IDG Contributor Network: 5 biggest cybersecurity questions answered

Some things never change. Computer security, however, is not one of them. New threats, patches and problems emerge each and every week.

Many of the key questions and knowledge gaps remain remarkably consistent, and the patterns become clear when you tap into a platform with tens of thousands of those questions.

That’s what Experts Exchange does. The sum of this computer security community is a reflection on the top computer security anxieties in the world right now.

So, join me as I reveal the most commonly asked security questions.

1. How can I surf the web anonymously?

To browse the internet without fear of targeted advertising or traceable questions posted online doesn’t seem like a big ask. As online tracking systems become more sophisticated and harder to shake, however, the likelihood of private, anonymous browsing is becoming a long-ago memory. Take into account the latest ISP changes, where the U.S. government allows providers to not only track, but sell your browsing history without your consent. 

These changes in regulation require users to be more vigilant about their own browsing patterns. You can guard your activity by logging out of search engines before browsing, clearing your cache and search history, and switching to a private browser to minimize the various ways your browsing history is catalogued.

2. Can hackers access my webcam?

This topic gained notoriety many years ago first when a high school student discovered he was being watched through the webcam on his school-provided laptop, and again when hackers were targeting the cameras of women who lived alone, disabling the light that notifies of access, and keeping tabs in order to commit some sort of crime.

People responded by putting dark tape or coverings over their computer’s webcam. But as more smart devices are created and purchased, the surface area for webcam hacking only expands. Think, for example, of all the places you take your smartphone, with its built-in camera almost always pointing in your direction.

+ Also on Network World: 10 practical privacy tips for the post-privacy internet +

The malware used to hack webcams, known as RAT (remote access Trojan), is often spread through spam email. Once clicked, the software is capable of disabling your light so you’re never made aware of anyone watching.

To protect yourself from “creepware,” it’s important to keep up with security and software updates. Failure to update programs and services could result in weak or vulnerable access points on your computer or smart device. Free webcam software to protect access and monitor hacking activity also exists. In extreme cases—and depending upon your device—it may be possible to disable your webcam.

3. How do I protect myself from identity theft?

When you’re a kid, adults tell you not to talk to strangers. That same level of caution and awareness needs to be practiced in your interactions the cyber world. Be wary of sites asking for personal information to complete a basic task, such as subscribing to a newsletter. When submitting personal information, such as your address or payment method, check for https versus http and never submit this information to a party you’re not familiar with or for a request you don’t remember making.

Protecting your identity, at its core, always comes back around to common sense behavior online. Understand risks, practice careful consuming, and taking precaution to diversify passwords and watch out for phishing schemes.

4. What is the best free antivirus software?

In the spirit of protecting our computers from viruses and malware, we often bite the bullet and buy antivirus software in the hopes that the price tag means the software will be better equipped to protect us from harm. This software and level of protection, however, exists for free. While personal preference, past experiences and research varies on what’s the absolute best, the point is there are options. Leading companies that offer comprehensive antivirus protection for no cost are ESET Endpoint Antivirus, Sophos and BitDefender, to name a few.

5. Is my Mac safe without antivirus software?

At Experts Exchange, we receive a significant number of questions involving the security of the average Mac computer. Inquiries range from how safe is iCloud and top Mac security scans to whether Macs need antivirus software like their PC counterparts. The answer to the latter is a resounding, undeniable “yes.” Though the Mac OS X boasts an operating system that claims it’s tough to breach, it still contains weak access points. Just like any tool that surfs the web or connects to wireless routers, security is needed to scan all those items you click. (Food for thought: Recent research suggests Macs are now more vulnerable than PCs.)

While Macs have often carried around the title of most-secure operating system, it doesn’t hurt to back up your devices with the latest antivirus security protection. Antivirus favorites for Mac include BitDefender and Sophos.

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