“Computers contain a lot of information about their owners,” says Jatava Brown, an IgotITtoo Computer Lab Coordinator, who holds weekly free classes for residents of Spring Creek Towers (SCT) at the Starrett Information Technology and Education Center (SITEC). She teaches beginning and advanced computer skills and how to protect the access to personal and private computer data.
Brown notes that many know the importance of having firewall software installed to block hackers from entering one’s computer, and anti-virus software to protect data and hardware from viruses and malware transmitted through spam and spyware.
“Despite these programs being common knowledge, people are lax in ensuring they are installed with secure passwords,” added Brown as she described how hackers gain access, steal and use personal information. Not having firewall security on one’s computer or using weak passwords, she said, are the two easiest ways.
The holidays are definitely not the time to be lax with personal security especially while out shopping. Protecting mobile devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, from hackers is a new frontier for their users.
Holiday shoppers are using these devices to transfer money when making purchases, depositing checks using banking applications, and other applications that store personal information.
Brown warns Bluetooth users to not leave their device on when not in use. Hackers can use remote software to connect and gain access to Bluetooths when on. They can steal contact information, save personal application passwords, even make calls and send texts.
Hackers also use Snoopware, a program that runs in the background of a device and can monitor one’s location through GPS, phone calls, text messages, voicemail and email. Like a desktop, this type of spyware can be downloaded into a phone by opening up a link that is not secure.
To protect from mobile hacking, Brown advises users to engage the device’s locking capability so that only the password allows access. For Apple’s iPhone 5s, 6, and the iPad Air, it means creating a four digit numerical password and fingerprint scan. Android devices use both numerical and patterns for password protection.
Public Wi-Fi Networks
Trying to find the perfect gift or the best price can make holiday shopping stressful. While out shopping, one may not see a desired item in the store.
Those with mobile devices may decide to look for a free wireless network at a local café or public space and go there to connect and search for the item online.
Public wireless networks, also known as “hot spots”, may not be secure. The sites visited and passwords entered during the time connected to that WI-FI can be recorded by hackers.
Hackers can intercept the communication between the computer and network, and sometimes create fake networks to steal information from those who
connect to it. Brown suggests users go “incognito” when using hot spots so that no information is stolen during one’s browsing sessions. For laptops using Google Chrome, going incognito is as easy as clicking the three lined tab bar (enables customizing Chrome settings) and then selecting “new incognito” window. When using Internet Explorer, go to the settings on the top right corner (the image of a cog-wheel) and select InPrivate Browsing.
Tablets and smartphones also have this option, go into the internet settings and choose private web browsing.
Brown strongly urges tech users to always be on their guard – install firewall security and anti-virus software, turn off the Bluetooth when not in use, and go “incognito” when using public Wi-Fi.
The internet can be a stress-free place for shopping, connecting with family and even playing video games with friends. Make this holiday season as safe from hackers as possible, do not let the whirlwind of activities, shopping and other holiday happenings become a distraction.
By Amanda Moses
EDITED BY AGNES E. GREEN
Photo courtesy of William Hook via Flickr