I.T. Security Expert's Tips to Keep Your Devices Safe

I had the chance to sit down and talk seriously with the head of I.T. Security at Sturdy Savings Bank in New Jersey about the best ways to secure our technology as the average college student. George A. Rapp has had years in the field of I.T. security and has been working with computers since before the Computer Science Major was even a thing. He gave me a lot of good advice for those of us who aren’t CS majors or don’t make computers and cyber security our hobby; there are a few relatively easy things you can do to keep your phones, laptops, desktops, game consoles and tablets safer.

  1. Patch and Update ASAP! These are, perhaps, the efficient things you could do. Developers of apps and operating systems tighten and repair holes in their security of your devices as they are noticed, and these come in the updates. Often these security fixes are even listed in the patch notes right beneath the big Update button. Some phones even let you update automatically and these can greatly reduce the risk of a successful cyber attack on your devices. Nothing is worse than losing over a hundred hours of gameplay on your PC/console just because you didn't update when you had the chance and you got infected. Trust me this sucks soooo bad.

  2. Antivirus software is your best friend and you should update her once a day if not more. I know, it sounds crazy, right? That was my first thought when he told me about it. I had no idea about daily updates much less hourly ones for an Antivirus program, but it’s the same as updates for your OS or app. “The companies that make the antivirus software update as they find new threats. If you don’t have the update you aren’t protected against the new threats.” At Sturdy Savings, they update their software at least three times a day. While this might be considered a hassle to many college students, what’s more worth it, checking your antivirus software with your email in the morning or having your personal information stolen and/or your computer infected with some nasty spyware?

  3. If you’re not using it, turn it off! This is by far the easiest thing you can do, even easier than clicking or tapping that update notification when it pops up. Most of us probably aren’t "l33t" hackers but you don’t have to know a whole lot about a system if the thing you're hacking has an unsecured Bluetooth or WiFi connection. It doesn't matter how good a black hat you are, you can’t hack a computer that’s not turned on. That’s why one of the first things I do in a situation where my device is behaving oddly is restart it with a full shutdown. This is probably an alien concept when it comes to our phone especially, but it’s still important to kill the power to our devices sometimes. Continuous running systems are easier systems to access, especially when the owner is asleep or away.

  4. Create a user account for the day to day stuff, don’t use your admin. This is especially important to people using PCs as Macs and Linux computers ask for your password almost any time you try to download something. If you get hacked on a PC while using an Admin account though, the hacker can put whatever they want on your computer with little resistance. I get this one can be annoying and a hassle if you’re not used to the “Please enter your password” pop-up, but three seconds typing out your Admin key on a user account is worth the security.

  5. Lastly, know where your software comes from. This is especially true for those of us who don’t like to pay for things. Y’know, we’re all poor college students and we can afford to buy the rights to Adobe creative suite or Indesign or Photoshop, or whatever software you pirate from the Internet, but the sad truth is “the most common source of infections is pirated software.” This also could include other sites where you download content. Just look up Napster. There can be all kinds of nasty stuff in the metadata of files; most of us don’t know how to check for that kind of thing on our own but that’s fine. Think about the site you’re downloading from. Does it have a reputation? Does it seem safe?

I’d like to finish up this little list with a few bonus suggestions my I.T. guy made for us college kiddos. There’s a antivirus combo he uses for Windows computers, both of which are free (Woohoo!). The first if Malwarebytes, it’s a really good system scanner and cleaner but it’s real time protection isn’t the best on the market. It’s totally free for home and student use. In tandem with another antivirus software called AVG Free it’s really effective. AVG Free covers those real-time gaps that Malwarebytes misses but is less thorough at scanning and cleaning. It also doesn't take hours and can be used with both PCs and Macs.