How to Defend Your Devices From Hackers as a Consumer

Some quick tips on how to take your PC and smartphone off the “easy prey” category.

Image by iStock

Computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. They’re everywhere. And although smartphones have become the de facto standard for which so many people access the internet, the PC and laptop market is still a juggernaut. Businesses depend on workstations while homes require laptops and desktops for productivity, homework, and entertainment. So there’s a never-ending supply of PCs and mobile devices online at any given moment.

That is a good thing for both consumers and for manufacturers. It’s also a good thing for hackers who target those devices in order to gain access to information such as bank account details, Social Security numbers, and contacts. It’s no secret that hackers are constantly finding new and improved ways to steal data. And they succeed with regularity.

But what can you, the consumer, do? Let’s take a look at some of the possible ways you can protect yourselves from what many deem as the inevitable.

Demand more from companies

To that end, you should demand more from the companies you regularly use. Unfortunately, some of those companies don’t have the necessary in-house talent to keep their data safe. Because of that, they might need to hire an offshore development company to evaluate the security of their software and systems of delivery.

As a consumer, you have the power to demand those companies do everything possible to ensure your data is safe.

Demand more from yourself

  • Use weak passwords.
  • Connect to insecure networks.
  • Click links without first checking them.
  • Open email attachments without care.
  • Install software from suspicious sources.
  • Neglect software and operating system updates.
  • Give away information to unvetted sources.

Let’s break these down.

Use weak passwords

Why? Because these can be easily guessed. The last thing you want is to have any of your passwords be easily guessable. In fact, you should be using passwords that you can’t memorize. Why? Because that means those passwords are harder to crack.

For example, a password of password can be instantly cracked. However, password#123 is more challenging. Change that to p@$$w0rd#123 and the length of time it would take to crack is exponentially higher.

Every password you use should be challenging, so much so that you should depend on a password manager (such as Bitwarden) to keep them safe.

Connect to insecure networks

If you must connect to an insecure network, make sure you do so while using a VPN. When you employ a VPN your traffic gets encrypted and re-routed, so the chances of your data being stolen are much lower.

Click links without first checking them

  • Hover your cursor over the link to see if your email client will reveal the link.
  • Copy the link and paste it into a notepad or other document.

If the link isn’t actually from Paypal, you just saved yourself from a possible hack, by not clicking it.

Open email attachments without care

If this is the first time you’ve ever received an email from the sender (or you simply don’t recognize the sender’s name or email address), chances are pretty good the attachment is malicious. Either way, your best bet is to simply not open it. In fact, as a rule of thumb, you should always be suspicious of email attachments — even from contacts you know.

Treat every email attachment as if it were a potential danger to your security.

Install software from suspicious sources

  • If a piece of software was downloaded from a large, trusted company’s official site, chances are pretty good it’s safe.
  • If a piece of software was installed by an operating system’s built-in app store, chances are pretty good it’s safe.
  • If a piece of software came packaged with a hardware device, chances are pretty good it’s safe.

The opposite is also true:

  • If a piece of software was downloaded from a small, unknown company (or website), chances are good you should be suspicious.
  • If a piece of software was installed from anyone but the operating system’s built-in app store, you should be suspicious.
  • If a hardware requires software that is either not included in the packaging or must be installed from a third-party site, you should be suspicious.

These are only guidelines, not hard and fast rules. In the end, exercise great caution when installing software.

Neglect software and operating system updates

You don’t want that.

So every time you see an update, install it. Don’t let your platform and tools get behind, otherwise, you risk exposure.

Give away information to unvetted sources

If someone calls, saying they are a representative of Company X and they need information from you that is confidential, your first reaction should be: “I’ll need to speak with my supervisor and get back with you.” You then call the company the person said to have been representing and ask to speak with that person. If you are informed there is no person with that name, pat yourself on the back for avoiding potential disaster.

Whenever anyone asks you to give away sensitive information (your username, your password, your bank account number, your Social Security number), don’t do it. Period. Unless you placed the call and know, for certain, you are speaking to someone with the proper authority, do not give out that information.