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With so many recent cyber security breaches (especially from reputable companies like Target and Equifax), it has become increasingly necessary to become secure online. With so many access points (via smart home devices, fitness trackers, etc.), it’s easier than ever to fall prey to a potential hack. Breaches can happen to the best of us, not just your vulnerable average Joe. Hackers have sophisticated ways of stealing your identity and could be accessing your accounts as we speak. Unlike a house break-in where there is often evidence of a crime, it is a lot easier for digital theft to go unnoticed. Are you leaving the front door wide open for these new-age criminals? Read on to learn some basic cyber security tips that could save you, before it’s too late.
Cyber Security Safety Tips
Nearly half of Americans have been exposed to some sort of cyber security threat. If that’s not convincing enough to jump on the bandwagon, learn more shocking stats and why cyber security is so important. How exactly do these hackers get access to our precious data? There are some more traditional methods used to steal people’s identity (like dumpster diving and malware), but nowadays there are some newer ways that you should be aware of too.
Here are some basic cyber security tips and tricks to help you prevent a personal data breach.
- Use a VPN – A Virtual Private Network (or VPN) masks your IP address (or internet location) making it more difficult for intruders to gain access to your information. VPN services can be used on your computer and smartphone. Lucky for you, we’ve got a step by step guide on how to set up a VPN on various devices. Whenever possible, avoid using location-based services that publicly check you into a location or apps that use your position to track your whereabouts.
- Put a lock on your (smart) home – Your router is the primary entrance into your residence for cybercriminals. At a minimum, you should have a password that is unique and secure. To take it a few steps further, you can also enable multi-factor login or better yet get a firewall for your smart home hub that acts as a shield to protect anything that’s connected to your WiFi via a wireless connection or your smart home hub.
- Protect your devices too – If you don’t have a password to unlock your phone and computer, stop what you’re doing right now and set this up. That will ensure no one can access the contents of your devices (like email and documents) if it is misplaced or stolen.
- Avoid paying at the pump – Have you ever pulled up to the gas station only to find every single kiosk says “see cashier” or “pay inside”? Sure it is an inconvenience but it may just save you from identity theft! Since gas station credit card machines are often unattended, it is fairly easy for savvy hackers to put card reading equipment (aka skimmer) on them. When you dip your debit or credit card into the reader, the skimmer swipes the data from your magnetic strip which can be used to replicate your data onto a new plastic card.
- Make your login difficult to guess – In addition to having a super secure password for every account and app, it’s equally as ideal to have a username that is unique. While it’s tempting to use your email, parts of your name (JDoe) or your name with a number at the end (JohnDoe3), hackers can use clues like your name to try just about every combination of your first name, last name and numbers to “guess” what your username could be.
- Turn on two-step authentication – This is an online security measure where a code is sent to you via a phone call or text. This code serves as a verification method upon login to ensure you are who you say you are and should have access to the account. It’s becoming more common to offer and encourage this extra layer of security. While it can be a bit annoying at times, the extra step can go a long way in keeping your personal data safe. You will want to start by adding two-factor authentication (2FA) to bank accounts, credit cards, email and other websites that have sensitive information (IRS, doctors office, stock trading, etc.). Then make a good habit to set it up whenever you create new online accounts in the future.
Cyber Security Tips for Students (and Their Parents)
Cyber security should start at a young age. Kids are using cell phones, playing video games, streaming music, paying for things with credit cards and engaging with smart technology as young as toddlers (and they are just as susceptible as their parents). In fact, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) reports that kids ages 8-18 spend 7 hours and 38 minutes per day online. That’s nearly 1/3 of their day! This is why it’s vital for younger generations to stay informed and guarded against digital dangers as well.
- Get them started on the right foot – Before unboxing or passing down a device to them, set it up with all the security settings and parental controls to ensure they aren’t opening up a can of worms when they power up.
- Even playing field for parents and kids – Share that the adults are following the same rules. This will make them feel they are not being punished or called out for having to adhere to special guidelines.
- Think before you click – Similar to stranger danger warnings that are taught from a young age, the same applies to the internet. Don’t click on links that look suspicious, don’t open an email from someone you don’t know and don’t respond to texts from unknown numbers.
- Make cyber security fun – Have them come up with something silly and equally safe for things like passwords (e.g. $illy$ally), screen names and usernames (e.g. Sk8boarding4fun) and use analogies so they can better relate to cyber security (e.g like spies trying to unlock a treasure chest).
- Encourage them to learn – STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills help students think more analytically about computers and better understand the importance of digital security.
- Beware of coffee shops, libraries and other public spaces – The coffee shop might have yummy Lattes, but their free Wifi can be an invitation for cybercrime. Using a public network can save you money, but it can be dangerous if you do not use precautions. Read our tips for using public WiFi, an easy reference guide for how to protect yourself next time you surf on a public network.
- If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – Spammers are prone to targeting people who don’t know any better, especially children. So teach your kids not to click on shiny objects or fall for unbelievable deals.
Cyber Security Tips for Businesses
According to a 2013 Small Business Technology Survey by the National Small Business Association, 44 percent of small businesses reported being the victim of a cyber attack, with an average cost of approximately $9,000 per attack. What’s worse is they found that 59% of U.S. small and medium-sized businesses don’t have a contingency plan that outlines procedures for responding to and reporting data breach losses. Companies sometimes feel that they are less susceptible to attacks because of their size. But because it’s a one-stop shop for criminals, it’s critical to create a cyber security culture in your workplace.
Here are some ways to minimize business-related cuber risk before it’s too late.
- Install antivirus on all systems – Even if your workers use their own devices (smartphones and laptops), the investment is minimal to have peace of mind that your communications, files and private information are not being bugged.
- Mask employees’ location – Encourage workers to download a VPN service for use during business travels. This additional small fee could save you from paying a big price down the road.
- Enforce a company-wide policy – Devise and enforce corporate guidelines for password security, website restrictions (if need be) and getting everyone on board with realizing the serious implications if a data breach were to happen. Continue to remind your team of security tips in company communications, including newsletters, intranet, emails, bathrooms and break rooms.
- Keep the internet secure – Secure your company’s internet by actively using a password secured network paired with a trusted firewall. If you need a guest network, make sure it is also password protected and changed regularly.
- Use HTTPS – If you haven’t already made the switch to SSL (Secure Socket Layer) for your corporate website now is the time. What this means is communications to and from your website will be encrypted. This is important for your users, especially if you capture any sensitive information (and this doesn’t just apply to credit card data. Names and emails count also!). In other words, if you have as much as a contact form on your website, you owe it to your users to upgrade to SSL. Google is taking gradual steps to reward sites using https, and its Chrome browser has begun “calling out” insecure pages to users more loudly. Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari and other browsers are following suit.
- Back it up – Schedule regular backups of significant documents and files. Even though your files might be secure on the cloud or hard drive somewhere, you should always have a second copy in case of a cyber attack. And, be sure all these backups are also protected with passwords and encryption, if needed. Read these reviews of online backup software on our sister site, We Rock Your Web, to find a solution that might work well for your team.
- Encrypt sensitive data – If you’re gathering customer or employee data and/or selling products or services online using an ecommerce site, be sure to use encryption software to scramble and encrypt the credit card and personal info.
October Is Cyber Security Month
Did you know that there’s an entire month dedicated to cyber security awareness? Yep! October is officially the month dedicated to bringing attention to this issue. Created by the National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) of the United States Department of Homeland Security and the NCSA in 2004, National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) was set up to encourage protection among all internet users across the country. However, you shouldn’t just “celebrate” one month out of the year. Practice these tips year-round!
Watch this quick three-minute video from former President Obama as he explains how the growth of digital networks has increased the need to invest in online security and the steps you can take to protect yourself from online threats.
More Resources on Security
Hackers are working hard behind the scenes to steal your identity for their personal gain via identity theft. Learn more about ID theft, how it happens and how you can stay out of harm’s way in our all-encompassing identity theft guide. Remember, being secure doesn’t stop with just you and your loved ones. Tell a friend, co-worker or family member how they can stay safe and share some of these internet security tips and tricks to help spread the word.
Have you or anyone you know had a cyber security scare?