Alex Grebeshkov

System administration. Cloud solutions. Information security. Business & entrepreneurship

10 Essential Information Security Tips for Everyone

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This article covers the basics of what is called a personal information security. Some aspects, which will be discussed further, probably will seem to you a very basic, even primitive, but believe me, that none of them can be underestimated if you really value your personal information and you want to save those remnants of privacy on the Internet, that we have to you still have. I live in an Eastern European country where hacking is much more developed and spread, so I face these threats very often and see their consequences on a regular basis.

Download short PDF version here.

I strongly recommend going through all the points in this article to re-examine your behavior and habits to use your gadgets, because it will help you eliminate the weak spots in your personal information security and will allow you to protect against possible unpleasant situations in the future.

Let’s get started.

1. Never ever leave your laptop, or smartphone, or tablet unattended in public spaces.
What can happen if you just leave it for a minute or two, right? Whether you’re in the office, library, dining hall, or locker room, pack up your laptop and take it with you! Yes, even in the office. It this is your personal office and you are 100% sure no one can get inside, but there’s really sensitive information on your laptop – still take it with you! If you think it’s too much, at least, use a laptop lock to physically fix the laptop to your desk and password-lock it.

2. Choose strong unique passwords.
Passwords you use should be both strong and unique. Don’t use one password for several accounts or laptops. I found that remembering long mixes of letters and numbers with special symbols takes just a little practice. Very soon you will be able to memorize them just as easy as your friend’s mobile phone number. But if you are not into memorizing stuff, just use this trick: abbreviate a phrase, exchange numbers and special characters for letters. For example, you may use 2 or 4 lines of your favorite poetry or song and turn it into your password. This way, you won’t have any trouble recalling it later. And yes, use different passwords for each site or online account. I know it’s a pain, but it really pays. If your password gets compromised, you lose access to one account, and not to all of them at once.
To make it easier to memorize your unique passwords, you may want to use one of the security-proven password managers. I can recommend Dashlane. But, please, don’t use password managers build it your browser. They always suck. I mean always.
And if there are passwords that are to a life and death importance to you, don’t trust them to a computer at all. Either remember them, or write them down on paper without any clues to what service this password refers (and, obviously, don’t write word “password” near the password). And store this paper in a really secure place.

3. Use 2-step authentication when possible.
2-step authentication is a good way of keeping intruders away from your accounts. Even if your password gets compromised, the potential intruder will need to have direct access to either your smartphone or another device you use for a 2-step authentication process. And even if he/she has the access, they still will need to know your lock screen pin code, because you use one, don’t you

4. Always update your software.
Set up your computer for automatic software and operating system updates. An unpatched machine is more likely to have software vulnerabilities that can be exploited. The same goes to your smartphone.

5. Use encrypted VPN connections as often as possible.
Especially on public networks & free WiFi hotspots. But it is a good idea to have a VPN set up on your computers and mobile devices and being connected all the time. Just make sure that a VPN provider you choose is trustworthy and log free.

6. Turn off your laptop or at least disconnect it from the Internet when you don’t use it.
Don’t leave your gadgets accessible from the Internet, unless you absolutely need them to be. This closes the potential leakage sources, especially concerning the data from your web camera and microphone.

7. Set privacy for social networking sites.
Just go and do it. There are tons of how-to articles on this topic. Yes, it will take time and it’s boring, but it’s absolutely necessary to do.

8. Don’t make your personal email address and mobile phone number public!
It will not only protect you from scammer attacks but will keep you safe from being hacked by means of social engineering. Believe me, knowing not more than your phone number, hackers can do you lots of harm and even highjack your email and bank accounts. Living in Ukraine I know how these schemes work. Believe me, your phone number is more that enough to make you into great trouble. Just don’t make it public.

9. Try not to use public computers.
You must be careful when using free wireless networks at airports, coffee shops, and hotels. And using a public computer should not be an option at all. At least you should refrain from doing any sensitive online activities or using any account information.

10. Don’t use illegal (cracked, repacked, nulled) software.
Remember, there’s always free cheese in a mousetrap! Eastern Europe is one of the centers of piracy and, believe me, today there’s not a piece of cracked software without some kind of backdoor, virus or a malicious adware in it. Don’t give up your security in change for a free Photoshop copy. Buy it! Most software is available as a service today, so you can pay a small fee every month and sleep soundly.

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