How to Close Your Security Holes

It’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month! One of the key themes this year is working together to improve our overall security. To that end, I’d like to focus on how you can close some common security holes in your life. Security types call this “reducing your attack surface”. One of the best ways to protect yourself is by reducing the places where you’re vulnerable.

Unseen Security Holes

As we go about our daily lives, using our computers and smartphones, we accumulate a lot of cruft. This could be apps, plugins, or accounts that we once thought were cool but no longer use. And yet, they’re still hanging around: out of sight and out of mind. While it might be nice to think that what you don’t see or use can’t cause problems, it’s not true. So it’s time to have a look around and get rid of these things before they come back to bite you.

Close (or Suspend) Unused Accounts

If you have some old accounts that you’re no longer using, you should think seriously about closing them or maybe just suspending them. Why not delete? Because once you give up ownership of that account’s user name, after some time it might get recycled and given to someone else. At that point, they may be able to impersonate you for nefarious purposes or just cause a lot of confusion. For email accounts in particular, you might want to download and archive your old emails first, and then delete them from the server. (You’ll need to search the web for instructions on this depending on which email service and which email application you use.)

If you’re finally ready to ditch Facebook, that’s an account you can just outright delete. See instructions here. If you have a Google+ account, you may as well delete that, too – Google will be discontinuing that service soon.

Remove Adobe Flash and Reader

These two products from Adobe are just riddled with security flaws. Adobe releases several “critical” fixes for these products every month. Flash should have died years ago and Adobe will be pulling it off life support in a couple years, but you should remove it now. Note that if you use the Chrome browser, Flash is built-in (so Google can keep it up to date for you). Chrome should block all Flash content by default and you should avoid any temptation to click “allow” or play the content when you see it.

Adobe Reader is a very popular PDF viewer and editing program, but it is also rife with security holes. On a Mac, you don’t need it – just use the Preview app that comes with every Mac. If it’s installed on your Mac, delete it. On a PC, you should explicitly uninstall Reader and instead try the free version of Nitro PDF.

Spring Cleaning

We’ve all downloaded several smartphone apps when they go on sale, often for free, just to try them out… and then never use them again. On our computers, we probably have several old applications that we used to need for one thing or another, but now no longer need. Any application you download, particularly ones that get old and out of date, are potential chinks in your cybersecurity armor. This includes browser plugins and toolbars. These applications may still be running in the background whether you know it or not. They may even be scanning for personal information and sharing it with others.

So take the time to review the following things, on your computers and your smartphones, and delete anything you no longer use. In most cases, you can re-download them for free later if you change you mind.

  1. Computer applications and extensions
    1. Help deleting Mac apps
    2. Help deleting Windows apps
  2. Smartphone apps
    1. Help deleting iOS apps
    2. Help deleting Android apps
  3. Browser plugins and toolbars
    1. Help deleting addons in Chrome
    2. Help deleting addons in Firefox
    3. Help deleting addons in Microsoft Edge
    4. Help deleting addons in Safari

Now Go Help Others Do This, Too

One of the themes of NCAM this year is to spread the word and help others, too. You might forward this to friends and family or maybe just go help them do it. (Hey… I’ve heard about this great book you could give them, too… lots of great stuff in there!)

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