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Australian Signals Directorate's tip's for home users

NZ Security, February 2016


With Safer Internet Day (9th February) just gone, it’s as good a time as any to review one’s personal IT security practices. And as good a guide as any is the Australian Signals Directorate’s Top Security Tips for the Home User. Importantly, all of the ASD’s tips are also just as valid for the SME user.


Update your software

New versions of software are released to address security problems that have been found. Updating your software ensures you take full advantage of all the security upgrades. If you do not update the software you can put your computer at risk.

The takeaway from this is to update your software, or set your computer to apply updates automatically in the background so you do not have to remember to check.

According to the ASD, surveys have found that at least 40% of people do not update their software. Apparently, most people think it takes too long or they don’t understand why it’s important. Don’t be one of those people!


Use anti-virus software

Only use anti-virus software from a reputable company and keep it up-to-date. Anti-virus software doesn’t have to be expensive, and many companies have anti-virus software that is free to download.


Think about your online presence

Check your privacy settings on sites like Facebook to make sure you know who can see your information, and check your privacy settings regularly to ensure they haven’t changed in the background. Think twice before posting any personal details online.

Google yourself once in a while as a way of checking the information that others put on the internet about you. While small pieces of information might not seem important, these can be put together to form a more complete picture about you.

At the lower end, your details may be used against you to spam you. At the higher end, your details may be used to steal your identity for illicit purposes.


Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls or emails

Do not follow instructions from a caller offering to resolve your computer’s ‘technical problems’, unless he/she can prove they are from your internet service provider.

Check emails before opening them or clicking on any attachments or links. If you’ve received an email that seems strange in any way, consider deleting it. It may contain a bug you’d prefer not to catch.


Back up your data

Save all your files onto a different device such as a USB, external hard drive, cloud-based service or DVD. You never know when you might be the victim of an attack or a technical failure that causes your files to vanish. Regular back-ups ensure that you keep any potential losses to a minimum.

If saving your files to a portable storage device, don’t make them too portable! Keep them secure under lock and key.


Use legitimate software

Always use legitimate software that has been purchased from a vendor or downloaded from the vendor’s website. Otherwise, the software won’t be supported by the vendor, and you won’t receive regular security updates. The software itself may even contain a virus!


Set strong passwords and use different passwords for different accounts

Yes, it’s a no-brainer, but many of us still don’t seem to get it. Passwords should contain a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, and they should be changed regularly.

If you use the same password for all your accounts and one account is compromised, then consider the rest of your accounts compromised as well. And whatever you do, don’t store an unencrypted list of your passwords on your computer. If someone gains unauthorised access to your computer the list can be found no matter how carefully you’ve hidden it.


Do not lose your device

With most of us carrying around phones and tablets that can fit in our pockets, wallets or purses, or can be placed almost unconsciously on a coffee table or desk, the chances of losing one’s device is higher than most of us care to think.

One of the biggest risks to your information is from a lost or stolen device. When out and about, always keep your devices at arms reach or on your person, and don’t leave them alone – even for a minute.

Although you may think that the above tips are just a little too elementary, keep in mind that one small slip can cost you more than what you bargained for – financially and reputationally.

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