October 2015 was declared National Cyber Security Awareness Month by President Obama as a way to educate both the private and and public sectors about the importance of Cybersecurity.
What is Cybersecurity? In a nutshell Cybersecurity is a managing cyber risks; measures taken to protect a computer or computer system against unauthorized access or attack.
In today’s interconnected world the internet is a part of almost all aspects of your daily life, whether you realize it or not. We all have Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Almost all of us have online banking or some sort of personal information (PI) stored online. Perhaps, prior to a visit to a new doctors office you had to fill out a medical history in an online web portal.
At home or at your place of work you may get phishing emails asking you to click on a link to update your bank account information or to confirm your Facebook password. You could even get a phone call from ‘Microsoft’ telling you that your personal computer has been infected with a virus and that they need remote access to help you fix the problem.
All of these and the many other ways we interact online are subject to constant attack by unscrupulous ‘hackers’.
Here are some basic rules to follow to promote good online safety habits.
Always Keep a Clean PC
- Keep security software up to date: Having the latest security software, web browser and operating systems are the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats.
- Automate Software updates: Many software programs can automatically update themselves to defend against known risks. Make sure you enable these automatic updates if the option is available.
- Protect all devices that connect to the Internet: Computers are not the only devices that need protection. Smart phones, gaming systems, and other web-enabled devices also need protection from viruses and malware. Make sure to regularly check with manufacturers to ensure that you have applied the latest patches and updates for each device.
- Plug and Scan: USB drives, memory sticks, and other external devices can be infected by viruses and malware. Use your security software to automatically scan these devices when plugged into your computer.
Protect your Personal Information
- Secure your accounts: Look for multi-factor authentication. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you conduct business on that site. It could be a secondary image, or a security question or even a single use token code. If it is available make sure you enable it for additional security.
- Make passwords long and strong: A longer password using a seemingly random combination of capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols is more secure and harder to crack.
- Don’t reuse passwords: Separate passwords for every online account helps to thwart cybercriminals.
- Keep your passwords safe: More complex passwords are easier to forget. If you must keep a list, store it in a safe, secure place away from your computer.
- Be responsible with your online presence: You should always review your privacy and security settings for all online accounts. Set the levels to a level you are comfortable with for sharing personal information. It is far better to limit with whom you share information than to grant everyone access.
- When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or if appropriate, mark as junk email.
- Wi-Fi hotspots and you: When you are connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots in public places you should always limit the type of online activities and business you conduct. Make sure the security settings on your device limit the access to your machine.
- Protect your finances: When shopping or banking online, check to make sure that the site is secured with a valid SSL certificate. Make sure the web address starts with with “https://” or “shttp://”, which means the site takes extra measures to encrypt your information. A web address that starts with “http://” is not secure.
- Back it up: Protect your valuable work, photos, music or other digital information by making sure you have a copy and storing it safely. You could use the operating systems built in tools or third party applications to back up your computer or device and store it on another electronic medium.
- Think before you act: Be wary of communications that implore you to “ACT NOW”, or offers something that sounds too good to be true. Another red flag is anything that asks for personal information.
- Stay Current: Always keep abreast of the latest security information to ensure that you know the newest ways to stay safe online. Share this information among friends, family and colleagues.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a dedicated section on their website for Cybersecurity (DHS Cybersecurity) with sections for all sorts of different areas of focus.
Another great place for resources and tips is the website StaySafeOnline.org they have sections on personal security, as well as business resources.
By using common sense and a little ‘healthy caution’ you should be able to stay safe while being online.