As our reliance upon computer and mobile computing devices increases, we need to take simple steps to protect our devices and ourselves from cyber criminals. Here are my top tips to help you keep your identity and data safe so you can have the best defenses possible and avoid being hacked.
1. Unsure? Don’t click it. It’s important to note that technology alone will never be able to fully protect you. Attackers have learned to bypass even the most advanced security technology by attacking you. If they want your password, credit card, or personal data, the easiest thing for them to do is to trick you into giving them this information. For example, they can call you pretending to be Microsoft tech support and claim that your computer is infected. But really, they’re just cyber thieves who want access to your computer.
Or, they might send you an email explaining that your package could not be delivered and ask you to click on a link to confirm your mailing address. But they’re tricking you into visiting a malicious website that will hack into your computer. This is how attacks like ransomware start.
You are the greatest defense against attackers. Don’t click links unless you know you can trust the source, and you’re certain of where the link will send you. If you are unsure about a link, the best thing to do is delete the email.
- Use strong passwords and a password manager. The next step to protecting yourself involves using a strong, unique password for each of your devices and online accounts. The key words here are strong and unique. A strong password means one that cannot be easily guessed by hackers or by their automated programs. Tired of complex passwords that are hard to remember and difficult to type? Try using a passphrase instead. Instead of a single word, use a series of words that’s easy to remember, such as “Where is my car?” A unique password means using a different password for each device and online account. If one password is compromised, all of your other accounts and devices are still safe. Can’t remember all those strong, unique passwords? Don’t worry, no one can. That is why we recommend using a password manager, which is a specialized application for your smartphone or computer that securely stores all of your passwords in an encrypted format.
- Enable two-factor authentication. One of the most important steps you can take to protect any account is to enable two-factor authentication. Passwords alone are no longer enough to protect accounts—we all need something stronger. Two-factor authentication is much stronger. It uses your password and adds a second step, either something you are (biometrics) or something you have (such as a code sent to your smartphone or an app on your smartphone that generates the code for you). Enable this option on every account you can, including your password manager, if possible.
- Run the latest software versions. Make sure your computers, mobile devices, applications, and anything else connected to the Internet are running the latest software versions. Cyber criminals are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities in the software your devices use. The recent Equifax breach is being linked to an unpatched server exposed to the internet. When they discover vulnerabilities, they use special programs to exploit them and hack into the devices you are using. Meanwhile, the companies that created the software for these devices are hard at work fixing them by releasing updates. Stay informed on new updates and apply them as they come out.
- Backup your information. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, your account or identity may still be hacked. If that is the case, usually your only option to ensure your computer or mobile device is free of malware is to fully wipe it and rebuild it from scratch. The attacker might even prevent you from accessing your personal files, photos and other information stored on the hacked system. Often the only way to restore all of your personal information is from backup. Make sure you’re regularly backing up any important information and verify that you can restore from them. Most operating systems and mobile devices support automatic backups. In addition, we recommend you store your backups in the Cloud or on an external device offline to protect them against cyber attackers.
- Check for the “s.” The letter “s” makes a difference when it comes to secure web surfing. “Http” stands for hypertext transfer protocol, while the “s” at the end stands for security. It’s important to make sure that “https” is displayed as part of a URL you visit because it shows the authenticity of the security certificate on that webpage. If you access a webpage without a certificate or one that is expired, there’s a chance you’re accessing a website that could be loaded with malware, viruses, trojans, or eavesdroppers.