What does an IT executive do to protect his personal computer?

Published July 20, 2015

As the VP of Information Technology at Maps, I do a lot of research on data security. I stay on top of the latest threats to computer networks, and the most sophisticated methods to thwart the bad guys. Not surprisingly, I often get the question, “What do YOU do to protect your personal computer.”

I want to make it clear that I’m not endorsing any company or product here, but I’m happy to share with you some of the things I do at home to ensure I protect my computer systems.

  1. Maintain up-to-date antivirus software: PC Magazine has done a decent job at rating antivirus software. At home, I use a free product from Fortinet called Forticlient, but there are plenty of other options out there.
  2. Always set software to automatically update: My Microsoft Windows, Adobe Reader, and antivirus software are set up to retrieve updates automatically. By doing this, I get the updates that plug potential security holes, and I receive the latest countermeasures to new viruses and malicious software (malware).
  3. Use email with caution: So many viruses infect through opening an attachment or following a link sent by email. Using crafty headlines and familiar names, criminals can make an email almost irresistible. Resist! Verify any requests using a phone number or web address you already know, not the ones included in these emails.
  4. Set very strong passwords: Yes, even I have trouble keeping up with my passwords, but strong passwords are an absolute must. Of course, you should avoid using the same password for all sites. Cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs posted a fairly good article on creating a strong password you can remember. Also remember to protect your email with a strong password. A frequent target for the bad guys is your email provider login. If they can break into your email, they can request password resets from other entities you do business with, intercept the temporary password and gain access to those accounts.
  5. Back up important data: This has become even more important with the rise of Ransomware, a malicious software that locks you out of your computer files unless you pay ransom to a hacker. Aside from viruses, your data could be at risk from a simple hardware failure. Backing up is always a good idea. I have used several services to accomplish this task and each have their strengths and weaknesses. For my money, the best services are ones that you can “set and forget.” Basically, you select which folders you want to include in the off-site backup, select a frequency, and let the software do the work. CrashPlan, Backblaze, Mozy, Carbonite, and Acronis are examples of companies that offer this type of service. For between $45 to $100/year, you could get peace of mind — you won't have to worry about your hard drive failing on your computer as all of your important files will be protected.

No one is 100% immune from security threats, not even an IT executive. Just like criminals in the real world, cyber criminals are looking for the easy targets. Following a few simple steps will stack the odds in your favor and help you avoid becoming the easy target.