Building Better Computer Habits

Building Better Computer Habits

Good habits are an important part of our lives - getting enough sleep and fresh air, spending time on a hobby or building a skill, or keeping in touch with friends and family - but many of us forget about having good computer habits. Developing wise practices around our computers and smartphones can make our lives easier and help us to stay safer.

Back Up Your Files

One of the most important habits we recommend is making sure your important data is  backed up and to keep those backups up-to-date.  A good place to start is the classic 3-2-1 backup - that is:

  • 3 copies of data - the original and two backups
  • 2 different storage mediums - a flash drive, external hard drive, or cloud storage
  • 1 copy off-site - usually the aforementioned cloud backup

There is a little wiggle room with this rule nowadays. Often, depending on what kind of work you do and what apps you work in, it's possible much of your data is already cloud-based. And if we're focusing on personal data, many people "live" on their phones which are often backed up automatically by iCloud or Google Drive. However, you may still want to keep a copy of your own on something like an external hard drive, rather than putting your complete faith in a cloud provider.

All it takes is one catastrophic event and days/weeks/months of work can be lost. And if it's something like priceless family photos or a PhD dissertation, it could be absolutely heartbreaking. Thankfully, there are many affordable options available just a quick web search away. Pick one, set it up, and check in regularly to make sure it's on top of things.

Keep Your Software Updated

Software updates can be a pain -  bombarding you with reminders or maybe you restarted your computer and surprise! Now you're stuck watching the bar - "28 minutes remaining". However, updates are vital to ensuring that your computer and software runs smoothly. One of the major reasons updates are released is to fix bugs and other issues that leave you vulnerable to cyber threats. Malicious actors are always working to find new vulnerabilities. If you keep putting off patches and fixes, then you are making yourself a prime target for a cyber attack.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to drop everything you're doing to run updates anymore. Most software will give you an option to schedule when the update should take place, so you can choose times when you aren’t busy on your computer. Pick a time where you won't be interrupted, like the early morning hours, and let it fly!

Be Smart When Using Public Wireless

Free wireless in places like airports and coffee shops can be tempting to use when you need an internet connection in a pinch, but they can also be dangerous. These public wireless networks are a common target and even someone with minimal skill can quickly intercept data like your social media credentials and more.

If you absolutely need to use public Wi-Fi, take some precautions...

  • make sure it's the one actually offered by the establishment you're visiting
  • disable options like network discovery, file sharing, and printer sharing
  • make sure your firewall is turned on

If possible, use your smartphones built-in hotspot. Then you're in control of the network - you can change the password regularly, you can see which devices are connected, and when you're done you can turn it back off so others can't continue trying to access it. 

Make Use of Strong Passwords and MFA

Do you leave the doors on your house open when you head to bed? Then why would you use a weak password for your important accounts? You can’t afford to make it easy for the wrong people to access your personal and financial information so don’t use easy to guess passwords!

Over the years, users have gotten into the habit of using simple tricks like character replacement - for instance using $ instead of S or 0 instead of O, like Pa$$w0rd - in order to satisfy complexity requirements that require a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. But what really increases password strength is length passwords as explained in one of our favorite security related webcomics. Stronger password, but easy for you to remember and hard for computers to guess.

We've also posted many times on the importance of multi-factor authentication - you can check out a post here. Long story short - if you are required to provide a secondary piece of info to login and that info is always kept with you (like in an app on your smartphone) someone who has stolen your credentials will not be able to provide the missing piece and your account remains secure. Enable it when possible on your email, social media, banking sites - anything and everything you can!

Be Careful with Email

Going back to our analogy of doors - if your doorbell rings in the middle of the night, would you fling the door open and invite whoever it was inside? No, you would want to make sure who it was first. However, when it comes to links and attachments on emails, users often provide easy access to malicious actors by not stopping to verify where the email actually came from.

If you get an email and something seems off, answer a few questions to help verify:

  • Do I know this person?
  • Was I expecting this message from them?
  • Am I the right person to receive this? IE. would a receptionist receive "payroll reports" or a salesperson be sent invoices instead of Accounts Payable
  • Are there any issues with grammar or spelling?
  • Is there a false sense of urgency?

In short, don’t open an email unless you have a good idea of who it is from and beware of clicking links or attachments even if they seem to be from friends. 

You work hard to protect yourself from physical dangers, it only makes sense to keep your digital self safe as well. Finding the opportunity to incorporate these points above is a great step towards developing excellent computer habits that will keep your files, data, and personal information safe.

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