Take These 7 Security Steps When Using Your Computer Outside the Home

By George Otte

Laptop computers appreciate the mobility and flexibility they offer. As a result, most use their machines outside the home at times. 

They might bring them to the office or even use them as their primary work devices. They might take them to a coffee shop or library for a change of pace while working. They might travel with them, using them in airports, hotels, and other unfamiliar settings.

Laptops’ portability is a source of great convenience. Unfortunately, it’s also an unseen source of risk for their owners. It’s important to take some essential steps to protect your machine and your personal information when using your laptop outside of the home. These seven are easy for all to take and require no special skills or training.

1. Never Reuse Passwords and Use a Password Manager to Keep Your Credentials in Order

It sounds inconvenient to use unique passwords for every account you own — a number that is surely in the dozens, if not hundreds. However, this is the easiest way to protect your data from theft. 

 

“When you use the same password for multiple accounts, the compromise of any of those accounts is effectively the compromise of all of those accounts.” — George Otte

 

By contrast, when you use a different password every time, you contain the risk. If you are concerned about remembering dozens or hundreds of passwords, use a secure password manager to organize and retrieve them.

2. Use Antivirus Software and Make Sure It’s Activated at All Times

Use a well-reviewed antivirus software suite and make sure it’s activated at all times, especially when browsing the Internet on networks outside the home. You are much more likely to encounter malware on networks you don’t control, as we’ll see.

3. Make Sure Your Firewall Is Operational

If you have a Windows laptop, make sure its firewall is operational. This should be the case if you haven’t altered the firewall since purchasing and setting up the device. Your firewall is a crucial line of defense against malware and data theft, so it’s important not to tamper with it.

4. Download and Install Software Updates As Soon As They Become Available

It’s especially important to keep your computer’s operating system and Internet browser up to date. You should receive periodic reminders to update these critical pieces of infrastructure, and newer Windows computers should prompt you to update at shutdown or restart, making it difficult to put this off for too long. Some software may require you to manually search for updates or download the latest version every so often.

5. Use a Virtual Private Network When Browsing the Internet Outside Your Home

As long as your router has not been compromised, you can be reasonably certain that your home network is secure. This is not the case with networks you don’t control, and especially not public WiFi networks in places like restaurants, airport terminals, or hotel lobbies. When connecting to such networks, always use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt the data your machine sends. 

6. Don’t Connect to Unsecured Public WiFi Networks

Public WiFi networks present special security risks for laptop users. Avoid connecting to them, even with a VPN. Wait until you have access to a secure network, such in a private hotel room or apartment.

7. Don’t Allow Your Laptop to Connect to Other Machines on a Network You Don’t Control

When browsing the Internet outside the home, don’t allow your laptop to be discoverable by or connect to other machines on the same network. Doing so could increase your risk of data theft and expose your machine to malware or spyware. The only exception to this rule concerns secure work networks in your primary place of business (for example, your employer’s home office).

 

George Otte is a Miami-based entrepreneur and executive with more than 15 years of multifaceted business operations experience.

8 Tips to Improve Performance in Older Windows Computer (PC) Hardware

By George Otte

 

Your PC takes ages to start up in the morning. Seemingly simple processes stretch for what feels like hours. Browsing media-rich websites feels like running a marathon.

You can no longer deny it: your computer is getting older. Is it time to accept the inevitable and invest in a new device?

Perhaps not. Many people do not realize just how much they can do to prolong the useful life of an older laptop or desktop computer and improve its performance while it remains functional. 

If you would prefer not to buy a brand-new PC just yet, why not try these eight proven tips to improve computer performance? Most cost little or nothing and require only minor changes to your routine, if any.

1. Power Down Your Computer When Not in Use

This might be the easiest tip of all. Rather than let your computer run all night, even in sleep mode, power the device down completely whenever it’s not in use. This is especially important for work devices, which we ask to perform for hours on end almost every day.

2. Set Fewer Programs to Run at Startup

Your computer might take so long to power up every morning because of how many programs it’s starting up in the process. To find out if this is the case for your PC, open the Task Manager (from the Start menu or using the Ctrl + Shift + Esc shortcut) and count how many programs are set to run from startup. For each program that runs from startup, you’ll see how much computing power it’s using too. Right-click to change each program’s settings.

3. Uninstall Unnecessary Programs (Including Preinstalled Software That Came With the Device)

Every PC has its fair share of “bloatware,” the unnecessary programs that users rarely open and that don’t improve system performance in any real way.

On the contrary. Bloatware can adversely affect your device’s speed and cause run errors. 

 

“Get rid of software you don’t currently use and don’t ever plan to by uninstalling it from the device and making sure no copies remain on the hard drive.” — George Otte

 

Don’t spare preinstalled software either. Despite what you may have heard, uninstalling “default” programs won’t damage your operating system. 

4. Run the Disk Cleanup Process

Manually uninstalling unnecessary programs is a good start, but it won’t remove every file that’s slowing down your device. For that, you need to run the Disk Cleanup process. Simply type “Disk Cleanup” into the Start menu bar to get started. Do this at least three times per year, and more frequently if you download lots of files to your hard drive.

5. Offload Extra Files to an External Hard Drive and Delete Them From Your Device

Another way to improve system performance is to “outsource” files and programs that don’t absolutely need to live on your hard drive. Use a high-capacity external hard drive to store these files, keeping the physical drive in a safe place (ideally, a locked file cabinet), and delete the originals from your hard drive.

6. Routinely Scan Your Device for Malware

Install a trusted anti-malware program on your computer and run a full malware scan every month. Do this overnight so that it doesn’t impact system performance while it’s running; a full scan can take several hours. Note any performance-diminishing spyware or viruses that the scan identifies and removes.

7. Try a Different Web Browser

If your device’s Web browsing performance is of particular concern, try switching to a different browser. Sometimes, this is all that’s needed to improve load speed and enable faster, richer surfing. 

8. Upgrade to a Solid State Drive (But Consider the Cost First)

Short of purchasing a brand-new device, this is the most drastic step you can take to improve your computing experience. It’s also the most expensive. However, the difference will be crystal clear. If nothing else works to your satisfaction, this is your best option.

Do you have an older laptop or desktop computer that is showing its age? Have any of these tips helped improve its performance?

 

George Otte is a Miami-based entrepreneur and executive with more than 15 years of multifaceted business operations experience.

Working from Home During Covid? Here’s How to Protect Your Online Data

By George Otte

As more people shift to working from home because of the pandemic, cybersecurity has increasingly become a significant concern for companies and individuals.

According to estimates, cybercrime costs global businesses at least $1.5 billion per annum, with the figure expected to rise in 2020 as people work remotely. Indeed, in the first half of 2019 alone, data breaches had exposed more than 4.1 billion records.

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself while working remotely. According to experts, users are typically the weakest link in cybersecurity, but knowing that puts you in a better position to protect yourself.

Here are simple, practical steps you can take right now to safeguard your data working remotely.

Protect your computer

Your home-work computer is the first line of defense against major cyber threats. While some companies provide work computers or laptops, most new remote workers transitioned their private computers into work computers.

That’s fine, but you need to take cybersecurity seriously. You don’t want to end up accidentally posting sensitive company data on social media.

So, how do you protect your computer?

  1. Invest in a robust antivirus suite

First, install a strong antivirus suite. A good antivirus effectively protects you from most of the major cyber threats, including:

  • Malware, viruses, and spyware
  • Zero-day attacks that exploit new vulnerabilities before they are patched
  • Phishing scams
  • Trojans and worms

Additionally, since antivirus software runs in the background and updates automatically, you can expect protection from most new and emerging threats.

     2. Keep your computer up to date

Set your computer to automatically receive and apply all security updates, especially Windows updates that patch critical vulnerabilities.

Lock it down

Whenever you step away from your computer, lock it down. While working from home seems safer with family around, issues still exist. For instance, your kids could accidentally delete critical files.

On Windows computers, press the Windows+L buttons. With modern Macs, Command+Control+Q works, or you can just close the lid. Always use a password to lock your computer down (more on that below).

     3. Create stronger passwords

Like most people, you probably use several passwords every day. It’s tempting to default to a single password for everything, but that only increases your risks.

 

“Instead, consider using a password manager to store your passwords safely. Some password managers even let you create strong random passwords that further strengthens your cyber-defenses.” — George Otte

 

Great passwords have the following characteristics according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

  • At least eight or more characters – the more, the better.
  • A mixture of lowercase, uppercase letters, and numbers
  • At least one special character, e.g., %@!?}[. However, avoid < and > as they cause problems on some browsers.

Secure your home wireless network

Home wireless networks are a soft target for hackers because most users don’t set a password or use weak passwords.

Here are some easy steps you can take right now to beef up security on your Wi-Fi at home and protect your data:

  • Rename your SSID (the name of your network) to something cryptic and unpredictable. Do not use your name or other details that can identify you.
  • Create and use a strong password (refer above) and ensure you change the router’s default settings.
  • Use network encryption such as WEP, WPA, and WPA2. Users on newer hardware produced later than 2016 can use the strongest encryption, WPA2.
  • Always upgrade your router’s firmware to the latest version, including installing the most recent security updates.
  • Only allow specific MAC addresses to connect to your Wi-Fi at home. Every device connecting to your network has a unique code. If you know your trusted devices’ codes, you can lock out all other devices, further securing your network.

Minimize video conferencing security risks

Videoconferencing has gained popularity as people work, study, and socialize online. However, increased use of video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, has attracted cyber criminals out to cause chaos. You can protect your video conferencing sessions by:

  • Opting for platforms that use end-to-end encryption like Webex, Microsoft teams, etc.
  • Ensure all meetings are private and require passwords or individually approve guests
  • Install the latest updates on your video conferencing client.

Secure data locally and in the cloud

Finally, take steps to protect your data by creating backups both locally and on cloud platforms. Keep backups of critical work documents, preferably encrypted to deter hackers.

Additionally, consider using a Virtual Private Network when connecting to or accessing your company’s network. A VPN encrypts your data and network traffic, making it inaccessible and unusable to cybercriminals.

 

George Otte is a Miami-based entrepreneur and executive with more than 15 years of multifaceted business operations experience.