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Our Top 3 Online Security Tips

By Ron McCulloch, System Administrator

Every few weeks it seems like there’s a major security breach that results in a publicity nightmare and costs a company valuable time and resources to fix. Think: Target, Ebay, and a slew of others. Most recently, we were all forced to pay attention after the Heartbleed bug was discovered. The takeaway here? Hackers are trying to steal yours and your customers’ information online at this very moment. Protecting yourself, and your customers, online is the first step you can take to better online security. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to avoid an attack, but if you implement these simple security tips, you’ll be much less likely to become the victim of an online attack:

Update Your Antivirus Software

Recently, I've been cleaning up viruses on a friend's computer. It's not that old, but he did nothing when the free trial on the antivirus expired. It didn't take too long before some things weren't running as smoothly as they used to and other things didn't seem to work at all.

Anti-virus software is a requirement for computers connecting to today’s networks. There are just too many bad viruses out there and too much information available to hackers on how to take advantage of unprotected computers. There is really no reason not to protect your computer with antivirus software: it doesn't take much time and it isn't too expensive. While there are several great anti-virus suites out there— Norton, McAfee and others— there are a couple free ones that merit recommendation as well. AVG and Microsoft both have free anti-virus programs available for download.

After installing, allow the program to download the latest updates and do a complete scan of your system. Schedule a weekly update and a weekly scan and you're good to go!

Email On Public Wireless Networks

Sometimes I like to sit in a coffee shop with my laptop and use the free wireless to read some email while enjoying a nice latte. Hackers also enjoy hanging out around free wireless networks because they can easily see much of the other activity on the network. That's OK because I have taken some simple steps to make sure my email communication is encrypted between my machine and my mail server. Hackers can see my transmission, but it would take them a couple years to decode it; which would probably not be worth it to them.

The first step you can take is to watch out for your browser’s indications that a website is secure. One of my email accounts is Gmail. I point my browser to and when the login screen appears, the URL changes so that it starts with https instead of http. That 's' stands for secure. A lock icon also appears at the end of my address bar to indicate I'm on a secure page. These indications mean I have point-to-point encryption in place and it's safe. Different browsers will have different ways to show secure transmission, but all will have some way to let you know you are safe.

My other email account is an older one that I use an email program to access. It's not clear whether my email program is using secure transmission or not, and when I go into the email preferences it seems pretty cluttered. Here's how to check for secure communication in your program: open the window you use to configure the settings and find the part that specifies port numbers. You may have to scroll through several panels of settings to find it. If your email program is using ports numbered between 400 and 1000, you are safe. If you see port numbers like 25 or 110 or any others under 400, you are at risk. Have your IT professional configure your program so you are the only person reading your email in the coffee shop.

Don’t have an IT department in house? Give us a call, we can help you secure your email program.

Maintaining Security When Using USB Flash Drives

USB flash drives can be very useful. They are inexpensive and able to hold large amounts of data, but they are also very easy to lose. Even when no malice is intended, these little drives pose huge security risks.The next time you copy a file to a USB drive, think about the information you're storing. How valuable is it to your competitor? What would happen if those documents were printed out and posted publicly? Sensitive information calls for a more secure form of delivery.

Sometimes, even deleting files from a flash drive won’t prevent your information from being shared. Most operating systems don't actually delete a file when you tell them to. They simply mark that particular file's space as available for rewriting. Until the file space is actually written over, the original data can be easily recovered. If you must use a USB drive for important documents, then use one with built-in security software. Many drives are available now with encryption software that protects your data if the drive is lost.

As an alternative to USB drives, Google and DropBox both offer password protected file storage. Both of these programs make file-sharing easy between users and you can access the information from multiple computers.

If you have questions about further steps you can take protect yourself online, get in touch. We’ll help you assess your current set-up and determine the next steps you can take to stay secure, be successful, and make money online.
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