How to Beat the Hackers

The global cyberattack that began on Friday spread to thousands more computers over the weekend and into the new workweek, primarily in Asia.

Many of us assume our computer isn’t vulnerable — perhaps because we don’t use a PC, have strong passwords or update our operating systems regularly.

We ran some of those assumptions by local computer security experts to see if they’re true.

I have a Mac, so I’m not at risk.

Not quite.

“Macs are definitely protected from cyberattack, but it doesn’t mean they are invulnerable,” said Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is an expert in digital forensics and security.

But Apple products are often shipped with the firewall and encryption turned off. Be sure to turn them on.

I’m good about not opening suspicious mail, so I won’t be hacked.

Great, but not good enough.

Attacks through email are only one type of hacking, Professor Wandt said, and they are becoming more sophisticated. Don’t open any link or attachment that you are not expecting to receive, even from people you might know, unless you confirm that they sent it.

To avoid other types of hacking, maintain strong passwords, stay off public hot spots (like airport Wi-Fi) and get antivirus and malware protection for Windows systems, Professor Wandt said.

I keep my computer’s operating system updated, so I’m good.

Yes, with a caveat.

Updating your system is critical, said John Otero, the director of the cybersecurity program at St. John’s University and a former commanding officer of the computer crimes squad for the New York Police Department. But even a recently released update can be insecure or cause unforeseen problems, he said.

Professor Otero and Professor Wandt suggested waiting a few days before installing updates to allow bugs to be fixed.

I use a password manager, so my passwords are strong and well protected.

Yes, but be careful.

Password managers can help prevent someone from hacking your computer using the password, said Thaier Hayajneh, an associate computer science professor at Fordham University, but it’s important to store your key securely. If hackers were to find it, they would have access to all of your stored passwords.

Also, after using a public computer, you should immediately change your password from your home computer or phone, Professor Hayajneh said.

I should buy extra encryption software if I really want to protect myself.

Don’t worry about it.

“The average person today doesn’t need third-party encryption software,” Professor Wandt said. Most new Apple and Windows products have encryption built into their operating systems. (Once again, just be sure to turn it on.)


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