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How to be safer online: Computer use

Reports of data breaches and computer hacking remind us to be careful with personal financial information, as Jason Scuglik explains as part of a series of Money Talk Videos. Jason spoke with Joel Dresang. A transcript of their discussion follows.

Joel Dresang: Jason, with all the reports of financial data breaches and computer hacking, I want to talk with you about how computer users can be safer about their personal financial information. This is something that you deal with on a regular basis. You help us here at Landaas & Company be safer with all of our information. Tell us a little bit about your background on this.

Jason Scuglik: Well thanks, Joel. You’re right. I keep our network and our technology devices here at the office safe and secure and up to date. I have formal education in network and computer security. And additionally, I’ve run a small business that’s helping consumers to keep their devices up to date and running safely and securely in the digital age.

Joel:  And I know that you do this on a regular basis, that you’re always learning and studying and reading. That tells me that this security is a moving target. What should computer users do about that?

Jason: Well you’re right, Joel, it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it type of thing. A computer is a complex machine, and it will require occasional maintenance. People don’t think twice about taking their car into the shop for an oil change every 3,000 miles. Having a similar mindset to the maintenance on your computer is a great idea.

Joel: What do you mean by computer maintenance?

Jason: One of the most visible items of maintenance that you need to do on your computer occasionally are updates. Your computer, whether that’s a Microsoft Windows machine or a Macintosh, is going to have a utility built in to get updates that address security concerns or even some performance issues with the operating system.

Those updates come directly from the manufacturer, Microsoft or Apple, and those are safe to install.

The applications or programs on your computer also occasionally will require updates, again, to address performance concerns, security issues or maybe to add new features. Those usually come via a mechanism built into the program to deliver those updates, and those are usually also safe to install.

Joel: Sometimes I’ll see an alert pop up that warns me if I don’t fix my computer, I’m doomed. What should I do about those?

Jason: Those would be generally safe to ignore. Those updates are not legitimate. As you’re surfing around the internet, if you get a pop-up that says, “Hey, you got a virus, and you should call this number,” just ignore that. If you’re in doubt, give a trusted computer technician a call.

Joel:  What about computers away from your home, when you’re using laptops or tablets or your smartphone in a public place?

Jason: You know, it’s really convenient these days, when we’re sitting at the coffee shop or waiting for a flight at the airport, to just jump on the Wi-Fi with our computer or our tablet or phone and get a little bit of work done.

It’s important to remember, though, that that is not a secure network. We don’t control access to that network. Anybody that’s in the building can also put their own computer or devices on that network.

With that in mind, it’s good to be careful and think about whether you need to be doing any kind of financial work or other work with sensitive information, or whether that can wait until you’re at home or at work – somewhere where you’re on a little bit more secure network.

Joel: What should we do with the security of the data that we already have on our computers?

Jason: We tend to keep years of pictures and other family memories, tax documents, and other important information on our computers these days. They’re complex machines and occasionally will fail. Even with the best tech help, sometimes we can’t recover that information.

I recommend having a good backup of the important information that you keep on your computers. Have a portable hard drive is a good idea to put it on. Also, using a secure online backup service is a great idea.

Joel:  Great. Thank you. This has been very helpful. We’ll be doing a series of these, and we’ll post them at our website, at Landaas.com. Also, on this YouTube channel.

Learn more
How to be safer online: Passwords, a Money Talk Video with Jason Scuglik
How to be safer online: Email, a Money Talk Video with Jason Scuglik
Don’t let ID thieves get your money too, by Joel Dresang
Freeze: Chilling effect on ID theft, by Joel Dresang
Consumer Information on Identity Theft, from the Federal Trade Commission
Credit Freeze FAQs, from the Federal Trade Commission (en Español)
Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number, from the Social Security Administration
Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers and Victims, from the Internal Revenue Service

Jason Scuglik is information systems administrator at Landaas & Company.

Joel Dresang is vice president-communications at Landaas & Company.

Money Talk Video by Peter May and Jason Scuglik

(initially posted Oct. 23, 2017)

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