6 things you should do to keep your electronic device safe

ST. GEORGE — Using a cellphone, computer or tablet poses security risks to all the personal data stored on them, from financial records and passwords to photos and work information, so we’ve found six ways you can protect your devices from data thieves.

Computers at businesses are prime targets for data theft, St. George, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Computers at businesses are prime targets for data theft, PC Innovation Computers, St. George, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Install anti-virus and anti-malware programs

Without these programs, the device would probably be just fine — as long as it doesn’t access to the Internet. That’s not likely though. So these programs are a must-have.

How fast can a computer be infected? According to the BBC, in 2012 there were confirmed cases of computers being shipped from the manufacturer with a virus already installed, capable of becoming part of a global network of computers that looted bank accounts, harvested personal data, and attacked websites.

“Get a good anti-virus and anti-malware program and use it at least once a week,” said Jon Duckworth, owner of CTRPCS, a computer repair company in St. George. “I recommend the free versions of Avast Anti-Virus and Malwarebytes to keep the problems away.”

Download apps and programs from trusted sources only

This does not include software purchased from a store distributed by a respectable software company. Rather, these are programs downloaded from the Internet from unrecognizable vendors, which can contain viruses, spyware and malware. And, formerly reputable download sites now may not be so safe.

“You used to be able to trust websites like Download.com,” PC Innovation Computers Operations Manager Brandon Rollins said. “But you have to be careful because there is a lot of advertising ‘download now’ links there … and if you’re not careful, you can get a lot of junkware.”

The same goes for smartphone apps. Stay with apps from the Google Play store or the iOS App Store.

Keep programs and apps updated

Computer devices on display at PC Innovations, St. George, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Computer devices on display at PC Innovation Computers, St. George, Utah, Jan. 28, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Ever wonder why there are so many Windows updates every week? Hackers frequently find points they can exploit within programs and try to use those weaknesses to worm their way into computers running those programs or apps. Keeping them updated allows the device to always be running a version that has exploits patched and bugs fixed.

Backup the device frequently

One message no device user wants to see is “Boot Failure” or “Hard Disk Error.” This generally means that the device cannot recognize the disk drive because it has failed.

No backup? Pictures, programs, documents, spreadsheets, music, everything is lost at that point. There are services that can attempt to recover data from a failed hard drive, but the price is high and the return is usually low.

There is also the matter of fire or other destruction of data. Rollins suggests using one of the cloud services as well as an on-site backup, in case you can’t grab your device after a fire or other disaster.

Hard disk drives, when new, will either fail quickly or be reliable for up to 3 years. ARSTechnica recommends replacing a hard drive every 2 years, as average failure rates skyrocket after that time. A backup, however, is vital to protecting data in case the unthinkable occurs.

A good alternative is to spend a little money now and back up the data to another drive, a Web server or DVD. Duckworth uses Paragon Hard Disk Manager, which retails for $49.95. PC Magazine said that Paragon “is the most powerful of all hard disk management programs.”

Set a password and store it safely

The stories are out there. A device is left unprotected on a desk or stolen. The thief will then use the information to get hold of a person’s bank information or log into the user’s account on Facebook and create havoc.

You can avoid this by using a strong password. Splashdata released their list of the worst passwords for 2015 — they include “123456,” “password,” “baseball,” “starwars” and “letmein.”

Rollins said the best thing you can use is a system that you will remember and is not obvious.

Computer devices on display at PC Innovations, St. George, Utah, Jan 28, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Computer devices on display at PC Innovations, St. George, Utah, Jan 28, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“It generally does need to be at least 8 characters,” Rollins said, “with some upper case, with some special characters like number signs or pound signs, a mix and match. But it’s also a good thing to do, to have a system … that’s not the same on every website, but mainly they’re based on some root that you can remember based on whatever website you’re going to.”

It’s not a good idea to use the same password everywhere. If remembering passwords is a problem, there are password managers available that will create strong passwords and automatically enter them into websites. And all the user has to remember is one password to get into the manager.

Wipe the device securely before disposing of it

Selling a smartphone? Trading in a tablet? Trashing the old computer for a fast new one? Just because a file was deleted doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.

On a PC, if a file named example.doc is deleted, it really is not deleted. All the file system does is change the file name to !xample.doc, changing the first character of the file to an exclamation point. That file will not show up in a file search, but the exclamation point at the beginning tells the system it can overwrite it if it needs the room.

There are many programs for permanently deleting files. Free tools on the Internet will do it. Anyone can do it, even an unscrupulous individual who grabs a discarded computer can do it.

Download a wiping program such as Blancco to ensure the hard drive is wiped clean before disposing of the computer. Smartphones are a bit easier — just perform a hard reset and let the device reinitialize to wipe all data from the device.

If the data on your computer was confidential or personal, such as business records, Rollins said to be very careful.

“You don’t want to just do a clean install of Windows and expect you’re good,” Rollins said. “Because if there is very private data people can get into that hard drive and do what’s called ‘undelete recovery’ and recover files that have been deleted.”

Rollins said the best method of hard-drive wiping is destruction.

“Hammers work well,” Rollins said laughing.

Keeping data and personal information safe is a requirement today. Make sure that devices are secure and have the tools to fight back against the bad guys.

Email: rwayman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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5 Comments

  • ladybugavenger January 30, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Be ware of a Trojan that makes computer beep and has a message that says to call a #. Curious. I called the #. To get info and: The foreign speaking person on the other end will say they are “Microsoft Tech Support” they want to take control over your computer to fix it….that’s when I hung up and came to the conclusion they are the Trojan horse. After I hung up on the person I immediately shut down my computer and waited a few minutes and powered on. Ran a spyware scan and a virus scan is still running on the tablet at this time. Just beware!

  • .... January 31, 2016 at 11:28 am

    You got’em watch’em squaw they speak with forked tongue

    • ladybugavenger January 31, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      I’m white

      • ladybugavenger January 31, 2016 at 4:20 pm

        White pride…..is that racist?

  • .... February 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    Yep !

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