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02:10 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer

User Security After The Google Hack

Last week's news about the Google hack has really raised some eyebrows. Doe-eyed users have learned the harsh truth that anyone can be hacked. The news of 20 or more other companies also being targeted along with Google made the impact that much worse.

Last week's news about the Google hack has really raised some eyebrows. Doe-eyed users have learned the harsh truth that anyone can be hacked. The news of 20 or more other companies also being targeted along with Google made the impact that much worse.The friends and family who I've talked to are all shocked and wonder how this could happen. They're also wondering whether their personal information is safe.

Being in the infosec industry, I have to bite my tongue when I respond. The fact that Google stood up and admitted the hack is commendable, but it's causing fear to spread among average users who don't know anything about computer security. All they know is what the mainstream media says: Hackers are scary, and they steal your money and your identity. I'm being forced to have conversations and explain in the simplest of terms that everyone gets hacked...even Google.

But that's not what people want or need to hear. What's funny is that it's the same conversation I run into when someone gets infected with some type of malware despite having antivirus software installed. That's when I end up saying, "There is no silver bullet." Or, "No security product will protect you from 100 percent of the threats 100 percent of the time, no matter what the vendor says." Or something along those lines.

I know you've had these same conversations. You know what comes next, right? They hit us with THE question: "Well, how do I protect myself?" As much as I'd like to say things like, "Switch to Linux," "Stop using Facebook," or "The Internet is evil -- stay off of it," I just can't.

Instead, I start off with this trinity (and, no, I'm not referring to the hot one that fell for Neo):

    1. Run your software updates (operating system, Adobe, Java, Firefox, etc.).

    2. Update your antivirus and run daily scans. If your vendor releases multiple updates in one day, then set your update to run every four to eight hours.

    3. Don't run as an administrator or power user. Only run as a user with no admin rights.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of those three practices have decreased with zero-day attacks -- a ridiculous amount of new malware and variants every day, and the ability for malware to be effective by infecting only one user and not the entire computer system. Because of those things, I've had to extend my "Top 3" list to a "Top 6" list.

    4. Run an alternative Web browser like Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, or Opera. Sure, they've all had problems, but they also don't have the bull's-eye painted on them like Internet Explorer.

    5. Do not use the same password on every Website. Once one is compromised, it's easy to try the same credentials on top sites, like eBay, PayPal, GMail, Hotmail, etc.

    6. Have a second computer that is solely used for sensitive activities, like banking, online tax preparation, etc. Don't ever use it for anything else...ever! Firewall it from your other systems and don't plug external storage devices into it. Also, this doesn't have to be a fast machine to pay bills, but it does need to be new enough to run a supported operating system that still receives updates from the vendor.

Even with all of those protections in place, it won't protect you if the site you've entrusted with your information is breached. But the chance of your data being compromised because of your system becoming infected is slim to none.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.


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