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How to stay safe online

As a business owner, you can't keep your computers off-line. You need them to get access to email, various SaaS services, data backups, online CRMs, and much more. But did you know that cyber criminals have created almost 200 million different pieces of malware in 2017? You won't have to trust me on that; you can discover this stat (and many more) in a recent AV Test security report.

It is not a surprise that it's harder than ever to stay safe online. Here are a few tips that should help you avoid any troubles, though.

Begin by making it a company policy to use complex passwords. Huffington Post has published a list with the top 25 most common passwords, and "123456" sits proudly at the top of the list. So, be sure to protect all your computers using passwords that are created by mixing letters, numbers and symbols such as "*" and "&". It's going to be harder to remember them, I know, but fortunately you can use a service such as RoboForm, which has managed to keep all its users' data intact since its launch.

IT specialists used to recommend passwords that have at least 12 characters; however, since computer farms, which can be rented for cheap, are much faster these days, my recommendation is to utilize passwords that have 15 characters or more. Avoid using words that can be found in a dictionary as parts of your passwords; hackers will often use dictionaries to try and guess your log-in combinations. Also, ensure that you use unique passwords for each computer, each online account, and so on.

Always keep your computer up to date. Researchers discover new vulnerabilities almost every day, and software developers try to deploy software patches as quickly as possible, with the goal of protecting their users. So, be sure to apply any security patches as soon as they become available. Subscribe to the newsletter offered by one of the top computer security sites, such as The Hacker News; this way, you will be notified as soon as a new vulnerability is discovered.

Use two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever it is possible. This system adds another layer of security by requiring an SMS code in addition to the existing account password. Still, don't forget that a hacker could trick your phone company, claiming to be your phone's owner, and then asking them to send him a new SIM card. Fortunately, there are several other 2FA mechanisms which provide a higher degree of security.

Don't use public Wi-Fi. If you really need to do that, only connect to the company servers using a VPN service. Be wise and only access or transmit data you wouldn't mind being stolen. Never use a public wireless network to access your bank account, for example.

Most computer infections take place when people carelessly click the links which are included in the emails that arrive in their inboxes. So, ensure that the company employees don't fall for "free money" scams, fake online quizzes, and so on.

Many sites use the secure https protocol these days. If you access a http website (note the missing "s") your data could easily fall into wrong hands. Make it a habit to visit https sites, which will display a green padlock on the left side of your browser's URL bar.

Don't forget to back up your data regularly. By doing this, it will be really easy to restore the affected computer(s) to a clean state.

As you can see, it is not easy to stay safe online. However, by applying these tips, you should be able to protect your computers against cyber criminals.