Total Defense

Security & Safety Resource Center

Learn about today's current internet threats and how to stay safe and secure.

Security Tip of the Day

Daily tips to create awareness of cyber threats and empower Total Defense users to be safer and more secure online.

November 2022

Don’t write down your login information on Post-It Notes

This might seem obvious, but you may be surprised at how many people stick their login credentials to their monitors at work. This can potentially give access to anyone if you so much as step away from your workstation for a few minutes. If the bad actor doesn’t sit down at your desk directly, they might set it up so they have remote access to your workstation later.


Be careful of the permissions you give to apps

Be wary of app permissions that don’t seem appropriate. If an app wants access to the information in your email accounts, for example, it may be trying to steal personal data. It can be tricky to know for sure if an app permission request is legitimate or not, so err on the side of caution if you’re not sure.


Try switching off automatic content recognition on smart TVs

Lots of the latest smart TVs include automatic content recognition (ACR), which studies everything you view on the device – whether it’s streamed over the internet, cable, or via broadcast television – and uploads this information to a server for use in a recommendation engine. To guard your privacy, turn off this setting; its name varies by model, so simply search for ACR (TV brand) for instructions to deactivate it.


Be careful of malicious apps on smartphones

Apple and Google try to keep their app stores clean of malware, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Don’t download any apps that seem suspicious, and check the user reviews to make sure everyone’s experience with the app has been safe. Getting rid of bad apps on your smartphone can be exceedingly difficult once they’re in, as they’ll take root in your phone quickly, potentially causing your data to be stolen or damaged.


Don’t trust free versions of antivirus software to keep you safe

Free trials are great ways to learn about an antivirus suite’s features before purchasing it. However, you shouldn’t count on a trial version to keep you safe – it’s meant to be a purchase aide, not a comprehensive defense against malware. Be sure you upgrade to a full version to stay safeguarded.


Put passwords on your flash drives and encrypt them

Due to their small size and potential to fall out of your pocket, flash drives are common objects of theft. Encryption and a password can help to keep the data within the drive safe.

It’s long been thought that the more complicated a password, the harder it is for hackers. This once maybe once was true — but not any longer. As decryption and other hacker techniques become more advanced, it’s also becoming easier to guess shorter passwords. By adding additional characters, you’re adding millions of additional possibilities for hackers to have to sort through. So add an extra phrase to the end of your passwords.


Be suspicious of emails with urgent subject lines

There’s a common practice of sending direct mail disguised as courts summons or other official documentation, to make a reply more likely. Many phishing emails can take basically the same approach, only in digital form. That is, they might use all-caps subject lines (e.g., “URGENT:”) to make it seem like action is required. It isn’t. Institutions like banks or government agencies often use conventional mail for some communications, or structure their emails carefully to avoid scare tactics, often with a level of personalization that’s missing from mass phishing emails. If in doubt, do not engage.


Don’t use debit cards to make online purchases

There’s always a chance someone’s trying to catch the financial information you send out. While it’s bad if they get your credit card number, it’s potentially even worse if they have your debit card information. If money is withdrawn from your debit account by a bad actor, there’s probably no getting it back, so avoid using debit cards online altogether.


Think about using a VPN for more online protection

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are helpful security tools that encrypt your internet connection, hiding it from prying eyes. This strong protection is beneficial if you ever need to use public Wi-Fi. Think of your connection as a car and the VPN as a secure parking garage. Continuing the metaphor, the latter protects you from having to park on a busy street where the vehicle could be dinged or even stolen.


Back up your data to multiple devices or services to prevent loss

Hard drives can fail without many, if any, warning signs. To prevent losing important data, frequently back up your data to a cloud service and/or another storage drive. Backing up your data is important, but only if it’s being backed up correctly. If the backups fail, you won’t be able to retrieve your documents. Test that your backups are working every so often by retrieving and opening a file. This way, if you get attacked by malware or ransomware, you will know that your files are stored safely.


Bookmark your main sites to keep dependable links on file

Phishers often drive would-be victims to domains they misleadingly claim are legitimate sites, such as a bank’s web app or an identity verification landing page, requiring you act quickly. You can preempt this line of attack by keeping all your most important sites saved as bookmarks in your web browsers. These bookmarks can provide a safe fallback in the unlikely situation that you really do need to do something for your bank or to verify an address.


Turn off your webcam and microphone when not in use

Cybercriminals can potentially access the feeds from your webcam and microphone without your permission. Turn both of these off when you’re not using them, or even better, disconnect them entirely.

Also, if you work from home and need to join conference video calls for work, think about keeping your private home protected by using background blur or wallpaper features. An iteration of these are included in most video call programs and apps, but if you come across one that doesn’t have an option to obscure your surroundings, position yourself strategically to have as blank a background as possible. Face your camera away from walls with family photos or a view of the interior of your home.


Use a paid security software suite for added online security

Antivirus software is not enough by itself, Windows’ built-in antivirus is just competent, paid security suites offer much more than antivirus protection. They can also:

  • Detect bad links
  • Scan for malicious emails
  • Have their own firewall
  • Scan for vulnerabilities
  • Ensure your privacy during financial transactions
  • Protect you from spam

These are just some of the common features in advanced internet security suites.


Prevent Cyberbullying – limit your personal information

Restricting the number of people who have access to contact information or details about interests, habits, or employment lessens exposure to bullies that you or your child do not know. This may limit the risk of becoming a target and may make it easier to identify the bully if you or your children are harassed.

We can also begin to take steps to improve our own behavior and experiences online by:

  • Reporting and flagging mean behavior online and not engaging with (“liking”) this type of content online.
  • Limiting how much we share online.
  • Knowing when we are becoming too interwoven with social media and taking a break and time to enjoy face-to-face relationships that can reignite our empathy for others online.

Although antivirus software cannot prevent cyberbullying, Total Defense offers parental controls that can help your family protect against online bullying. Check out our Security blog or contact us to speak with our support team.


Use PayPal to protect yourself from bad transactions

It’s a good idea to use PayPal for online transactions to prevent the seller from seeing your financial information. Another reason to use PayPal is that their team will help protect you if the transaction goes bad. If you receive the wrong item, a defective item, or there’s a billing issue and the other party won’t cooperate with you, PayPal has an internal team that can help you resolve disputes with sellers.


Never give a password via email

No company will ever, under any circumstances, ask you for your password via email. Any email asking you to provide your password is a phishing scam. If you ever need to enter your password, always type the URL of the company’s site directly into the hyperlink bar to be sure the site is genuine.

Also disregard emails or messages that create a sense of urgency and command you to respond to a crisis, such as a problem with your taxes or bank account. These Imposter Scams happen when you receive an email apparently from a government official, family member, or friend urgently requesting that you wire them money to pay taxes or fees, or to help someone you care about. Cybercriminals use legitimate-looking emails that encourage people to send them money or personal information.


Check your web browser software is up to date

Install software updates so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. Many browsers like Firefox, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should permit it.

Your web browser is your principal connection to the Internet, and multiple applications may rely on your browser, or parts within your browser, to function. Web applications try to improve your browsing, but this might be needless and may leave you vulnerable to being attacked. The best approach is to adopt the highest level of security and only enable features when needed. If you decide that a site is trustworthy, you can choose to enable the feature temporarily and then disable it once you are done visiting the site.


Use a PIN to protect your Windows account

While you can opt for the convenience of having no security checks before logging into Windows, this leaves you vulnerable to anyone else walking up to the machine and looking at your data. This can be especially problematic if you live with other people who don’t need to see what’s on your computer. Adding a PIN to your Windows account is a simple way to add a layer of security without being too much of an inconvenience. Right-click the Start menu and navigate to Settings > Accounts > Sign-In Options to configure a PIN.


Use a password manager for added security and convenience

The best practice when making accounts online is to have different passwords that change frequently for separate accounts. How can you be expected to remember them all? You aren’t if you use a password manager. These apps let you use one master password to access all of your login information in one place. This lets you make strong passwords for individual accounts that you aren’t expected to remember. Just make sure your master password is extra secure.


Use gift cards to protect your credit card information

While you can pay for things directly using a credit card or other payment method, these transactions require inputting financial information, whereas gift cards only require single-use codes. As an added bonus, digital gift cards for things like the PlayStation Store or Nintendo eShop commonly go on sale at online retailers for less than their actual value.


Delete old social media accounts you’re don’t use

Social media is a blessing and a curse. It assists you in stay on touch with others but can also leak a lot of data and increase your vulnerability to breaches. Accordingly, remove any old accounts you don’t need to reduce risk.

Also try not to post information on social networks that might make you vulnerable, such as your address or information about your schedule or routine. If your social connections post information about you, make sure the combined information is not more than you would be comfortable with strangers knowing. Also be considerate when posting information, including photos, about your own social contacts.


Monitor your router’s data to see if others are using it

If you live in an area with a dense population, you’ll want to be sure there aren’t any bad actors sapping the speed of your Wi-Fi. Virtually all routers can tell you what connections are being used at any given time. Check your router’s configuration page to make sure that only approved users are using your Wi-Fi. If you see a suspicious connection and can’t verify it, you might want to change your Wi-Fi’s security settings.


Clean up your PC once in a while

Over time, your PC will make a whole lot of junk files that can take up quite a bit of space. Every now and then you’ll want to clean out your storage drive to not only free that space up, but also get rid of certain types of files, such as trackers, that you may not want on your PC for privacy or security reasons. Windows has a limited cleanup feature built in that you can use; Total Defense PC Tune-up has advanced features for optimizing your PC. You should stay clear of free apps you can download off the web, you never know if what you’re downloading is reputable and not a malicious app itself.


Safeguard your wireless network Service Set Identifier (SSID)

To stop outsiders from simply accessing your network, avoid broadcasting your SSID. All Wi-Fi routers allow users to shield their device’s SSID, which makes it more difficult for attackers to locate a network. At the very least, alter your SSID to something unique. Leaving it as the manufacturer’s default could allow a possible attacker to identify the type of router and possibly exploit any known vulnerabilities.


Mute someone on Twitter if you don’t want to see their posts, but you do want them to see yours

Many people are probably familiar with the Block function on Twitter and other social media services, which will prevent another user from seeing or commenting on anything you post. But what if you just don’t want to see the other person’s posts and don’t mind them seeing or commenting on yours? This is what the Mute function is for, which will hide everything the other user posts, including comments, though they’ll still be able to see anything you write. You’ll find it right next to the Block feature.


Change user account control settings in Windows

Ostensibly, user account control (UAC) is a feature automatically enabled in Windows that is designed to protect your system from any unwanted changes by notifying you every time an application or service wants to alter your system. In theory, this might sound helpful, but in practice, it’s not very useful due to the sheer number of notifications you’ll get while making legitimate changes. You’ll quickly become desensitized to the notifications and automatically click to proceed, defeating the purpose of the checks. You can disable or change the frequency of UAC notifications by using the Windows search feature and typing in “user account control.” Change the slider to fit your preference of when you want it to notify you so you only get an alert when it really matters.


Turn your Wi-Fi into a wired connection by using a powerline adapter

Wi-Fi connections are inherently unstable and vulnerable to bad actors. Wired connections avoid these issues. Powerline adapters, which are extremely simple to set up, turn a long-range Wi-Fi connection into a wired one by using your home’s electrical network. This makes it much more stable and less vulnerable but with the same if not better range and strength. You don’t need to broadcast your network’s name or even use a Wi-Fi signal at all if you’re using these.


Use an uninterruptible power supply to prevent data loss during an outage

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is like a surge protector with a battery backup. If you experience a power interruption, devices connected to the UPS will stay powered on as long as the battery lasts. This gives you a chance to save your work and shut your devices down properly to prevent data loss. They are invaluable if you ever work from home, as they can prevent you from losing potentially large amounts of work because of a power interruption.