Protect yourself with these helpful cybersecurity tips.
Earlier this week, I found out that my debit card had been compromised. I received a phone call from my bank's fraud protection department about a charge that had been made using my personal debit card. The charge in question had been declined, and the retail establishment where it was attempted to be used was about 750 miles away from where I was located. I had my physical card in my wallet, so the fraud protection department put a block on that card number, and I had to visit a bank branch to have a new debit card issued to me. While this was a bit of a hassle and an interruption to my day, I'm grateful that precautions were in place to prevent me from losing hard-earned money and that nothing worse happened.
Since the perpetrator did not have my physical card, it was clear that they scammed the card number from somewhere. I am typically very careful about where and when I use my card, but I do use it for online payments for grocery deliveries and other types of orders. So, there is really no telling where the breach occurred.
This type of hack is something a lot of people are personally familiar with, and the system that was in place to protect me was part of my bank's cybersecurity infrastructure. Even though the term 'cybersecurity' is searched more than 110,000 times per month (according to Google), it can still be somewhat of an anomaly when people are trying to figure out how, where, and when it affects their personal and professional systems.
Everyone wants their sites to be secure and safe for their users, but because of how quickly technology moves and evolves, it can be hard to keep up with common trends and threats to your cyber community. In this article, we are going to explore five common areas that should be paid attention to closely in order to keep yourself safe from cyber-crimes like experienced.
Change passwords frequently.
Passwords are a tricky beast. You need to make sure they are secure by including a mix of characters (upper and lower case letters, numbers, special characters, etc.) and ensure that they aren't a phrase that's easy to figure out. For example, don't use the street you grew up on as your password. That is information that can easily be figured out with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Random is better, and longer is better. It's recommended that you include at least 12-15 characters in your password and that you don't reuse it. You also way to rotate your passwords every 60-90 days as a practice - even if there hasn't been a system compromise. You also want to be cognizant of what is going on with your account holder. If there has been an issue with their internal system, you will want to go ahead and change your password then instead of waiting for the recommended timing. For example, if your bank announces that they may have had a security breach, you will want to change your password right then and there, even if you've only been using your current password for seven days at that point.
There are a number of password manager applications available like LastPass, 1Password, and Dashlane. All of these services can provide a secure way to store your passwords where you access them with one master password. These applications also help make password edits easy by providing a random password generator within the app.
Don't ignore software updates.
There are few things that are more annoying than a pop-up window telling you it's time to update your operating system or application. In fact, I just had a reminder tell me an update was ready for one of my utility apps. As easy as it can be just to click 'ignore,' that is something you don't want to do if you want your system to remain secure.
Software updates can accomplish a lot of things for your system. Just remember, updates are all about revisions. Developers take time to analyze the current version of the software, and they determine where gaps might be or where improvements should be made - more than anything, software updates, repair bugs, and security flaws. Those flaws are what hackers like to take advantage of when they are trying to exploit software weaknesses. This is usually where malware gets injected into systems, which can, in turn, steal data or do other damage to your systems.
If you can't stop in the middle of a task to update the second your receive those notifications, it's ok to set a reminder to do it at the end of the day, but you shouldn't delay it too long. A lot of software applications and systems allow for an automatic update to be set, which can be a really good way to ensure your systems are always taken care of.
Back up systems and devices often and keep backups offline.
You've probably heard this many times before. "Backup your files." This is valuable advice for not only your personal files but also your applications, preferences, and systems as a whole. There are three types of backups you should consider. First is a bootable backup or a clone of your entire computer hard drive. This type of backup ensures that if your computer gets a virus, is attacked by ransomware, or if the hard drive fails, you can recover your entire system from a specific point in time.
The second type of backup is to use an external backup drive. This is usually just a backup of files and not all the elements of your entire system. This is where you want to save your irreplaceable items like photos, videos, and essential documents. This type of backup will look at specific locations (determined by the user) instead of the entire hard drive. Many external drives come with a backup software utility for this very use. In addition to using a single hard drive, you could have a network-style backup that would involve network-attached storage or a NAS device. It's a device that houses multiple hard drives and runs software that bundles the drives together in a RAID so that you have redundant backups of the files stored there.
Finally, we come to the cloud backup. This is usually a failsafe option because cloud storage ends up being redundant, so you never have to worry about the files being lost or damaged. Cloud storage is good for an 'offsite' backup option so that if the location where your computer and backup hard drive are being stored burns down, you can still access your uploaded files just by logging into the cloud system you are using.
Use a VPN when connected to unknown WiFi networks.
A virtual private network or VPN creates an exclusive internet tunnel for you to use when you aren't sure about the security of the network you are connected to. To be clear, you really shouldn't trust any public WiFi connection - even if you think you can trust it. Public WiFi hotspots - especially in places like airports, hotels, and restaurants - are like a shopping mall for hackers. When you are on an unsecured network, you become susceptible to packet sniffers, which is like wiretapping on a telephone network. It's a way for hackers to gain access to personal data through a computer. A VPN bypasses this security risk by shielding your activity from outside sources. Some VPN services provide features such as:
- IP address protection
- A no-logging policy – none of your private data will be tracked or monitored
- Automatic kill switch
- DNS leak protection
Everyone should use a VPN. The technology hides your IP address and encrypts all web traffic so that you are safe to use the internet without fear of someone stealing your personal data.
Don't open unknown attachments on emails, even if they are from a known source.
This is another common cybersecurity tip - don't open email attachments you weren't expecting. This is a very easy way for viruses or malware to infect your system. You can't always trust attachments even if they are trusted sources because those systems could also be compromised. You also want to look out for specific file formats like .exe files. These file types have the potential to run a task automatically when opened. Attachments that are .zip or .rar formats are also suspicious, and protections on your system can be blocked before you open these file types. Finally, you want to look out for attachments that could contain macros like .xls and .doc files. Macros can be used to disguise viruses and malicious code. Using an anti-virus scanner on your computer will assist in safeguarding your system.
Even though the cyber world can be dangerous and confusing at times, there are ways to secure yourself online. These five common cybersecurity tips can help protect you from outside threats and provide you with a stress-free internet experience.