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6 ways to keep hackers off of your network and computer

Cybercrimes are on the rise, and the hackers and scammers behind these attacks are chomping at the bit for a shot at your system. New research from Check Point Security shows another 30% rise in cyberattacks over the past few weeks; your computer is more vulnerable now than ever.

Whether hackers are tricking you into clicking phishing links or directly attacking you through a malicious exploit, there’s no shortage of ways to break into your computer. Tap or click here to see the phishing red flags to watch out for.

Instead of fretting over how you’ll be attacked by cybercriminals, follow these six steps to make sure your system is protected.

1. Check your router to see if it’s been compromised

One trick used by hackers to break into routers is “DNS hijacking,” which involves switching the servers your router normally connects with to malicious ones. This forwards your internet traffic to fake versions of websites that steal your data or spy on your activities.

To see if the DNS settings on your router are normal, tap or click here to use a free DNS scanning tool. WhoIsMyDNS.com identifies the DNS server and IP address that performed the scan and checks them against its database to see if the server has been reported for any suspicious activity.

Once the results load, check to see if the DNS server correlates with your Internet Service Provider. If it doesn’t, your router may have been hijacked.

2. Keep everything up to date

Security threats are constantly evolving, which is why you need to keep your browser updated. Updates help protect you from the latest spreading viruses and attacks. Tap or click here to find out if you need to update your browser.

Even more important, update your operating system regularly. Windows releases frequent (though sometimes buggy) updates, and missing one can mean serious consequences for your security. The same goes for Macs.

How to update Windows

Most Windows PCs download and install updates automatically by default. If you haven’t changed your automatic update settings since powering up your computer for the first time, you might not need to change a thing.

If you’ve turned automatic updates off, you can update manually.

  • Open Settings, followed by Update & Security.
  • Click Check for updates.
  • If there is an update available click Download & install.
  • Note: Make sure you’ve backed up your data before continuing.

How to update your Mac:

Apple’s macOS receives all its updates through the Mac App Store. Here’s how to find and download the most recent version of macOS.

  • Open the App Store app.
  • Click Updates in the toolbar.
  • Tap the Update button next to the macOS update to download and install.
  • Your Mac will restart when it is finished updating.

You can also access the App Store Update tab by clicking the “Software Update…” button under “About This Mac.” Find this by clicking the Apple button from the menu bar at the top of your screen.

3. Test your firewall

Most computers have a firewall active right off the bat, which prevents others from seeing your system online. Even if cybercriminals know where your computer is located, a firewall prevents them from getting inside and doing any damage.

First, make sure your firewall is on.

For Windows:

  • Open Settings > Update & Security.
  • Choose Windows Security from the left-hand menu.
  • Choose Firewall & Network Protection to open the firewall menu.
  • Your system will tell you whether your firewall is on or not. If it’s off, you can toggle it on or reset the settings to default by clicking on Restore firewalls to default.

For Mac:

  • Open System Preferences on your Mac, then click Security and Privacy.
  • Click the Lock Icon to make changes and enter your admin username and password.
  • Then click Turn on Firewall.

Then tap or click here to test that your firewall is actually working. These port scans will make sure you’re keeping bad actors out of your system.

4. Remove extra browser add-ons and host files in Windows

Most browser extensions are safe-to-use tools that enhance your internet experience, but some are malicious. Regularly comb through your list of extensions and remove any you don’t recognize or don’t use anymore.

In Chrome: Visit the Chrome Web Store menu to list of all your currently installed extensions. Remove them by clicking Remove from Chrome. Click the Library tab and delete the extension from there as well.

In Firefox: Click on the three-line menu button and click Add-ons, followed by Extensions. Scroll through the list of extensions and click the three-dot icon next to the extensions you want to remove. Select Remove to delete them from your browser.

In Safari: Choose Safari > Preferences, then click Extensions. To turn off an extension, deselect its checkbox. To uninstall an extension, select the extension and click the Uninstall button.

Windows users should check the Hosts file to see if any unusual configurations have been made by attackers. This file can override your DNS and redirect URLs to different locations, like malicious websites.

Type the Window Key + R on your keyboard and paste C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts into it.

In the pop-up menu that appears, select Notepad to open the file. Scroll through and note any unusual or garbled looking text. Copy the data contained here into another text document as a backup, and delete the unusual entries. Click File, then Save to make the changes.

5. Check if anyone else is using your Wi-Fi

Network intruders can slow down your speeds and interfere with your data. Your connection is private, so it’s worth knowing who else might be logged in and using it.

To see all the devices connected to your network, open your router’s settings menu. This can be accessed by typing your IP address into the address bar of your web browser. You can usually find this address on the sticker attached to the bottom of your router, but most use the default address of 192.168.1.1.

Then log in with your username and password. This is either the default username and password for your router, or a unique login you created when you set up the router for the first time. If you’re unsure what your login is, you can call your ISP for assistance.

When you’re logged into your router settings, look for an option that looks like “Attached Devices, “Connected Devices” or “Client List.” This will show you all the gadgets using your web connection, so scroll through the list carefully and note anything that you don’t recognize. Usually, you can kick them off from this menu as well.

6. Hide your Wi-Fi network from public view

By default, your router broadcasts its network name (SSID) for you and your guests to find easily. But this also means anyone looking for your network can attempt to join. To make your network truly private, stop it from broadcasting its connection. That way, only people who know your router’s exact name can attempt to join.

To do this, log into your router’s settings and locate the menu for wireless settings. Look for the broadcasting option for your SSID, which is most often enabled by default. Toggle that option off.

Make sure you write down your SSID before disabling the broadcast. Otherwise, you might find yourself locked out of your own network.

It doesn’t take too long to secure your system from outside threats. With a little work, you can stay on top of emerging dangers and keep your data safe. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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