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Cybercriminals have a free run on cyberspace and they are on the lookout to steal data from vulnerable systems. A study by First Data: APAC Cyber Crisis Insights estimates the average financial losses due to security incidents at more than US $1.6 million per company.

Protecting information saved in computers is still possible, but requires a determined and concentrated approach to security. Here are the essential steps towards protecting your computers from cybercriminals out to steal your information.

Take Firewalls Seriously

A firewall is now a basic security layer found in most systems to protect against unauthorised traffic. Your firewall needs to be configured and enabled in order for it to help protect your computer against malicious software. Many of us sometimes disable our firewall to gain access to some legitimate files or website, which may otherwise be blocked by the wall, and then forget to turn it back on. This mistake can make the system vulnerable to a host of cyber attacks. By simply taking note to switch your firewall back on once you have downloaded your files, you’re already one defense up against malicious software.

Download Updates Regularly

Most operating systems and software require users to download updates on a regular basis. The fresh update may contain patches or fixes for vulnerabilities found in the legacy version. These vulnerabilities are also what cybercriminals are looking to exploit to gain entry to your computer. It’s best to scan for updates every few weeks or if notifications for updates pop up, don’t ignore them and update immediately or when you aren’t using your computer.

Download Responsibly

Many times, malware enters through the links or files users themselves download, circumventing all filters, firewalls, and antivirus suites in place. The golden rule is to never download an attachment unless it is really required, and only if you as the user has specifically requested for it. Even downloading from a trusted source poses risks, for it is possible for malware to infiltrate the source computer and send email or messages without the source user’s knowledge. Protect your computer by having antivirus software to scan all downloaded documents for malware and to quarantine all suspicious documents before they are fully downloaded or opened.

Go Beyond Antivirus Software

In spite of firewalls and other cyber security precautions, malicious attackers can still gain entry to the system, even legitimately, through user downloads. Though an antivirus suite prevents such malicious software from embedding itself to the computer and siphoning off data, users need to look beyond simple antivirus software.

An anti-spyware suite is just as important as an antivirus suite in thwarting spyware that installs itself surreptitiously to steal sensitive data, such as passwords, financial information, and more.

It is also important to monitor the traffic coming from your system. Hidden malware could be siphoning off data from the system, or using the system as a “bot” in a botnet attack, and this could continue for months. About 95% of all businesses in APAC unknowingly host compromised PCs within their corporate networks, and with an anti-spyware suite you can reduce these risks.

Turn Off the System

Even a simple thing such as turning off the system when not in use can improve security and protect data. An “always on” computer is more susceptible due to the availability of round-the-clock high-speed broadband internet. If a system is not there to be hit, it won’t be hit even by the best malware.

Use Complex and Secure Passwords

Many attackers breach networks by opening the password of an authorised user by brute force. Using strong alpha-numeric passwords or pass phrases greatly reduces the chances of such attacks succeeding. Changing the password regularly also pre-empts attackers who may have stolen the password through key-loggers, or even by dumpster diving. Apart from setting complex passwords, make sure you enable passwords to access the system in the first place.

Along with strong passwords, encryption is also an effective deterrent. Encrypting sensitive data ensures the attackers cannot make use of the data, even if they happen to steal it.

There is no one size fits all approach to data protection, however as a rule of thumb, the more the number of layers of security in place, the better the protection. Effective data protection requires a customised approach, depending on the nature of the data and the type of computing systems in use.