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5 Things Your Children (and You!) Should Know About Computer Security

by Andrew Maisel

1. Everyone is at risk
Computer security concerns used to be centered on young hackers just messing around, trying to see if they could break in. See the classic 1983 Matthew Broderick movie, WarGames. Those days are long gone. We now live in the age of professional cyber thieves, working for themselves, or gangs, or companies, or national governments or terrorist groups. Why would they target you or your computer? Lots of reasons: identity theft, access to your online bank accounts or credit cards, use of your computer to penetrate your employer's network, planting a spambot on your computer, or even adding your computer to a private network of zombie computers that can be used to attack the largest computers on the Net. All of these activities are now big businesses, and everyone is at risk.

Think you're not at risk? The SANS Technology Institute tracks the amount of time it takes an unprotected computer attached to the Internet to become infected. In 2012, the average time was under 6 minutes!

2. Think before you click.
Don't visit sites that sound or look sketchy. Don't blindly click on links in emails even from friends -- their computer might have been taken over by a spambot. Don't open unexpected attachments in emails, especially from people you don't know. Be wary of emails requesting you to confirm your password or social security number or bank account information.

3. Passwords are important
But they don't work very well against determined opponents.

Passwords are great at protecting documents from casual observers. But there are lots of tools available that make amazingly short work of cracking passwords. You can slow them down, however, by choosing a longer password, and one that includes numbers and special characters, like !@#$%^&*(-)+?{_}[]. Having trouble remembering your password? Use a passphrase instead of a password.

Don't use the same password on every website or every application. If a site gets hacked and their password file stolen, you don't want to have all your online sites at risk. This is especially important for financial sites, like online bank accounts.

Avoid using common or obvious passwords. According to a study done by SplashData, based on an analysis of millions of stolen passwords posted online by bad guys in 2012, the 25 most commonly used passwords were:

  1. password
  2. 123456
  3. 12345678
  4. abc123
  5. qwerty
  6. monkey
  7. letmein
  8. dragon
  9. 111111
  10. baseball
  11. iloveyou
  12. trustno1
  13. 1234567
  14. sunshine
  15. master
  16. 123123
  17. welcome
  18. shadow
  19. ashley
  20. football
  21. jesus
  22. michael
  23. ninja
  24. mustang
  25. password1
Don't use these!

4. Privacy. Web posts and emails last forever
Yes, forever. Even longer than that bubblegum you swallowed in second grade. Anything you post on an Internet site will last forever. Maybe not where you can see it, but once posted, copies exist on viewers' computers, their backup files, their ISP's backup files, the website's backup files, printed copies, etc.

Same thing holds true for emails. Emails are like postcards, not sealed envelopes. And unlike old telephone connections, which literally connected the parties through a piece of copper wire, email is broken into bits and blasted along multiple paths through multiple servers not all owned by your ISP. Emails can be stored and read everywhere along that path, and copies made.

5. Parent stuff
Of course there are some things that you as the provider of the computer and network should do:

  • Firewalls. Make sure your computer's firewall software is turned on.
  • Antivirus software. Make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date.
  • Software updates. Vulnerabilities are regularly found in operating systems, browsers, and applications. Set these to do automatic updates, where possible.

Bottom-line:
If nothing more, teach your children to think before they click. This applies to opening emails, clicking on links, and sending emails.



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