Simple steps to up your cyber security

GUARDED: It's New Zealand's first Cyber Security Awareness Week and if you weren't aware, your computer may be unsecured.
GUARDED: It's New Zealand's first Cyber Security Awareness Week and if you weren't aware, your computer may be unsecured.

A few simple steps can stop almost all of today's cyber security threats, according to Microsoft New Zealand's corporate affairs manager Waldo Kuipers.

Kuipers talked to Fairfax NZ to help make readers aware of the simple steps that can help prevent their machines from becoming infected with malicious software, otherwise known as malware.

One in 250 New Zealand computers running Microsoft's Windows operating system are affected by malware, which can be used to hijack computers and gather personal information, compared to one in 150 internationally.

Windows is installed on about 90 per cent of the world's computers.

"That is a good result, but there is still room for improvement – the nations with the lowest infection rates continue to report roughly 50 per cent to 75 per cent fewer infections per computer than New Zealand [down to as few as one in 1000]," Mr Kuipers said.

"Too many people don't know what to do."

Mr Kuipers said half the malware infections Microsoft found could have been prevented if Windows Update had been turned on. To turn it on in Windows 7, go to Control Panel – System and Security – Windows Update – Change Settings – Important updates and click "Install updates automatically (recommended)".

You'll now get security updates that protect against new malware and you can decide when to install them.

Another 40 per cent of malware had been installed on the machine by the user who was not aware that the software included malicious code.

This can be prevented by searching the internet for any problems with the software before you install it and scanning every installation file with antivirus software to ensure it is safe.

"We could easily address 90 per cent of them," Mr Kuipers said.

It's not just Windows users who have to worry.

Computing devices running Apple's operating systems and Google's Android are also susceptible.

Symantec regional product marketing manager for consumers David Hall said smartphone users had to be extra careful, because they were easy to lose.

Most smartphone owners didn't password protect their phones, so it was easy for cyber snoopers to access personal and corporate email on such phones, social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter, and online shopping such as Trade Me.

"It's the key to my identity online," Mr Hall said.

"What could someone really do if they picked up my phone?"

The average New Zealander has 25 applications on their smartphone, which a thief could access if the phone was not secured.

He compared a phone password to locking a parked car, and urged phone owners with no password to enable one on their phones now.

"The longer the better, because it just increases the complexity. It's your first line of defence.

"If you are on an iPhone you don't have to live with a four-digital password."

If you can use letters, such as on your Facebook account password, try the first letters of the words in the first line of your favourite song, so The Beatles' Love Me Do becomes LLMDYKILY.

"So many people don't have any passwords, and it's my personal mission to change that," Mr Hall said.

Never give your password to anyone and avoid writing it down.

Mr Hall also warned about using unsecured wi-fi networks in cafes, hotels and airports, because passwords are often broadcast unencrypted.

It's a good idea to change your password afterwards if you do, he said.

Waikato Times