Outrunning the Cyber Bear

June 07, 2021

By: Jeff Daniher

The level of reported cyberattacks continues to expand.  What can you do to minimize your risk of being a victim?  The joke about not having to outrun the bear, only having to outrun your partner, has significant similarities when it comes to computer security.

First, do not skimp on technology.  Equipment running older operating systems are more vulnerable than those with newer more secure systems.  The cost of technology continues to decline, so if your laptop or desktop is not running the most recent version of the software because your hardware can’t support the demands, it is time to get new hardware.  Consider replacing any computers once they reach three to four years of age.

Second, passphrase not password.  The longer the string of characters, the more secure.   Hackers have lots of computing power and shorter passwords can be guessed by sheer brute force of trying combination after combination.  Additional characters increase the time this takes exponentially.  Consider 12 characters the minimum.  16 or 20 is better. Several words strung together with alphanumeric characters is best.

Third, do not reuse passwords.  Every computer user has multiple passwords, if not hundreds of different ones.  How to remember them?  Use a password keeper that can generate random passphrases for you and remembers them for you.  You will still have to remember the password for the password keeper, so make it a tough one!

Fourth, backups.  Ransomware holds your computer hostage and if you want your pictures and recipes stored locally back, you will have to pay.  If your data and digital valuables are available elsewhere, you have more options.  Nobody wants to have to start fresh and format a computer due to hackers, but if your data is still secure, you are less vulnerable to this type of extortion.

Fifth, be safe.  Updating your software automatically is like keeping your computer vaccinated.  It won’t protect against everything, but it does reduce the risk from known exploits.  Don’t click on links that are unfamiliar.  If in doubt about the validity of an attachment, inquire before clicking.  It is better to verify than to have to undo malicious software.  Many of the newer operating systems ask if you want to install a program.  Don’t automatically give permission if you don’t know why the program is trying to install something.

Take these five recommendations seriously and you will have a head start in avoiding the criminals in cyberspace.