Why I wrote ThisI wrote this initially as an email to a friend who'd experienced identity theft and who has a Windows 7 computer.
First a few Thoughts
Security has become a big part of our lives and our psyches, unfortunately. I have spent countless hours on it over the years. A few thoughts below, and then I tried to construct a list of everything we do to protect ourselves. There might be more but this is off the top of my head.
Hacking doesn't really get prevented by antivirus. Much hacking is in the cloud rather than on your computer. Of course yes you do want an antivirus but there's more you can do.
Below are things we currently do. Note that it looks like a lot but all this took us several months to set up. We literally sat down every Saturday and did ONE THING on a very long list. Now that it's all in place, we hold a bi-annual security meeting to decide if there's anything more we need to do or change.
Hard drive and Cloud
- First things first: you could very well be running malware bots on your machine without knowing it. You might want to read this article, and then if you suspect this (for example, if your computer's been running slow), then follow the instructions. https://www.
- A free third party a/v is probably fine as long as you're allowing it to keep updating its virus definitions. Also when it wants to update to a new version, always do that. Some of the free A/V's don't download virus definitions unless you explicitly ask them to. Or you may need to jigger a setting.
- In the past I've always been big on free third party anti-virus and other helper programs for windows, but since Windows 10, I've changed my mind. The built-in Windows Defender is good, and doesn't require any babysitting.
- While you have avast running, Windows has Defender turned off. If you decide to switch to Windows Defender, uninstall Avast, and then Windows will think real hard for a few minutes and finally it will turn Defender on. Sometimes it might require a reboot before you see that Defender is happy. *Warning: do this at your own risk. Sometimes the switch to Defender gets buggy and takes more time than expected, but whatever.
- I'm assuming you are running a current, supported version of Windows and are taking all its updates. That's a must. A lot of those updates are security updates. Windows 10, at its most up-to-date, is the safest. It has extra security for things like ransomware built into the OS.
- Cease downloading third-party tools. They are no longer critical to smooth running of Windows, and instead act as infestations. For example, if you have ccleaner, uninstall it.
- Try to restrict your obtaining third party apps mainly to the Microsoft Store if possible.
- If you use chrome as your browser, use the Google Chrome Store to find and install the extension called "Web of Trust." It's abbreviated WOT. This will guide you away from unsafe or untested sites.
- The latest wisdom is to NOT keep changing our passwords. Instead, it is safer to use a password protector and leave your passwords alone unless you know of a breach or if the account demands it. I use Lastpass to store all passwords, almost all of which are randomized passwords. I have a few hundred. Lastpass, in my opinion, is a must today. Or some other competitor to Lastpass is fine too.
- Every Saturday I run Lastpass security checkup
- Two step authentication is a royal pain but a must. I have 2 step authentication with Lastpass and also have it with a few individual accounts such as google.
- By the way, Lastpass turns out to be a great way to bookmark everything too. There are two ways to go into a site. One way is to open the site and then let Lastpass fill in the password. But the safer way is to go into Lastpass and click on the website you want.
- If you are going to a website to buy something, or to download something, check if it's safe first. It's easy with VirusTotal which is an aggregator of many other website safety tools. Try it out: https://www.virustotal.com/#/
- Credit cards are safer than debit cards
- Avoid ATM's and try to use cash when you're out at eating establishments, gas stations, and the like. The scimmers have become very commonplace.
- Get a free Credit Karma account, and ping your calendar to check it once a week. You'll look for changes such as a new address you don't recognize, or a new credit card you didn't open. Also go into Credit Karma settings and turn on email notifications. However, the notifications aren't always as timely as they could be. That's why you should go into the account once a week and check.
- Place a permanent security freeze on your credit file through all three credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and Transunion). Credit Karma will show you Equifax and Transunion for free. So to see Experian, you can open a free Experian account as well. Set up notifications there too, and check that one every Saturday too
- You'll have to dig around in Credit Karma and Experian to find out where the important nuggets of info are.
- Experian, for example, gives you dark web reports. I think Credit Karma does too. Ignore all the advertising. The free version advertises credit cards.
- Shred everything.
- We studied Lifelock in-depth and determined that it's really not that useful. It doesn't prevent theft, and when the theft has occurred, it just holds your hand through recovery. After we studied it ourselves, we asked our beloved Financial Advisor, and he said he doesn't use it either. He says it's not useful. He does what we do.
- Look inside your online bank accounts once a week, or get the Quicken app for your computer, where you can auto-download all accounts into one place every day. That includes paypal, charge cards, store cards, checking accounts, savings accounts, and investment accounts. That way, you know very quickly if there's a fraudulent charge. Especially look for tiny charges that are easy to dismiss but don't dismiss them. Sometimes hackers start with a tiny charge. We sometimes have to call our bank to verify what a charge is for.