Five Ways to Protect Your Computer from Data Snooping 

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Computer security is a hot topic these days. With a complete dependance on information and internet connectivity, the secrets and sensitive data on our computers are ultimately connected to the world wide web, and theoretically accessible to those who know how to exploit back doors in order to gain access to a computer.

 

This article will give a brief overview of general computer security, and then discuss five methods to remain more secure. 

 

Network SecurityGeneral Computing Security

Physically a computer is usually quite secure. They often aren’t more then a few feet away from us at all times, and are often password protected, and kept behind a locked door at night. In other sense however, your computer is like a house in a suburban neighbourhood. This is the virtual (or internet/public network) connected side of your computer. 

 

Anyone on a public network can see your computer, and with the right software, they can see the web traffic that you are making on that network, including any financial transactions, or other such sensitive data. Without taking the proper precautions, your computer is just as vulnerable as leaving all your doors unlocked, blinds open, and lights on: leaving most activities visible to public eye. With that in mind, lets look at five ways to make your computer more secure from potential snooping:

 

1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

This blog has mentioned VPN’s many times, and that is because they are absolutely essential to keeping any network activity private. A VPN creates a tunnel in which you can operate securely. If you are using a public network, and someone else in the network is snooping, they will simply see your VPN, not the actual network activity occurring in that VPN, such as banking, or private email.  

 

2. Use a Password Manager

Password managers are sometimes seen as counter productive to security, but this is not the case. The advantage of a password manager three fold:

  1. It encourages strong passwords. Since you don’t have to remember the password by memory, password managers will give the option to use a strong and unique password, that is essentially impossible to guess or crack (ex: a5t-Eb7-4g6-bJk) 

  2. The convenience of not having to remember passwords, and not having to type them in. This may seem counter productive to security, but it is only a problem if someone gains physical access and logs in to your computer. Those situations are extremely rare, due to it being much more risky for the snooper. Not typing in your passwords also protects you against keyloggers (a sort of virus), which monitor keyboard activity, and look for input that appears to be a password, and sends that data to a snooper.
  3. Passwords are protecting in an encrypted vault, on your local machine. This way the company providing your password manager service cannot see your passwords, and neither can anyone else.  

I recommend Last Pass for a quality password manager.


3. Divide Personal and Business Accounts

When your employee's are browsing online forums, blogs, Facebook, and other such services, keep in mind that these companies selling your information. That is the business model of many content consumption websites. Taking time the read the EULA (End User License Agreement) when signing up for said services will explain how they are using that data. Since reading a EULA is something that almost no one will ever do, it is best practice to completely separate personal and business accounts on the internet. 


Core services such as banking, email, and any accounts that have you financial data should all have unique passwords and usernames if applicable. Reuse usernames and passwords as little as possible on the Internet, preferably never. 

 

4. Encryption

Encryption of sensitive data on your employee's hard drives is absolutely essential. Windows 8.1 offers built in encryption methods, as well as newer versions of OS X. Encryption and password protection is very easy to do, but makes things incredibly difficult for those who aren’t the author of the encryption.

 

5. Anti-Virus and Firewall

This one is usually fairly obvious to most small business owners and IT managers, but still absolutely essential. Windows 8 and newer comes with a built in anti-virus. If you are using Windows 7 or older on your employees computers, free options such as AvastAVG Free, and Microsoft Security Essentials are all good options. All modern operating systems have firewalls that can be enabled.

 

Conclusion

Proper security practices when dealing with the internet connected side of your computer require certain best practices. Always use an anti-virus and firewall. On top of that, use a password manager and use unique names and passwords across your different online accounts. For maximum protection use encryption with a VPN. All of these tools are relatively low maintenance, but together, provide strong security and protection against snoopers and back door access. 

 

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