security toolsWhen protecting yourself from cybersecurity threats, knowledge is probably your greatest resource. However, knowledge can only get you so far when hackers are constantly scheming sophisticated ways to break into your computer, mobile devices and online accounts. In addition to knowledge, you need the right security tools to help protect your data and systems from intrusion. As part of our Cybersecurity Awareness series, we’re going over four key security tools that are effective and easy to implement, each only requiring basic knowledge of how computers and mobile devices work to set up. If you’re ready to give your personal cybersecurity a serious upgrade, continue reading.

Password managers

The typical suggestions for creating strong passwords are to make them complex, unique and at least eight characters long. That’s good advice, but these days, many people have dozens of digital accounts, so it’s impractical to implement without a little assistance. Enter the password manager, a program that stores and encrypts your passwords, and lets you easily access them whenever you need to, usually by entering a single master password. Password managers can help you dramatically increase your password security, are one of the simplest security tools to use and can come with a variety of helpful features, such as automatically filling in login boxes and generating robust passwords for new accounts you create. Some Internet browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome, even come with password managing features built in, though if you’re serious about cybersecurity, then you should probably get a dedicated local or cloud-based password manager program. Local password managers store your passwords on your system, but if you have multiple devices, you’ll have to manually update all of them whenever you add a new password or change an old one. Cloud-based managers store your passwords on their servers and sync any changes to all of your devices, but they also often charge a monthly fee for service and can be vulnerable to data breaches. Examples of trusted password managers include KeePass, LastPass and Dashlane.

Malware protection

Malware, an abbreviation for malicious software, is a constant threat on the Internet, even for the tech-savvy among us. It can spread through email, fake versions of popular apps, your Internet browser and even false advertisements, and often it’s not obvious when your computer or mobile device has been infected. To ensure you’re safe, you should get some form of malware protection software, which is essentially the modern incarnation of antivirus. Good malware protection will regularly scan your system for malware and remove any that it finds, as well as monitor the files you download and sometimes even scan the websites you visit for suspicious code. You may have to set your malware protection to a scanning schedule after you install it, and if that’s the case, scanning once a week is usually all you’ll need. Note that malware scans can take up a lot of your system resources, and while running one, you may find that your computer or mobile device is quite sluggish, so you will probably want to schedule them during off-hours when your computer or device will be on, but you won’t be actively using it. You should also note that malware protection software is not the be-all and end-all of digital security, and will do nothing against some cybersecurity threats, such as phishing. Some examples of good malware protection software with free versions are Avast, AVG and Malwarebytes.

Two-factor authentication

Even if you have a strong, unique password under lock and key with a password manager, it’s not safe if the company that requires it suffers a data breach and leaks it to hackers. To further secure your online accounts, you should enable two-factor authentication on them whenever you can. Two-factor authentication, sometimes abbreviated as 2FA, adds an additional level of security to your accounts by requiring another key apart from your password to log in. That key could be a number that the service sends you via SMS text or email, or a code generated by an app that you’ve downloaded, or even a token stored on dedicated authentication hardware, like a USB stick that connects to your computer or mobile device. While it’s easy for you to supply the two-factor key, it’s fairly difficult for a hacker to get as it’s often generated by something people tend to keep close to them, such as a phone or keychain fob. While text message-based 2FA is the simplest to use, it also has some vulnerabilities, such as phone porting attacks, which let hackers intercept your texts and calls on another phone, but it’s definitely better than nothing. If you’re interested in app-based 2FA, some examples of services are Google Authenticator and Authy, and if you’re interested in authentication hardware, YubiKey seems to be the most popular solution.

Backup storage

While you may not consider it at first, you should absolutely include backup storage among your most important security tools. Having backups for your data can help mitigate the damage of ransomware, an increasingly common type of malware that locks your computer down and threatens to delete your files unless you pay the hacker responsible a ransom. It can also come in handy if your computer or mobile device gets infected with any kind of nasty malware that your protection program can’t get rid of, as it can make it much easier for you to completely wipe your computer’s memory and rebuild your system. How often you back up your data is up to you, but you should aim to update your backups at least once a month, and if you often work with important files, you may want to back up as often as once a week.

As with the other security tools we’ve covered, you have some options to choose from with different advantages and disadvantages. External hard drives, the classic data backup solution, have an up-front cost, take up physical space and require you to plug them into your device to manually perform the backup. However, they give you complete control over your data, have fast transfer speeds and once you buy an external hard drive, you own it outright, so there are no additional costs. Cloud storage services, which are companies like IDrive and Carbonite that use the Internet to back up your data to encrypted servers that they protect, have the opposite perks and problems. They typically charge you a monthly fee to store your data, your transfer speeds depend on how good your Internet service is, and your data is stored on their servers, which gives you less control over it. To make up for that, you can set them to perform backups automatically on a schedule, and you don’t have to worry about buying any hardware.

If you have specialized needs you can supplement your cybersecurity with additional security tools such as VPNs and DDoS protection, but these four solutions are good to get you started. To learn more about protecting yourself from digital threats, follow our technology blog, and stay tuned for more in our Cybersecurity Awareness series as we celebrate Cybersecurity Awareness Month.