JUL 23, 2024

What You Need to Know About Computer Security

Keeping your computer safe doesn’t have to be hard – but it pays to know what to look out for, and how to stay safe online on any device.

The classic image of someone up to no good on a computer is of a bespectacled type sitting in front of a glowing screen tapping away furiously at a very noisy keyboard. Blame Hollywood for that one, because it’s actually quite hard to make an interesting visual representation of what really goes on in the world of computer security that will grip audiences.

The problem with that representation is that it presents an image of individual hackers largely going after individual, typically high-profile targets. The reality is that while big businesses do need to take computer security seriously, there’s just as much of an issue for everyday consumers when it comes to computer security.

Make sure your devices are safe with a Digital Security Check

Whether you’re a household or business, a security breach could cost you time, money, or worse. A Digital Security Check for your tech helps protect you against scammers, viruses and offers simple and affordable digital privacy solutions tailored for your needs.

The online age has made it far more convenient for all of us to work, shop and play online, but with it it’s brought the problem of attacks that don’t fit that Hollywood pattern. An individual cybercriminal isn’t interested in you to speak of; you’re probably just one of a billion or few targets that they’re after to hook just a few. To give some numbers to that, just for online scams in 2023, Scamwatch reports that Australians lost at least $50 million just relating to attempts to gain access to personal information, including hacking, phishing attempts and identity theft. The headlines around major leaks from the likes of Optus and Medibank have reverberated for months putting many of us at risk.

Nobody wants to fall victim to that kind of criminal activity. So how do you do that?

Don’t assume you’re automatically safe

One of the easiest traps to fall into when considering computer security is to think that you’re either a small target (see above), or that what you’re doing online is intrinsically “safe”. You might not be visiting sites that some may consider “dodgy” in some way (and that’s broadly a smart approach), but the issue is that with cyber criminals setting up fake versions of existing sites and then encouraging users to click to them with fraudulent links, you might be innocently using sites you’ve used hundreds of times before without realising that you’re actually on a fake site – or even worse, a legit one that has itself been compromised due to a hack.

The key message here is that it’s smart to be cautious and alert when online, especially if you’re dealing with private information or financial information. Online criminal types probably aren’t all that interested in your gardening tips you put up on Facebook, but if they can get access to your Facebook account and fool family members into sending them money… well, that’s an entirely different story, and not one that ends well for you.

Do keep your devices up to date

Whether you’ve got a PC, a tablet or a smartphone, you’ll periodically be reminded about the need to run software updates. Those reminders can come at inopportune times, and it can be all too tempting to put them off or just ignore them because it’s not convenient at the time.

While you don’t always need to upgrade just for new features or operating system gimmicks you might not care about, most updates also include a slew of bugfixes and security upgrades that tackle new and emerging problems to stop them happening to your systems.

Continuing to use an unpatched, non-upgraded system if there’s a known exploitable flaw is highly risky behaviour. Here you’re not going to be specifically targeted, but instead could fall victim to online criminals simply probing around to see if there are systems that they can gain access to due to software bugs or unforeseen attack vectors. This is why it’s vital to stay on top of operating system and application upgrades and updates over time.

Don’t give away your personal data!

Have you ever seen one of those “fun” quizzes online that match up your name and birthdate to some pop culture phenomenon, so you can find out your Star Wars Robot name, or create a silly sentence based on your first pet’s name or similar? They’re all over social media, and they may seem like innocent fun… but broadly speaking, the fun’s not worth it.

Why? Simply because if you respond to those kinds of quizzes, it’s trivially easy to walk back through your response and work out what your birthdate is. Do a few of these quizzes, or post a few photos with the location data intact that shows where you live (or offer that up for free on a social media site) and just about anyone who can access those sites (which is everyone) is at least two thirds of the way to getting enough information to convince your bank that they’re you.

There are of course data leaks that lie beyond your individual scope to control; if a big business or government department is compromised then that’s not your fault. But if you spray your personal information all over the web in the name of fun, that is very much on you.

Do use (reputable) security software!

The days of anti-virus software packages simply scanning your PC for dodgy software are very much in the past; while malware and viruses are still part of the security landscape, it’s been a long while since they worked on a destructive basis. Modern malware is far more interested in either sniffing out your data for identity theft, taking control of your PC to use in other attacks or locking down your system for ransomware purposes.

This is why modern security software does a whole lot more than just virus detection, and why it’s a sensible investment to keep your PC safe online. The key factor here is to ensure that you’re getting a reputable package that’s been independently tested by services such as AV-Test for protection and performance factors. Sadly, there are more than a few “fake” AV products out there that sell themselves cheaply (or sometimes free) that do the exact opposite of what they’re meant to do, invading your PC rather than securing it down.

The other critical factor here is to ensure that your security software is kept up to date, just like your PC’s operating system and apps. Computer security is a constantly evolving feast, and a security package that isn’t kept updated is one that could lead you into a very false sense of security. This does typically involve a level of annual subscription – but that’s a lot better and cheaper than losing all your data or having your privacy invaded!

Make sure your devices are safe with a Digital Security Check

Whether you’re a household or business, a security breach could cost you time, money, or worse. A Digital Security Check for your tech helps protect you against scammers, viruses and offers simple and affordable digital privacy solutions tailored for your needs.

Photo of Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.