Ive never been enthusiastic about New Years resolutions.
Most seem geared toward abandoning well-worn routines etched permanently in our brains not exactly fitting for a holiday that celebrates wiping the slate clean.
But resolving to upgrade your digital security is a bit different.
The topic is far from novel for this column; I share related advice from our tech experts here pretty regularly. But the new year is an ideal time to protect your electronic information because its a goal you can (mostly) accomplish in one sitting. And unlike efforts to stick to a new gym schedule, there are plenty of tools that can do the work for you.
Thats not to say better security doesnt come with some sacrifice.
After years of using only a few passwords for all of my online accounts a tactic that puts my email, social media profiles and even bank accounts at risk I now have unique, complicated passcodes for everything. All of those passwords live on a tiny, encrypted keychain USB drive I picked up for a few bucks. One password gives me access to all the others, and nothing is stored on a hard drive or cloud service that can be stolen or hacked.
The login process is admittedly more complicated, but because theres no way around my new routine, theres no risk of relapsing into bad habits.
But theres more to a New Years security audit than just resetting passwords.
Backup, backup, backup
Jeff Crume, IBM IT security architect and author of the blog Inside Internet Security, says one step bears repeating: backup, backup, backup.
No matter how hard you try, theres always a chance that your system could get hacked, Crume said in an email. So whats the next best thing since we dont have perfect security? A means to recover any data that might be lost.
In addition to services like Backupify (free to $19.99 a month), external hard drives are cheap buys.
Theres really no good excuse for not having one connected to your system taking automatic backups while you sleep, Crume said.
Malware and spyware protection are also must-haves since such code can be incredibly efficient at acquiring your personal information. There are plenty of options, and most run automatically so you can avoid having to change your routine (although running manual scans every so often, Crume says, is always a good idea).
And dont neglect the other hardware responsible for getting you online.
A number of years ago, it was typical for a wireless routers default settings to have all security features turned off, Crume said. Setup was complicated, and manufacturers and retailers would rather not have to field the onslaught of customer support issues that inevitably resulted from configuration errors.
That practice has changed, but if you cant remember the last time you checked out your wireless router, examine the encryption settings to see whether theres a WPA2 option. Crume said the older WEP encryption is now easy to crack, so if WPA2 isnt supported, it might be time for a new device. Also, check to see whether your router needs a firmware update so you can apply any relevant security patches.
Routers need updating just like your operating systems and applications do, although not as frequently, Crume said.
One last thing, Crume advises, is to become an educated consumer. A number of blogs and tech publications like PCWorld.com notify readers of security issues so they know what to look out for.
The field of computer security is constantly changing as new attacks and countermeasures break through, Crume said. Its a good idea to invest some time in keeping current with the latest trends.
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