With over four billion internet users across the world, we’re more connected as a society than ever before. However, research indicates that cybercrime is also on the rise, with trillions of dollars lost every year. Below we’ll show you how to spot the tell-tale signs of an online scam and discuss a few simple things you can do to protect your Windows PC from hackers and malware.
Use Windows’ built-in security tools
Windows actually does a decent job of protecting you from online threats. There’s a built-in firewall, for instance, which stops unauthorized applications from accessing the internet, and Windows 10 automatically checks files for malware before opening them. That said, these tools can’t help you if they’re outdated or turned off.
To verify that you’re protected, click the Windows icon in the bottom-left, type “Virus” (without the quotation marks), and press the Enter key. This will open the Virus & threat protection screen where you can run a virus scan, check for updates, and enable real-time malware protection.
Secure your device with a strong password
We get it: entering your password every time you want to use the computer is a bit of a nuisance. However, this only takes a second and if you don’t have a password, anyone walking by can access all of your files.
Ideally, your password will be 8–12 characters long and include a mixture of numbers, punctuation, and mixed-case letters. For instance, “er4!&uVnoXLoD” is near-impossible to guess and would take thousands of years to crack, whereas “password” and “123456” can both be brute-forced in under two minutes.
We recommend telling Windows to lock itself automatically after a set amount of time. To do this, right-click the desktop, select Personalize and choose the Lock screen tab on the left-hand side. Now, scroll down and click on Screen saver settings. Finally, make sure there’s a check in the On resume, display log-on screen box and click the Apply button.
Browse safely with a VPN
Contrary to popular belief, your online activities aren’t private. If you’re on the internet at home, your Internet Service Provider can see what you get up to online, but employers frequently monitor traffic on workplace networks too. You might think that using a public wifi hotspot will keep you anonymous, but these are notoriously insecure, and as such are a prime target for hackers looking to steal your personal information.
The easiest way to browse anonymously is to connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These applications encrypt your traffic, meaning that anyone examining your internet traffic will only see meaningless data instead of the sites you’re visiting. Luckily, there are several excellent VPNs for Windows 10, and most allow you to start browsing securely with just one click.
Know how to spot online dangers
Scam emails and phishing
When it comes to online security, it pays to be skeptical. Attackers often try to trick you into making a snap decision so you don’t have time to consider the risks. For example, you might receive an email telling you that you’ve won a huge amount of money, but you have to send your bank details within a certain amount of time.
Perhaps the scam is even more advanced, and includes a link to a fake website that looks a lot like your bank’s. This is called phishing, and if you login, whoever sent the email will be able to see your online banking credentials.
Adware and malware
Attackers have numerous ways of getting you to click their links. They often offer you something unbelievable (“Click here for a free iPhone”) or disguise their ads as a download button (conveniently placed beside the real one on whichever site you’re using).
However, the easiest way for someone to infect your system is to have you install a virus willingly. Sometimes these pretend to be a relatively benign addon, like a browser toolbar, and come packaged with a legitimate program, so if you want one, you have to install both. Before you know it, though, your computer is running incredibly slowly and spamming you with popups.
Remember: you can install an ad-blocker extension like uBlock Origin to hide most of these malicious ads automatically. If you do end up with a virus that Windows’ tools can’t remove, though, we recommend using MalwareBytes, a free, highly-effective malware-scanner.
Digital security doesn’t have to be difficult. By taking a few minutes to ensure that your system is properly set up, and erring on the side of caution whenever you’re unsure of a link’s veracity, you can dramatically reduce the chance of your PC being compromised.