After almost five months, we have arrived at the last part of this series and what a long, strange trip it has been. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you found this series interesting and useful. There are literally thousands of other suggestions for staying safer online, but the best seem to stay just short of paranoia while implementing reasonable security methods. For example, it’s worth providing one final reminder that ALL emails are insecure and links in them should be considered unsafe. Use bookmarks; type the site name; Google the site name (but don’t click on the ad please); etc. Think before you click! Never open attachments from unknown sources or click on suspicious looking pop up messages. Even if you recognize the name of the sender, if the email seems to come from “out of left field,” check the email address of the sender to see if it is real. You can protect yourself from many attacks by staying aware.
As far as anti-virus programs go, if good, layered security practices are used, the basic software that comes with a recent computer can be sufficient, i.e. Windows 10 Defender + Firewall and MacOS Internal Security + Firewall. The Wikipedia article on Anti-Virus software points out in the section “Issues of Concern” that anti-virus solutions can be as bad as the viruses they are supposed to be protecting against.
Where can you get help that isn’t a scam in itself? Malwarebytes seems to be one of “the good guys” and their forums are a VERY active source of support. Piriform also seems to be legit with good software for removing malware called CCleaner. When a strange message pops up, doing a Google image search for “fake virus warnings” can also be helpful.
Again, the key is to not be too paranoid or too complacent. People who write articles about security make money when others click on their links, so it literally pays to scare people into clicking and reading. Keep in mind that most people are not important enough to get hacked and if they were, a dedicated hacker, like a professional burglar, would be able to do it. The risks are in opportunistic hacking, i.e., leaving the back door open. The hacker thinks, “If I infect 1,000 computers and one person pays, great, that was a success.”
Finally, if you’re reading this and still don’t have a backup system in place, just remember “To go forward, you must backup!!!” $60 is a small price to pay or maybe you want to retake that photo of you with your dog from 20 years ago. You could borrow the neighbor’s dog and regrow those sideburns…