Quick Tips

Quick Tip: Keeping A Secure and Safe, Clean Machine

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Can’t wait until spring is here? We may have a bit to go, but there’s an easy way to get ahead — cleaning. Yes, yes, you’ll want to take some time to declutter the house: donate or get rid of old clothes or books, put the winter things back into storage and just give a good clean to your entire house.

But, you may be forgetting one important object — your computer.

We aren’t talking about taking some canned air to your keyboard and wiping down your screen! (Feel free to do that, too.) We’re talking about doing a deep cleanse of your Internet activity and actual hard drive to ensure your personal information is secure. Because, just like your physical papers, your digital records need to be shredded from time to time.

Where to even begin? Our Kinetic by Windstream team is here to help with these tips on how you can protect your computer — and your personal information:

1. Update your security software

You’ve likely gotten notifications from your antivirus protection software, saying an update is available. You’re not quite ready to go through the process of waiting for the updates to install, restarting your computer and trying to get to where you left off. So, you hold off for now. But, you never get back around to it, right?

That very holdup can mean the difference in computer safety and computer vulnerability: many times, updates in security software will patch up any weaknesses.

Take, for example, the Equifax data breach in 2017, in which some 143 million consumers potentially had Social Security numbers, birthdates and home addresses exposed. Hackers found an in through a known vulnerability in a web application, according to McAfee. The credit-reporting company received a security update for it about two months before, but failed to carry it out, McAfee said.

The takeaway? Make sure your security software is up todate, so it can protect your information from the newest forms of viruses and malware. And, if you haven’t already, go ahead and turn on automatic updates.

2. Review logins for email, social media and other accounts

These days, many accounts allow you to see where you are currently logged in, from the city to the device. Check all of the logins — keep in mind, you may see a different city or device if you were traveling — and if you find a sketchy one, remove it from the list. You may also want to change all your online passwords afterward, and make them strong!

And, if you’re one of those, who use the same password for every online account you have, kick that habit immediately. Successful cyberattacks — particularly those in which hackers gain access to users’ login and password information — can easily put your other accounts with that same password in jeopardy. How? They can then try that password with all of your accounts, likely starting with an email address you’ve shared.

Worried that you won’t remember your five different passwords? Try a password management program, like 1Password or LastPass.

3. Review your extensions, applications and software programs for your browser, social accounts and computer

Extensions are mini-software programs that essentially extend your web browser with features and other services, such as Google Calendar or your new password management app. They can also be the door into a cyberattack. Look at downloadable software programs or extensions, and take note if there are any that you or your family did not download. Disable or delete them, and fire up your antivirus protection software just in case. If you’ve found a few that you’re no longer using, go ahead and delete those, too.

Note that not all browser extensions are harmful, but it’s best to go with legitimate ones from reputable sources, like the Chrome Web Store or Mozilla.

4. Update parental controls tied to your Kinetic Internet

If you’re using parental control software to check in on your children’s Kinetic Internet use, update it so that it is age-appropriate. Learn more about different parental control programs to protect your kids online.

5. Clear out your browsing data

Your Internet browser keeps track of  your digital footprints, in part because it makes it easier for you to find something that you forgot to bookmark or restore a tab or window. There are different types of data, though, that your browser stores, some which have a more important role in your computer safety.

The most useful to you is the browsing history, which is essentially a list of sites that you’ve visited. (This will be what you may want to clear if you’ve bought a super secret gift for someone and don’t want them to know.) There’s also your download history, a list of the files — though not the actual files — you’ve downloaded. There are also cookies and other site data, which essentially is an identifier for the sites that you’ve visited previously. For example, if you’re shopping online, add an item to your cart, leave the page and return later, cookies will help the store site determine it’s you and have your cart items queued up. These also help advertisers distinguish behaviors among potential customers. And, lastly, there’s the cache, which stores site data like graphics onto your hard drive to allow webpages to load faster.

Now that you know the differences between the types of browsing data, you can select which you want to clear, or you could empty out the whole thing and go tabla rasa.

6. Get rid of unnecessary files and back up important ones

Eliminate files or programs that you no longer need. If they are documents that contain sensitive information, simply putting them in the trash bin and clearing it out will not delete it permanently. How do you do that? Popular Science has a tutorial.

And for those confidential documents that you’re keeping, make sure to back them up should anything happen to your computer. Whatever backup method you choose, remember to safely secure it as well. That way, should you fall prey to a cyberattack, hackers won’t have an easy time getting to those personal documents.

7. Discard old electronics safely

How many of you have old iPhones or laptops lying around collecting dust? You aren’t alone: a United Nations study found that 44.7 million tons of e-waste was generated in 2016. If you’re holding onto them because you don’t know what to do with them, you’re in luck! You won’t want to just throw out these old electronics because, chances are, you haven’t wiped them yet.

Erasing sensitive data on your old devices is a good first step, but it’s not all as data recovery software may easily bring them back to life. The steps will be a bit different depending on the devices you’re looking to wipe, but many will involve, first, backing up your data elsewhere and then undergoing a factory reset. Read this Consumer Reports article for a step-by-step guide on safe discarding of any device.

Ready to tackle a digital cleanse and give your computer the ultimate protection? Go on and put some of these practices to the test! And, if you’re already a Windstream customer, rest a little easier and contact your local Kinetic by Windstream retail location to find out how you can best secure your network.