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How A Hacker Might Be Spying On Your Computer Right Now—And What You Can Do About It

Today, hackers can gain access to your smartphone through downloaded apps or Wi-Fi networks, and this allows them to monitor your activities. Learn how to protect yourself and prevent hackers from stealing passwords, spying on you, and collecting your personal data. 

10 Ways To Protect Your Data and Private Information from Hackers

  1. Keep your operating systems up to date. Keeping your operating system and apps up to date is one of the best things you can do for your computer’s security. Whenever Microsoft or Apple fixes a vulnerability, it’s critical that you apply the update as soon as you can. If you’re one of the many who wait weeks or months, then you’re putting yourself in harm’s way.   
  1. Create strong, unique passwords. Create strong and unique passwords to access your devices, operating system, and applications. It’s a basic step in the process of keeping your devices secure, but most people don’t do it. You should use capital letters, symbols, numbers, and different kinds of characters to make them stronger, and most importantly, don’t use one password across multiple (or all!) accounts. Keeping track of so many accounts and passwords is tedious, so we recommend using LastPass, a free and secure way to manage all of your passwords in one place. 
  1. Use MFA (multi-factor authentication). Use multi-factor authentication wherever possible as an added level of protection when you’re signing in and out of your accounts. This is where you receive a code via text message or E-mail or authenticator app (like those from Microsoft or Google). 
  1. Pay attention to installation screens. It’s here that you’ll find important information regarding third-party software that may also be installed – things like toolbars, add-ons, or adware. This seems like a minor step, but can be critical. Be sure to keep an eye out for this before you move on or click “Next.” 
  1. Avoid using peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing. Getting files from BitTorrent could be putting your computer at risk. Downloading items such as movies or TV series in this manner exposes your computer to all machines that are also downloading the same files you are. This information exchange exposes you to keygens, cracks, worms, and other harmful viruses that compromise your data, privacy, or both. As an alternative to BitTorrent, using UseNet or BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) is a better way to accomplish the same thing. 
  1. Use a browser-based content blocker. Content blockers such as Browser Guard, AdGuard, or DuckDuckGo can help to reduce ads, phishing, trojans, or any other content that an antivirus alone may not detect. 
  1. Slow down. Take a moment to think about what you’re clicking on or when you’re reacting to unexpected messages.  
  1. Be alert for people trying to trick you. I’ll never forget the day I received an email from “IKEA” asking me to confirm sensitive information by clicking a link. As soon as I saw that it was IKEA, I immediately realized it was a scam, and knew not to click on any links. A trusted company will never ask you to verify sensitive information by clicking an external link the same way the IRS will never call you to verify your Social Security number. Thankfully, I had also educated myself on social engineering tactics, so the ploy to gain access to my computer so they could steal private data or take an unsuspecting victim for money failed.  
  1. Never open unexpected attachments. Before you do, first check the sender’s email and make sure the address matches the trusted company’s address exactly. Second, beware of emails with generic introductions such as ‘dear customer.’ Spelling or grammatical mistakes are also a sign that the email is a scam from a hacker. No matter who you think it could be from, always be suspicious of an email that asks for your personal information or has unexpected attachments. Contact a colleague or someone from your IT department for a second opinion if you’re not sure. 
  1. Back up your data frequently. Backing up your computer to an external hard drive or solid state drive (SSD) is a good practice, but it’s only as good as the backup. If your backup is incomplete, fails frequently, and cannot be properly restored, it won’t help you if you lose your valuable data. A successful backup strategy will also save you time and money in the unfortunate event that your data is lost.   

For most of us, it’s impossible to be 100% certain that our systems will never fail. However, by applying common sense and taking some reasonable precautions, you can keep your data secure and limit the impact from any threats that do occur. In addition to the common practice of backing up files and documents on a regular basis, there are a few additional steps and best practices you can take up to protect yourself against the most common security risks. Remember, forewarned is forearmed!