As our reliance upon computers and mobile computing devices increases, we need to take steps to protect our devices and ourselves from cybercriminals. Cyberattacks can impact many areas of our lives from financials and identity to job searching – this is why it's critical you take steps to stay safe online. Here are our top ten tips to help you keep your identity and data safe, so you can have the best defenses possible and avoid being hacked or scammed.
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.
No matter where the uncertainty arises, whether you’re in an email or on a website, consider the source and its contents. Why was this email sent to me? Where will this link take me? Does the link look legitimate or does it have spelling errors or a unrecognizable mix of letters and numbers?
The greatest defense against attackers is you. 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 or report it as spam/junk mail.
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, and it should be unique in the sense that it’s not used for any other device or account. That way, if one password is compromised, all your other accounts and devices will still be safe.
The perfect password has, for decades, alluded the masses. How can a string of text be both memorable and secure in an age where computers can easily crunch digits at a rate of 1,000 guesses a second to crack the code in a matter of hours?
Secure passwords and privacy are top of mind for businesses and consumers alike. No one wants to fall victim to the next breach or hack. But the probability of having a safe password using basic human logic – like replacing “a” with “@” or swapping “i” and “1”, or using the same password across multiple sites and/or accounts – is next to impossible today. And cyber-hacking tactics are growing more and more advanced.
But perhaps, we simply need to change our logic. Enter the secure password unicorn: Passphrases.
Two researchers out of the University of Southern California may have found a solution to our current cyber-crime conundrum: randomly-generated poems.
Long-form passwords and passphrases have been increasing in popularity in recent years. The genius – and simplicity – in this approach comes from changing how we view secure passwords. For years, we’ve been trained to create and use passwords which are essentially gibberish to us but relatively elementary for advanced tech to crack. But short, rhythmic passphrases flip that logic.
They are both incredibly memorable yet completely illogical. It requires the algorithms and technologies used by cyber-criminals to test billions upon billions of possibilities before landing on the right combination of random words.
By deploying a basic form of cryptography, the USC researchers assigned every word in a 327,868-word dictionary with a distinct code. They then used a computer program written for iambic tetrameter to generate a string of numbers which are then translated into short, rhyming phrases.
The resulting phrase is an ultra-secure password. The passphrase is far easier for us simple-minded humans to remember and much, much harder for today’s sophisticated computers to guess. Stringing together random words as a passphrase is calculated to take more than 500 years for a computer to guess, as compared to just a number of days for conventional passwords.
Here are a few passphrase examples from the researchers:
Secure as they may be, these rhyming phrases do have a downside. Many sites have character limits on passwords today, but more and more are considering dropping these limits since we now know that shorter passwords are more vulnerable to hacking. Additionally, some policies require special characters or numbers be included, but a simple workaround is using them in place of the spaces.
To ease you into passphrases – and offer some general tips for more secure and memorable passwords – consider these tips:
Cybersecurity breaches can happen to anyone.
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, and two-factor authentication is much stronger.
Two-factor authentication 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.
Most software vendors periodically update their products to address any newly-discovered security flaws. Users should register purchased software with the vendor to receive software security updates. Software updates provided by vendors should not be ignored or postponed.
Make sure your computers, mobile devices, applications, and anything else connected to the internet are running the latest software versions. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities in the software your devices use. Stay informed on new updates and apply them as they become available.
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 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, store your backups in the cloud or on an external device offline to protect them against cyberattacks. Your backups will be critical in a time of need.
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 secure. It’s important to make sure that “https” is displayed as part of any URL you visit, because it shows the authenticity of the security certificate on that webpage. If you access a webpage without a certificate or with one that is expired, there’s a chance you’re accessing a website that could be loaded with malware, viruses, trojans or eavesdroppers.
Utilize security awareness and user training, so your team is armed with insight and is discerning enough to not open or click on suspicious links and attachments. As the business owner, it’s your duty to teach and empower your employees to interact safely with email and websites.
Even if your team is trained to be cautious, without an effective and strong security system, threats can still get through.
Using a real-time threat security prevention solution is key to detecting new threats quickly enough to prevent infections.
A key component to any cybersecurity threat is the use of an active firewall. A firewall prevents your business from the negative effects of ransomware, malware, viruses and more. An effective firewall that properly protects your business against internet-based threats will need:
Think twice about allowing personal email accounts for business communications, because:
Today, so much of our world is online. While this often makes life much easier, it can also make us more susceptible to cyberattacks. This is why it is critical we take all the proper precautions to protect our ourselves from cybercriminals.
Follow these top ten tips to reduce your risk of a cyberattack and give yourself piece of mind online.
Here’s what you need to know to prevent, detect, and respond to cybersecurity threats.
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