Read this and earn a million dollars! No real effort required!

Just kidding.  We haven’t been hacked or anything, I just wanted to get your attention and make a point at the same time.  Friends and family, I have been meaning to do this for a while and just haven’t gotten around to it.  I have wanted to sit everyone down, so to speak, and have a little chat regarding safe behaviors on the Internet.   Some of you may need this more than others, to be frank.

And this is a long post, yes.  But if you are one of the people who ask me for computer advice, especially IT security advice, do me (and yourself) a favor and READ ALL OF THIS because the odds are good I will be sending you here to read this the next time you have a problem.

Here are a few good guidelines/rules to follow to keep your computers (and yourselves) safe.

1) Be smart.  Think of your computer and/or smart phone as a doorway into your life, because they are.  Be careful what you put out there on Twitter or Facebook or whatever.   People can be stalked that way by people they know, or even by total strangers.  Burglars have been known to case people online, to see when they are leaving their house, where they are going, and most importantly, when they are coming back.

2) Get good  security software.  Use it.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Get a good program (a suite of programs like Norton Internet Security is even better), keep it updated, and make sure it checks your computer for viruses and other malware on a regular basis.  Weekly checks at a minimum, daily are even better.  There are all sorts of good programs out there that require minimal technical knowledge.  They do require you to learn enough to use the software properly, but believe me, that isn’t much.  I even have security software for my Android phone and I use it religiously.  And if you say something like “I have a Mac and they don’t get viruses” I am going to seriously smack the stoopit right out of your head.  News flash: Macs get viruses too, and they get hacked and otherwise compromised too.  So do smart phones.  So get something, use it, and don’t let your subscription expire because every day it is out of date is becomes more and more useless.  It’s like letting the bars on a window rust.  Eventually it is not going to keep anyone out.

3) Patch your operating system.  Yes, it is annoying to have to go to Microsoft’s site to download security patches all the time, but if you are going to use Microsoft operating systems it is a price of business.  Get them.  Install them. If  your computer is on all or most of the time and connected to the Internet all of the time, set it for automatic updates.  I have automatic updates and I still check manually from time to time.  Why?  Because it is safer to never take anything for granted.  It’s like the IT version of checking your oil in your car.

4) Never assume that nothing bad will ever happen to you.  I love you all, you are my friends and family,  but I will not hesitate to say to anyone I know that they are a damn fool if they think that they don’t have to worry about stuff ever.  I once knew someone who never used security software, never patched their Windows OS, and left their computer on all the time.  One day they discovered someone in another state made $5,000 worth of charges to their credit card.  Ooops.  You don’t want to be that person.   You have no idea how sophisticated hackers have become.  They have programs that can scan hundreds or thousands of IP addresses and find the weaknesses automatically.

5) Take passwords seriously.  Yeah, yeah, it sure is hard to come up with a good one.  My response to that?  Waaaaah.  Choosing an easy password is like buying a sophisticated lock for your front door, and then hanging the key on a string in plain sight.  It renders your security worthless.  Again, hackers have programs that can run thousands of password combinations in minutes.   Just numbers?  Useless.  Simple words?  Useless.  If your password can be found in a dictionary it can be cracked in shockingly little time.  Like five minutes or less.  So come up with good ones.

6) Be smart about your e-mail.  Besides the obvious stuff, like not opening attachments on e-mails from people you don’t know, this is actually a little more involved than most people realize.  Sometimes even people you know unwittingly send you viruses or Trojans without even realizing it.  Those seemingly harmless e-mails that Bob at work forwards to you all the time with cute funny pictures?  Guess what?  Sometimes those have viruses in them.  Or much, much worse.  And when you forward them on to everyone you know, you also may have just given the hacker or the virus access to the e-mail addresses of everyone – EVERYONE – that has gotten that e-mail so far.  Think I am kidding?  The next time you get one of those, take a look at it, a really good look.  Scroll down and look at who sent it to you, and see who sent it to them, and who sent it before that.  A well-written malware program now has access to ALL of those e-mails, every single one.  Sure, you didn’t  mean any harm, you just wanted to send cute pictures of kittens to your friends or whatever, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  You have just committed the IT equivalent of picking up a hitchhiker – and then bringing them to your kid’s birthday party.  You sure you want to do that?

7) Never, ever, ever assume.  If you don’t know something, find out.   Don’t ever depend on security advice from random people who may or may not know what the hell they are talking about.  That goes doubly for those God-awful e-mails that get forwarded that say things like “OMG THIS RANDOM FILE ON YOUR COMPUTER IS SCARY SO DELETE THIS FILE NOW IT IS DANGEROUS!!!11!!!”  People have managed to seriously screw up their computer by following this kind of advice.    They usually involve deleting some critical file in your operating system that you don’t know what it does, but some creepy little hacker somewhere is chuckling about how many gullible people he got to sabotage themselves with his stupid chain e-mail.

8) Never assume you are too old/dumb/whatever to learn computer stuff.  It isn’t true and you are making excuses.  As far as I am concerned you are being lazy.  That’s like saying you can never try a new food, or go to a new place or read a new book or watch a new movie or TV show.  Your brain is perfectly capable of processing new information and you are perfectly capable of learning new things.  If you use that excuse, I will ask you if you want me to treat you like you are as dumb as you are pretending to be, because if I do that I guarantee you won’t like it.  So bite the bullet and make an effort, or become Amish.  Your choice.

This has been a public service announcement.

-Geoff

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