The Loop

A guide to protecting yourself from nefarious (and probably North Korean) hackers

May 18, 2017

The global-scale ransomware attack known as WannaCry appears to be on the decline, thanks both to a British IT guy who managed to body-block the evil code and everyone who went to their version of Windows and typed in “up up down down left right left right B A start.” But computer experts/every last bit of your intuition warn that these kinds of attacks will only increase, largely because of their relative simplicity: Ransomware such as WannaCry encrypts your data and puts it on a very high shelf until you pay the pirates $300 in Bitcoins, which you have to do immediately after figuring out what in the world Bitcoins are. As such, we here in The Loop/Golf Digest’s Global Internet Security Department (it’s like a regular IT department, but we wear salmon-colored pants) recommend taking the following steps to secure your online life and ensure you never (again) have to pay Slovakian hackers to retrieve your EPCOT pictures and fantasy baseball spreadsheet:

Don’t open unknown attachments from unfamiliar and possibly Eastern European email addresses: This should be common knowledge, but apparently people still do it, not that I’m pointing fingers, DAD.

Constantly maintain safe and secure backups: Back up your important files automatically, both to a cloud service like Dropbox or iCloud and to two physical drives. Leave one drive in your house. Take the other one off-site, possibly burying it under a long rock wall with a big oak tree at the north end.

Check those emails for legitimacy: Make sure the email is coming from the true sender. If it’s rife with obvious spelling and grammar errors, the email probably came from scammers or the president.

Update your system every time it asks you to: If you’re running Windows, this will be 6,500 times a day, generally right before a crucial deadline or 3 seconds after you press ON. From about 9-11:15 a.m. you’ll be updating and patching and pasting and gluing and stapling your system together, to create security. (For extra security, staple twice real fast.) This work is tedious but crucial, because hackers are always typing fast and anti-virus crusaders are also typing fast and Earth is essentially a furious coding race that never stops but occasionally slows down for six minutes so you can get some work done.

Enable two-factor authentication: People complain that this is annoying, because of how you have to BOTH type in your password AND THEN glance at a text message. But it means no one can sniff around your email account without also possessing your phone, making it significantly harder to have your chat history/bank transactions/Target purchases explored by someone in Kamchatka.

Keep in mind your bank, ISP or credit card company will never ask for your password or Social Security number: This makes them technically nicer than the cashiers at Kohl’s.

Never hand over sensitive password information: Whether to unfamiliar sites, unverified email addresses or the cool Russian ambassadors in your office.

Tape over your laptop’s camera: Some types of spyware can take it over and record your comings and goings, which is bad because the camera’s usually at a really low angle that’s super-terrible for selfies. Alternately, install one of those Snapchat filters that turns your face into a puppy, it’ll deeply confuse the Russians.

If your computer is infected, disconnect it from the network: In much the same way as not sharing your Dr. Pepper when you have dysentery, if you find yourself infected, stop interacting with other nice computers until everything is under control.

Change your passwords regularly: AND MAKE THEM GOOD, for God’s sake, I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Indiana and could probably figure out the name of your childhood cocker spaniel. Use some hot nonsense or a Busta Rhymes lyric or the smushed-up names of your favorite Real Housewives, just for the love of God avoid your child’s birthdays, and if you use “12345” just come hand me a wad of rolled-up hundreds and save us all time. If you can’t remember your passwords, try this sweet life hack: Write them down on what your grandpappy called a “Post-It Note” and stash this magical talisman from the past somewhere in your house, as it is very hard for even the most accomplished hacker to access the secret empty can of Folgers over the microwave. Unless, of course, the microwave is in on it.