Cybersecurity Awareness Month may have ended on October 31, but cyber criminals are active 365 days a year, and they’re online looking for vulnerabilities around the clock. Every day, we also spend time online: navigating the internet, accessing our financial accounts, and answering emails. With each click, we leave a digital footprint containing personal information.
Would you give thieves the keys to your home? Our digital assets are just as valuable as our homes, and should be protected with the same level of diligence. Take, for example, smartphones: We spend so much time on our mobile phones and social media. Yet, often we don’t think about how they are broadcasting our lives as we work and play—which can prove to be a gold mine for those who are seeking to access your personal data.
How can you make sure you’re deploying safe cyber practices?
Minimize Risks While Online
Erase your digital trail. Your browser saves a list of every site that you have ever visited, so it’s a good idea to occasionally clear out your internet search history and cookies. If your computer or phone is compromised, hackers could access this information. While vendors use browser cookies to identify your computer or phone and to send you targeted advertisements, hackers can also use these cookies to identify you and track your movements online.
Don’t fall victim to convenience. Be wary of browser auto-fill features, or better yet, turn them off completely. Any website can access this information, including saved credit card information, even if it’s not displayed on the screen. Avoid using the “Remember Me” function to store your usernames and passwords. This could allow other people access to your accounts. Instead, use a password manager to create and manage passwords for your online accounts.
Limit Your Exposure and Visibility
Lock out the hackers. A long password is a strong password. But don’t feel overwhelmed—the best way to manage your passwords is to use a password manager. These create, store, and manage all your passwords, and you only need to remember the master password. In addition to a strong password, add two-factor authentication to your personal accounts, including social media, email, financial, and shopping accounts. It only takes a few minutes to activate, and is one of the best ways to keep others out.
To create passwords that can keep bad actors at bay, use passwords that are 15 characters in length or longer. However, remembering such long passwords can seem impossible—especially when you are creating unique passwords for each account. The solution? Using a five-word (or longer) passphrase that includes an uncommon or unusual word, avoiding personal information. The key is to create a password that you can memorize but hackers can’t crack.
Know where you’re connecting. There is no such thing as “free Wi-Fi.” Only connect to Wi-Fi networks that you know and trust, such as home or work. While connected to a Wi-Fi network, that network can read and record each site you visit, so using unknown or public Wi-Fi could allow cyber criminals to monitor your online browsing and steal your information. They could even infect your device with malware that allows access to your entire device. Purging saved Wi-Fi networks prevents your device from automatically connecting to networks that you connected to in the past but did not realize were unsecure or malicious.
Review your settings and visibility. Understand what social media, phone, and app settings do and how these settings affect your security and privacy. Changing even a few settings—like location tracking or erasing unknown Wi-Fi networks—can mean the difference between disclosing your activities to everyone or limiting this information to your friends and family. In addition to checking your settings, consider limiting how many posts include your location, regardless of whether your account is private.
Secure Your Home’s Digital Entry Points
Know your router. After installing a router, it’s usually stuck in a closet or behind furniture, and largely forgotten about until an issue arises. But this shouldn’t be the case. Your router connects the devices in your home to the internet and should keep the bad guys out but can’t if it’s old or not updated. Upgrading your router’s security—including changing the username and password it comes with, creating a separate guest network, and examining several of the default settings to ensure holistic security—significantly improves the security of your digital home. Explore resources available to you to help manage your router, including those from your internet provider or a recommended third-party.
Most importantly, if your router is more than three years old, get a new one: older routers no longer support critical security features, leaving your network vulnerable.
Don’t let the Internet of Things become the Internet of Risks. Smart devices, ranging from voice-controlled home assistants to security systems, might not look like computers, but they are. Just like any computer, they need to be password protected, have a secure connection to the internet, and receive regular updates.
Check in on your family members’ internet use. Make sure your family members use the same level of vigilance. Otherwise, they may inadvertently provide hackers, thieves, and scammers the keys to your real and digital kingdoms—which can nullify the work you’ve done on your own accounts and devices. Just because Cybersecurity Awareness Month is over does not mean cyber criminals are taking the rest of the year off. Safeguarding your privacy has to be a regular, year-round activity. By conducting a quarterly checkup of online activity, you can transform the implementation of safe practices from a chore to a habit. It truly is the little things—making small changes will increase your security and help deter the hackers.