Now let’s have a look at the device that’s easiest to hack: your computer 💻.

Virus scanners are still useful

Most virus infections happen on Windows computers. These devices come equipped with a virus scanner called Defender. Defender is good, but Kaspersky Anti-virus and BitDefender(respectively 30 and 34 USD per year) easily rival Defender.

Defender has a feature that protects your most important folders against ransomware or other harmful software that messes with your files. This feature can be activated by going to Virus & threat protection -> Ransomware protection -> Controlled Folder Access. You can also add extra folders there, such as a folder with important business documents or pictures of your family 👨‍👨‍👧.

The use of Hitman Pro.Alert (35 USD per year) is also recommended. You can run Hitman Pro.Alert alongside a virus scanner. It’ll protect you against malware that takes advantage of vulnerabilities in your computer to, for instance, track whatever you type on your keyboard ⌨️.

If you own a Mac computer, you don’t necessarily need a virus scanner. The Mac’s operating system makes it harder for malware to infect your computer. That’s why there aren’t a lot of viruses in circulation on Apple’s operating systems. If you still want a virus scanner, then Kaspersky Anti-virus (60 USD per year), BitDefender (20 USD per year) or ESET Security (30 USD per year) are solid choices.

Paying for virus scanners pays off. Paid versions of virus scanners are often better and more expansive. If you’re not in a position to pay for virus scanners, your best bet is to download and install the free version of Avast or AVG.

Turn on automatic updates

As you might have guessed already: it’s important to update your devices. That’s why we recommend installing updates automatically. Windows and MacOS support this feature, but recently software like Google Chrome have introduced similar options.

If software that doesn’t support automatic updates notifies you of a newly available update, check the legitimacy ✅ of the notification first. Viruses are often spread using fake notifications, like an update for Adobe Flash Player. These usually appear as pop-ups on a website. If you want to make sure the notification is legitimate, then open the software in question and manually check to see if there’s an update available.

Use Google Chrome, along with these three extensions

Currently, Google Chrome is the safest and most user-friendly internet browser. Firefox, Safari and Edge or also solid choices, as long as you avoid using Internet Explorer. Also make sure to install the following three extensions:

UBLOCK ORIGIN

Adblocker uBlock Origin is a free extension that blocks ads and trackers on the internet. It protects you from so-called malvertising: viruses that spread through online ads. It also locks out organisations and companies that spy on your browsing habits. Contrary to Adblock and Adblock Plus, uBlock Origin doesn’t have a questionable business model. Do note that by using an adblocker, you’re depriving websites of their much-needed revenue. By whitelisting your favourite websites, you’re still allowing a company or person to profit from your visit.

HTTPS EVERYWHERE

HTTPS Everywhere forces a secure connection when possible. If a hacker attempts to intercept your connection to try and send you to a website with an unsecure connection, HTTPS Everywhere will block the attempt. This extension can be downloaded for free.

PDF VIEWER

Criminals like to hide malware in PDF files, because Adobe Reader (the software that allows you to read PDF files) often has security leaks. That’s why it’s recommended to open PDF files in your internet browser. PDF Viewer - a free extension for Google Chrome - let’s you do just that. The browser opens all PDF files by default, and this extension adds extra functionality, such as the ability to search through a file. Firefox also has a built-in option to open PDF files.

Pay attention to which extensions you install and don’t install too many. Browser extensions can have quite far-reaching permissions and, in some cases, even see what you type while using your internet browser. Thankfully, you can view which permissions each extension has.

Turn off Javascript and macros, and turn on your firewall

Hackers often use specific features in popular software to infect your computer with malware. By turning these features off, you make their life harder. This specifically concerns Javascript in Adobe Reader and the macros in Microsoft Office. Turn both of them off.

A firewall, on the other hand, should be turned on. It’ll protect you from external attacks. Do this on MacOS and preferably also on your router. Windows’ firewall is turned on by default. If you want some extra protection, take a look at Little Snitch for MacOS and GlassWire for Windows. These apps keep an eye 🔎 on what software connects to the internet.

Avoid Flash

Flash used to be an important technology for watching videos and playing games in your browser 🎮, but the software is wildly outdated by now, making it dangerous. The best option is to simply avoid Flash altogether. Many browsers already have it turned off by default and require you to manually turn it on. Only turn on Flash when a website you trust completely asks you to do so.

Most websites use better technology nowadays, such as HTML5, to display interactive elements like videos and games. Flash creator Adobe will officially discontinue the software in 2020 and already recommends to stop using it right now.

Secure your router

Many people have trouble configuring their router, the device that lets you access to the internet. That’s understandable: routers are tricky to operate 😕. Every router works differently, so you’ll have to search online to find the corresponding manual. Those manuals can help you implement the following tips.

  • Secure your WiFi network using the WPA2-AES protection option, use a long password or passphrase and turn off WiFi Protected Setup (WPS).
  • Turn off UPNP. This technology is unsafe and allows for easier access to your network and connected devices.
  • Update your router software.
  • Create a guest network with a password for your guests and miscellaneous smart devices, such as security cameras.
  • Make sure that the name of your network isn’t easily connected to you or your home. Don’t call it The Johnsons, for instance.
  • Be careful with port forwarding: only forward ports that are absolutely necessary.

Flash drives and smart devices

A well-known hacker trick is to let a victim insert an infected flash drive into their computer, after which the device is breached. Always be careful with flash drives, whether you find a stick on the street or someone hands it to you as a gift 🎁. If you don’t trust a flash drive, have a professional look at it or throw it out.

You might also want to think about how much you really need all those smart devices. Do you really need a rice cooker 🍚 that can connect to your WiFi network? Is it really that important that your child’s action figure has a camera that connects to the internet? All of these smart devices are potential access points which hackers can use to breach your network. They can even take over these devices entirely. Only buy smart devices you really need and preferably use well-known brands.

Secure online banking

Some people are scared to do their banking online. No need: online banking has become very safe in recent years. You can use your bank’s website or mobile app to transfer payments 💵. In most cases, the app is the safest option. It’s hard for hackers and criminals to hijack these apps on recent versions of Android and iOS.

Check short links

Short links are a staple of the internet. They are used to make long links, well, short. One of the most well-known services to shorten links is Bit.ly. Short links are, unfortunately, often used to mask dangerous websites. That’s why it’s never a bad idea to check where a short like is taking you before clicking on it. You can use Urlscan.io to check whether a link leads to a potentially dangerous website.

Removing files

Deleted files can often still be restored using special software 🧐. Use Eraser to prevent this from happening. This piece of software for Windows truly removes the files from your hard disk. The free app Permanent Eraser application is a good choice for MacOS users.

Cover your webcam and check your surroundings

Criminal hackers can watch you using your webcam. A hacker might blackmail you using intimate pictures and videos of you. For instance, you could be secretly filmed while undressing, masturbating or having sex 🍆🍑. By simply covering your webcam with a piece of tape, you render your webcam useless to any intruder. There are also more elegant options, like CamHatch (11 USD) or Soomz (10 USD for three covers). You can also find many cheap webcam covers on the Chinese web shop AliExpress.

Also take note of your surroundings if you’re using your laptop on a train or in a coffee shop ☕. Can anyone see what you’re typing? Are you sure no one can see personal information on your screen, like a password, home address or phone number? Be aware of the situation you’re in when you’re using your devices in a public space.

Choose a Chromebook

If you’re not tech-savvy and just want to be able to browse the web, send emails and watch videos, then a Chromebook might be the way to go. This laptop is cheap and very secure, because it only runs Google’s Chrome internet browser. This makes it hard for hackers to infect your computer with viruses. This laptop lets you do everything you normally do in a browser. If you have a higher budget, an iPad with a keyboard is a good way to go too.

Reinstall your computer from time to time

Try reinstalling your computer once every three years. That means backing up your files 📂, completely deleting your hard drive and reinstalling the operating system (Windows, MacOS). It makes your computer faster and removes any redundant and potentially harmful software.

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