Stop the hacker

Part one:

Published:  12 May, 2022

Starting his latest two-parter, Adam looks at how to mitigate the impact of hackers on your business

While computer viruses have been around since 1982 it’s surprising that the first attacked an Apple computer. Put together by a 15-year-old fuelled by interest, not malice, it spread by floppy disk and was designed to be a simple prank. Now viruses infect all types of computer-based device, and are aimed at machines running Windows for they are in the majority and offer more rewards for the criminally-minded. In recent years hackers have wrought havoc. From keyloggers (which secretly record keystrokes) to ransomware such as CryptoLocker (which encrypts data and demands a ransom to decrypt), firms are at risk.
    
In January 2019, Kwik Fit confirmed its network had been infected and its systems knocked offline for a few days. The company was forced to cancel bookings. According to internet service provider Beaming, in 2018 UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were affected by cybercrime to the tune of £17.4 billion.
    
So, while the larger corporates – should – have processes in place to protect systems, what can the independent do?

1. Install protection
Dealing with viruses and other threats is an unwelcome distraction that takes time. The first sign might be a computer running slowly or behaving peculiarly. While some viruses are irritating, others are a serious threat. No form of inoculation can ever be perfect but installing an anti-virus package from a reputable software vendor is an obvious but crucial step to take. Some products charge but free versions are available from the likes of Avast and Microsoft (it’s built into Windows 10).

2. Update and scan

The key to anti-virus software is to keep the application updated and to regularly scan computers for threats; over time viruses morph as designers seek to work around the protections that security software puts in place.
    
Regularly scanning a computer or network for downloaded or installed threats is an absolute must. It ought to be done on the fly, but daily is better than nothing; Once a week should be the worst case. Scans are intensive and can cause a system to slow down and so should be timed for an off-peak moment and when computers aren’t in sleep-mode.

3. Update the operating system
Windows, Mac or Linux need regular updating. These systems are hugely complex and run to millions of lines of code and are riddled with vulnerabilities that are found with great regularity. It’s the reason why developers issue software updates and fix security issues.

4. The network is at risk
Online devices are permanently under threat. The problem is exacerbated when devices, such as the modem, router, computer, printer or any other connected item, are left with both default names and passwords. Defaults help hackers understand what is connected and how to attack what they’ve found. It is therefore critical to change the device name and password as soon as it’s connected. Wi-Fi products should, once set up, not broadcast their existence. This means turning off what is called the SSID. Passwords should be strong; Select at the minimum WPA or WPA2 encryption. If visitors are to connect to the network, ensure that they’re finding a router with a guest-discrete network, which allows access to the web and nothing else.

5. Strong passwords
Passwords represent another huge risk. It’s essential that the same ones are never reused. It’s entirely understandable that we reuse passwords or variants of them in combination with the same email address or username. But those that do, and who are unfortunate enough to have been compromised, will find that other accounts are put at risk.
    
To create a strong password, avoid names, places, pets or dates of birth. Use a long mixture of upper case, lower case, numbers, and symbols. Search for an online password generator.
    
Lastly, change passwords frequently and especially when any member of staff leaves.

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