The world is a crazy place because it’s filled with people, but the Internet is even worse. It’s filled with people and robots, all of which seem to be trying to steal your information, take your money, and ruin your life.
Despite these dangers, the Internet is necessary to get things done these days. I can change my address, replace my license, book a flight, transfer money, order delivery, connect with my friends, finish work, and watch a movie to unwind in the time I used to spend waiting in line at the DMV.
With this powerful convenience comes responsibility, and we must be careful how we wield it. If you’re not careful, everything can come to a halt. With five simple steps, you’ll be prepared for nearly anything the Internet throws your way.
- Install Antivirus and Antimalware
The first thing you should do before connecting any new computer, tablet, or smartphone to the Internet is install strong antivirus and antimalware software to keep it safe. These programs proactively stop malicious software and scripts from running on your device in the first place. If they do manage to be installed, these programs will effectively remove them.
For $20-$40, you can purchase one of the best antivirus programs on the market in 2017, including McAfee, Webroot SecureAnywhere, BitDefender, Norton by Semantic, Kaspersky, and Avast. Each program also has a free version, though you’ll have the best, real-time protection with the paid version.
Malwarebytes, Ad-Aware, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Emsisoft are some great antimalware programs. The best protection is a mixture of two services, as one may be faster resolving a zero-day infection. Be sure to install on every device that accesses the Internet to keep your whole network safe.
- Configure Your Firewall
Firewalls help control traffic on your network, opening and closing communication ports as necessary to allow internet connectivity as need. Configuring your firewall sets rules so it’s more difficult for hackers to exploit webcams, printers, and other open ports you may not even realize are open otherwise.
Although Windows has a default firewall program, many of the programs listed above have security suites that include a firewall. In addition, there are free and paid apps like PeerBlock and ZoneAlarm that provide a firewall.
Unlike antivirus and antimalware, it’s best to stick to one firewall problem. Multiple programs running at the same time can cause massive configuration issues with streaming, gaming, and other online activities. They’ll ultimately cancel each other out and leave you more vulnerable online.
Configuring your firewall to work in conjunction with your antivirus and antimalware software is the best way to provide maximum device-level protection from malicious code.
- Protect Your Home Network
These days, we live in an age where TVs, appliances, light bulbs, speakers, and other devices connect seamlessly to the Internet, often without user interaction. Nearly everyone has WiFi in their homes, and protecting that wireless signal is essential to keeping your data and devices safe.
Start by updating the firmware on your router/modem, and installing a firewall on the modem itself. This protects your IoT and connected devices that aren’t as easy to monitor as phones and computers.
Change the default password (especially the admin one to gain control over the device) and network name. Setup WPA encryption and consider whether or not you need to broadcast the network SSID. For maximum protection, a MAC filter is used by many enterprise and public WiFi networks to track usage and can be enabled on your home modem.
Keep your password safe, and if you have guests, connect them to a separate network to maintain the integrity of your core home network. Once this is set up, you can connect network storage and automation to create a truly modern smarthome.
- Use VPNs and Proxies
Now that your network is safe, you need to secure the traffic even further by using VPNs and proxies. With these programs, you remove geographic restrictions and create secure connections between devices and your home network from anywhere in the world.
A proxy server is one that traffic is rerouted to in order to disguise your IP address, and a VPN is a special type of proxy that reroutes all device traffic instead of just one program’s. Whether you’re at work, commuting, or at the store, you’ll have a safe and secure connection using military-grade encryption.
A variety of VPN programs exist, but we’re obviously biased toward Private Tunnel, which is based on the OpenVPN protocol and provides unlimited traffic for only $29.99/year.
Now that you have everything in place, you need to keep it updated.
- Keep Everything Updated
Back in 2011, Sony’s PlayStation Network was hacked, creating an outage and subsequent PR nightmare that cost Sony tens of millions in compensation and more. It’s one of the biggest hacks of modern times and it could have been avoided if Sony kept up with Apache server upgrades.
Missing a crucial security patch by just a few weeks was enough to leave one of the largest corporations in the world vulnerable to attack. That’s all it takes for everything to be changed by one malicious actor with a computer.
Having antivirus software is worthless if you don’t keep it updated. It’s only a matter of time before hackers figure out a way to exploit a fully protected computer, and leaving yours behind just widens the pool of people capable of intruding.
It’s important to stay safe online, but it’s not hard. A few hours of work on the front end, and at least weekly (if not daily) updates to security software put you ahead of the game and keep you safe from whatever digital threats may come.