5 Common Digital Threats and How to Avoid Them

By George Otte

 

The digital threat landscape is constantly evolving. No matter how you choose to utilize the Internet, it’s important that you understand and take basic measures to protect yourself against the most common security risks online.

Five threats deserve special attention: zero-day exploits, phishing and spearphishing, ransomware, spyware and greyware, denial of service attacks, and man-in-the-middle attacks. Let’s take a look at what each could mean for you — and how you can avoid or mitigate them in the future.

1. Zero-Day Exploits

A zero-day exploit is a vulnerability inherent to a software program. It is not the direct result of malicious activity; rather, it is usually an innocent flaw in program coding or compilation. However, until it is “patched” (fixed), attackers can use it to gain unauthorized access to the program and the networks it runs on.

The best defense against zero-day exploits is routine system updates. Whenever a new patch or version becomes available for a particular piece of software, install it without delay to eliminate the vulnerability.

2. Phishing and Spearphishing

Phishing and spearphishing attacks imitate trusted senders (usually email or social media users) in attempting to convince recipients to provide sensitive information (such as passwords or bank account numbers) to the attackers. 

Phishing attacks are often unsophisticated and easily identified as illegitimate. Spearphishing attacks are better-targeted, more elaborate, and often very convincing. 

 

“The best defense against these types of attacks is to avoid sharing sensitive information over email or social media, even if you trust the person or company requesting it.” — George Otte

 

3. Ransomware

Ransomware has been in the news a lot recently. Two recent high-profile attacks, against Colonial Pipeline and JBS, resulted in national or global business disruptions and only ended with the payment of multimillion-dollar ransoms.

Like any other type of malware, ransomware needs a way into the systems and networks it infects. Using anti-malware software and following network security best practices (including using strong passwords and two-factor authentication) can reduce the risk.

However, ransomware can still infect well-defended systems. The best way to minimize disruption if you are affected is to regularly back up your systems and data to the cloud and physical storage media not connected to your network.

4. Spyware and Greyware

Spyware is a type of malware that collects information from infected computers and networks (including potentially sensitive data) and relays it to the software’s owner or operator. Spyware often operates under the radar, collecting data for months or years without being detected.

As its name suggests, greyware occupies a gray area between malware and legitimate software. However, because it can perform unauthorized activities (including information collection and sharing) and may hinder system performance, it should not be tolerated.

The best defenses against spyware and greyware are a robust, regularly updated anti-malware program and routine deletion of unnecessary or unrecognized programs from your system.

5. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks are also known as eavesdropping attacks. They often begin when the victim connects to an unsecure public WiFi network without first encrypting their traffic through a VPN. Without the victim’s knowledge, the attacker can “eavesdrop” on their traffic over the network, possibly collecting sensitive information like passwords and financial account records in the process.

The best protection against man-in-the-middle attacks is a secure WiFi network run on a system with robust anti-malware protection. 

Have you encountered any of these digital threats recently? What are you doing to keep your devices and networks safe?

 

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

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.