to find where to control you privacy settings with these products is not trivial sometimes. AVG Privacy Fix will bring up the setting screens you require and inform about tradeoffs for a better choice. To get more information on this product read:  15.2 – Protecting your privacy -2014-10-02

Google account and Gmail protection

Since I use and strongly recommend many of Google’s apps including Gmail, it is important to increase the access protection to your Google account. To achieve this, I strongly recommend that you implement the 2-Step verification features, in addition to using a STRONG password.

Your Gmail account stores all contacts information including phone numbers and email addresses. This is valuable information which you should not want people to access easily.

The first thing to prevent your Google account to be broken into is to use a STRONG password. Here are the criteria’s for strong and weak passwords:

A strong password:

  1. Contains both upper and lower case characters.
  2. Includes digits and punctuation characters as well as letters. (!@#$%^&*()_+|~-=`{}[]:”;’<>?,./)
  3. Has at least eight characters.
  4. Does not contain a word in any language, slang, dialect, jargon, etc.
  5. Is not based on personal information, family names, etc.

A weak password:

  1. Contains less than eight characters.
  2. Is a word found in a dictionary (English or foreign).
  3. Is a common usage word such as: family names, pets, friends, co-workers, fantasy characters, etc.
  4. Computer terms and names, commands, sites, companies, hardware, software, sport team.
  5. Birthdays and other personal information such as addresses, phone numbers, or license plates.
  6. Word or number patterns like: aaabbb, qwerty, 9876543.
  7. Any of the above spelled backwards.
  8. Any of the above preceded or followed by a digit (battleship52).     

Google’s 2-Step verification

The second security level to prevent your Google account from being broken into is to use Google’s 2-Step verification. This makes you confirm any changes to your Google account on a second device such as your local or mobile phone. Therefore, if someone penetrates your Google account and tries to make changes to your settings, you will receive a message on another device to confirm the change. This way you will know that your account has been broken into and you will be able right away to change your password to prevent them from accessing your Google account anymore.

Google’s backup phone numbers

Furthermore, add backup phone numbers so that Google has another way to send you verification codes in case your designated phone is unavailable.

Google’s backup codes

You can print or download one-time use backup codes for times when your phones are unavailable, such as when you travel.

Google’s computer access registration

During sign-in, you can tell Google not to ask for a code again on your personal computer. Google will still ask for codes on other computers.

Google Chrome

I use Google Chrome as my default internet browser versus using Microsoft Internet Explorer. Google Chrome is well integrated with the Google products which I use extensively and recommend strongly. It works great on my Windows 8.1 laptop and my Android 4.4.2 mobile devices: one browser for ALL my computing devices. You can download and integrate a lot of useful extensions. It will encrypt and sync your encrypted information over all your devices to simplify your life and protect your information.

How to protect your synced data on Google Chrome

When you sign into Chrome and enable sync, Chrome keeps your information secure by using your Google Account credentials to encrypt your synced passwords. Alternatively, you can choose to encrypt all of your synced data with a sync passphrase (similar to a password). This sync passphrase is stored on your computer and isn’t sent to Google. The passphrase is used by the encrypting software to generate a unique encryption representation of your data so that no one can read or decrypt your information without the passphrase. This is the most secured method you can use. Even if a hacker could access and be able to use the Google encryption software, which is VERY unlikely, without your personal passphrase, which is stored on your computer only, he could not access or read your information. I have chosen to use the personal passphrase method and encrypt all my data.  IMPORTANT: store your passphrase in a secured easily accessible place since you will need it for access on other computers. To configure your synced data parameters use the following link: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/1181035?p=settings_encryption&rd=1

Delete your cache and other browser data

You should know that your browser stores all your browsing history: the address of every web site you visit. When you hear in the news that the police was able to know which web sites an accused person had visited, they accessed its browsing history. You have control over your browsing history data. Use the “Clear browsing data” dialog to delete all that data or just a portion of that data, collected during a specific time period. To delete your cache and browser data use the following link: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95582?p=settings_clear_browsing_data&rd=1

Cloud Protection

Several of my friends hesitate to use the Cloud because they do not trust that their information will be secured. As I have mentioned several times on my blog, the existence of a Cloud company rests on its ability to protect your information stored on their Cloud. If there was a major breach, people would change supplier as quickly as they could. Being sensitive to this risk, which would bankrupt their company, Cloud companies have put in place an extensive set of protection measures to avoid this risk. This is why, even though there is a minimal risk, it is smaller than an accident while driving your car. Would stop driving your car because there is a small risk of an accident? The same applies to using Cloud services.

On the other hand, this does not mean that you can be careless. Just as with anything else you need to use your judgment. For example, don’t use a none encrypted list of your passwords anywhere including the Cloud. An app like eWallet GO stores your encrypted list of password on the Cloud, which is the secure way of doing it.

Conclusion

Safety measures often add steps to work with computers compared to doing nothing. For example, you have to enter passwords to access your files, data or devices. Some people do not want to be bothered with such things and avoid securing their devices. In comparison, it’s the same thing as not locking your doors. If you do so, do not be surprised if intruders invade your home. The same applies to your computers and mobile devices. This concludes the measures you should implement to insure that your personal and mobile computing is safe.

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