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The Virtual Solutions Center

Computer Security Risk Rises: Action Needed to Safeguard Personal & Business Data
By Marcia Elder
January 5, 2020

 

The U.S. killing of a top Iranian official this week poses new threats to America and other countries. As one part thereof, the need for Americans to better protect our data has increased -- electronic data that resides on computers, other electronic devices, servers and information networks.


 What would it mean to you if you were to suddenly lose all the information on your computer? Your computer at home and at work - including documents, photos, emails, videos and other information records and resources? Think about the sheer volume of electronic information concerning your family life, communications with friends and others, financial information, records for your work and career, and other aspects of your life. Most people don't imagine such a loss and are at greater risk as a result.

 Hacking of computers and computer networks has been on the rise. Viruses and other malware of wide variety are being used by cyber-villains to steal or destroy the information of individuals, businesses and organizations. Some instead block access to all computer data, sometimes offering to restore access in exchange for a ransom. Others disrupt operational systems with more widespread effects.

 The risks have just gotten worse, as evidenced on the world security stage. Iran has said in no uncertain terms that it will retaliate against the U.S. for the January 2 killing of its General. In addition to a potential military response, experts predict that one of the ways it will do so is through cyberattacks.

 The world now runs on data just as much as it does on energy resources. Erasing, freezing, altering or otherwise disrupting the data and computerized operations of energy utilities, financial institutions, major corporations, government service providers, and other public and private entities would affect the masses in severe ways.

 On an individual level, such threats raise real concerns about damaging viruses and other malware that can infect our personal and business computers before we even realize that a threat exists.

 The importance of safeguarding our data has grown over recent years due to the increase in cyber-hacking. Data risks have been ramped up even further in the face of recent national security events.

 The average citizen can’t control technology warfare targeting electric utilities, transportation systems and other service providers. But on an individual level, consumers CAN take action to safeguard our own information resources and those of businesses and organizations that we operate or have direct connections with.

 Fortunately, there are easy ways to preserve and protect our data. One of them is to simply back it up. In other words, to make a copy of it that's stored outside of the computer or other electronic device.

"Backing up to the cloud" has become common in recent years. With the growing sophistication of cyber-villains, this method may prove to not be safe. The same is true with backing up to the computers and servers of companies that offer off-site data backup services – as they too could be hacked. The alternative is to back up to an external device of one's own.

 Fortunately, again, such devices are inexpensive.

Depending upon the amount of data one has – documents, pictures, videos, emails, music, etc. – an external drive or even a flash drive can be used. The capacities of both (how much they can store) vary and more than one can be used for those who have high capacity needs. Examples of popular brands appear below with sizes, descriptions and pricing.

Making sure that the devices are kept in a safe place is crucial. – as is thinking carefully about what a "safe place" actually is. Placing the device in a desk drawer that others may have access to is not considered Safe. The devices are highly portable and can be lost or stolen in a heartbeat. Better places may include a locked file cabinet, a personal safe or a bank safety deposit box.

There is definite value in keeping a copy off-site due to other potential threats, some of which are also on the rise – such as fires and extreme weather events.

Backing up regularly is also important. Consider the value of documents you’ve created and pictures you’ve taken, for example. If they were suddenly gone some may be retrievable through other sources (like if you had emailed or texted to someone else). But that would take time and would likely only recover a small fraction of the total. Losing Everything on your computer couldn’t be recovered from absent a backup.

Think about the COSTS – time, financial, emotional and other that you’d incur if this were to happen. Think about the considerable investment you’ve already made in creating and obtaining the data you now have on file. Be ready to kick yourself mightily if you could have avoided the costs of such a loss by spending $50, $80 or even $10 for a backup device.

Another wise step is to create more than one backup. For example, a high capacity external device for home and/or office plus a flash drive kept at the bank. For around $10 apiece you can periodically use an additional flash drive to add data to and drop off at your safety deposit box.

The backup process is fast and easy – and some devices do it automatically when plugged in to your computer throughout the day. 

Like it or not, technology has its downsides and security vulnerabilities is one of them, making the need for security practices very real. Taking these steps is way worth the effort for safeguarding our data investment – while we enjoy the many benefits technology has to offer.

We’re all busy these days but this is not something to be put off to “someday when I have the time”. The time for action is now.

The author of this article, Marcia Elder, has a strong background in Internet technologies and security and serves as director for The Virtual Solutions Center, an arm of CPI Consulting in Tallahassee Florida.



Shown below are portable external drives and flash drives in leading brands,

including (in order shown):

- Portable Units: Seagate 1 TB; Seagate 2 TB; Toshiba 1 TB; My Passport for Mac

- Desktop Unit: Seagate Desktop 8 TB

- Flash Drives: SanDisk 64 GB; Microcap Center 265 GB; SanDisk 5 Pack; iPhone Drive