Ex­pert Q&A:

Keep your on­line data stay safe

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

Q What’s ran­somware and should I be wor­ried about it? Ran­somware is a type of mal­ware de­vel­oped with the in­ten­tion of hold­ing users’ data to ran­som (rather than sim­ply tak­ing it, as mal­ware is de­signed to do). You prob­a­bly saw some­thing on the news about the ‘Wan­naCry’ cy­ber­at­tack, which hit hun­dreds of thou­sands of com­put­ers world­wide in May. It was the re­sult of hack­ers ex­ploit­ing a vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the net­works – and in hu­man na­ture – to ex­tort money. It locked down in­fected machines and ran a mes­sage on the screen ask­ing for pay­ment if you ever wanted to see your doc­u­ments again. It was an ugly op­er­a­tion, and sadly it’s not a one-off – it’s be­com­ing more of a trend, as crim­i­nals re­alise it’s easy money. The rea­son it hit the NHS so hard was that many of the com­put­ers run­ning Win­dows hadn’t been up­dated, or were even us­ing older ver­sions of Win­dows for which up­dates were no longer avail­able. Microsoft’s ‘patch’ for this par­tic­u­lar vul­ner­a­bil­ity, which al­lowed the ran­somware to spread was avail­able, but many users and busi­nesses hadn’t ap­plied it. So keep your soft­ware up­dated – and back up your data, too, us­ing cloud stor­age like Drop­box or to an ex­ter­nal hard drive (or both). Stay alert to dodgy-look­ing emails – if you’re in any doubt, ig­nore it. Don’t click iffy links or open at­tach­ments you’re not sure about. If you do fall afoul of ran­somware, re­port it to the po­lice. It’s hor­ri­ble, but be­ing aware makes it a lit­tle less scary. Q How can I pro­tect my com­puter against viruses? Mal­ware and com­puter viruses are un­for­tu­nately part and par­cel of liv­ing in a con­nected world – one of the down­sides of hav­ing the whole of hu­man knowl­edge at our fin­ger­tips. The best thing you can do to guard against viruses is sim­ple – keep your soft­ware (Win­dows or Mac OS) up­dated by run­ning ev­ery up­date when you’re prompted. Make it eas­ier by set­ting au­to­matic down­loads for up­dates of your soft­ware as well as for what­ever browser you use (cur­rently, Google’s Chrome is prob­a­bly the safest, al­though they’re all safer than they used to be). You can also in­stall anti-virus soft­ware, but go for a big name like Sophos and don’t be tempted by free­bies. We all have to get used to the fact mal­ware at­tacks are be­com­ing more com­mon – you may have a brush with them but it won’t be the end of the world. Your com­puter’s oper­at­ing sys­tem can be re­in­stalled, data can be re­stored from back-ups, and lessons can be learned. Q What’s the ideal pass­word? I was stunned to be told by an IT ex­pert friend that the ad­vice we’ve all taken to heart about how to cre­ate strong pass­words may be flawed. That’s ac­cord­ing to the man who gave us that ad­vice in the first place. Most sites tell you, when di­rect­ing you to think of a new pass­word, to use rAn­dOm cAp­i­tAls, ir­regul@r ch@rac­ters and num3ral5. Scat­ter those in and it’ll usu­ally tell you that’s a nice strong pass­word. But is it? The trou­ble is we tend to use these tech­niques in a very pre­dictable way to make them eas­ier for us to re­mem­ber, mak­ing our pass­words eas­ier to crack. So what’s bet­ter? Ap­par­ently, a nice string of ran­dom words like‘ lovely but­ton silly car rot’ is stronger – even if con­ven­tional wis­dom will mark it as ‘weak’. I’ve changed my Face­book pass­word ac­cord­ingly, but had to sprin­kle in a few numbers and cap­i­tals to pass muster. Watch this space for the next star­tling nugget of in­for­ma­tion that turns ev­ery­thing on its head! Q What’s two-step authen­ti­ca­tion and should I use it? Two-step or two-fac­tor authen­ti­ca­tion gives you ex­tra pro­tec­tion by send­ing a code to your phone when you’re ac­cess­ing a site like Face­book, or your on­line bank ac­count. It’s a bit of a faff, but re­ally all you have to do is look at your phone and type in a few dig­its, and it re­ally makes you feel more se­cure. If you lose your phone, you can al­ways get a back-up code. The handy site twofac­torauth.org has a com­pre­hen­sive list of com­pa­nies and ser­vices that use two-step no­ti­fi­ca­tion, and the ones you might like to nag to adopt it.

Our Ex­perts

run your up­dates when prompted for happy brows­ing

en­sure you stay alert to dodgy emails

Two-fac­tor authen­ti­ca­tion can make you feel safer

This Week

Sarah Bee is a so­cial me­dia pro­fes­sional who’ll respond to your world­wide we­bre­lated ques­tions.

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