It is difficult to remember what it was like before the Internet became such an integrated part of our daily lives. Tasks such as transferring funds, purchasing items online, electronically communicating with other people, and streaming music are now an inherent part of our everyday existence. However, as our digital world expands, the value of the data we store and share online increases. The creation of this cyber economy has produced a new breed of criminals who profit from stealing our identities and confidential information. As such, we need to take proactive steps and put measures in place to protect ourselves from these growing cyber threats.
Our ability to interact and transact online has fundamentally changed the way we conduct business and interact with the rest of society. However, as we use common sense to protect ourselves in the real world, there are a few common sense cybersecurity tactics we can utilize to protect our data and identities in the digital realm. The problem is many people choose to ignore cyber security until it is too late. The fact is no matter what you do online there are a few cardinal rules you need to follow to protect yourself.
Use Secure Passwords
Your passwords are the keys to your digital kingdom. In some instances, the only security measure standing between your data and the cybercriminals eager to steal it is a string of characters. Choosing a secure password, one that is easy for you to remember but difficult for someone else to guess, is therefore essential in ensuring your online accounts remain safe.
A good password needs to have a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. This convention ensures an attacker cannot use a typical list of dictionary words to automate an attack against your login credentials. However, the key to a secure password is its length. The longer the password, the longer it will take for an automated tool to crack it. As such, your password should be at least eight characters in length and form a word or phrase you will remember.
Use Different Passwords for Each Online Account
Coming up with a secure password can be difficult, and while it is tempting to reuse this super password on all your accounts, this is not a good practice. Data breaches are an almost daily occurrence, and often involve hackers gaining access to the password database of the compromised site. In some instances, adequate protection mechanisms such as encryption are missing, resulting in the stolen passwords falling into the hands of criminals. Hackers then reuse these credentials to gain unauthorized access to other sites, knowing that many people reuse the same password across multiple accounts. So even though it is easier to remember one super complex password, it is not a good idea to use it across various sites and online services.
There are a variety of password managers available to assist you in not only creating complex passwords but keeping them secure. These software applications act like a bank vault which encrypts and securely stores all your passwords. Accessing this vault usually requires you to remember a single password. Therefore, using a password manager gives you the benefit of only needing to remember one super complex password while you gain the security of multiple complex passwords for all of your online accounts.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication Where Possible
Some applications give you enhanced login security by providing facilities for multi-factor authentication. This security mechanism is often a two-step login process where you need to enter your password, and then verify your identity using another validation factor. These second factors utilize something you have (like your smartphone) instead of something you know (like your password). Typically, these mechanisms send you a One Time Pin (OTP) or utilize an app installed on your phone which generates a random number every few minutes. You then need to enter these codes once you have successfully passed the first phase of the process by submitting the correct password. Utilizing these multi-step verification solutions ensures your account remains secure as an attacker would need to compromise your password as well as have access to your device before they can gain unauthorized entry.
Do Not Click on Links or Open Attachments from Unknown Senders
Email, social media, and instant messaging apps are an integral part of our everyday lives. Hackers like to leverage these communication platforms in their attacks as it targets the end user directly. Using deceptive techniques, attackers socially engineer and intentionally trick users into clicking on links or downloading attachments which steal their login credentials or compromise their devices.
Protecting yourself from these kinds of attacks requires vigilance. Before clicking on any link, make sure you verify the authenticity of the sender by checking their email address. If you do click on a link which takes you to a login page, it may be a phishing page created to steal your login credentials. Verifying the authenticity of the page by checking the URL is the best way to avoid becoming a victim. For example, hackers like to swap characters to deceive you and may build a phishing site with the URL “www.bnak.com” instead of “www.bank.com.” Some attackers even purchase legitimate encryption solutions so that the page looks authentic. It is therefore essential for your security that you remain vigilant and check the URL of any page which asks you to log in, especially if you have been taken there after you clicked on an email link.
In addition to phishing attacks, hackers also like to use email and other communication platforms to spread malware. Utilizing two common methods, they once again use deception and mislead a user into either downloading an attachment or clicking on a link. If you download the malicious attachment and execute it by opening the file, your system then gets infected. Clicking on a malicious link redirects you to a website which the hacker controls, where scripting software running in the background can also infect your system. Keeping your anti-malware software updated can help prevent these types of attacks, but the best course of action is not to open attachments or click on links from unknown senders.
Public Wi-Fi is Not Secure
Public Wi-Fi is a convenient amenity we all use from time to time. However, using it to perform certain activities such as online banking can result in a compromised account. Using networking tools which are freely available on the Internet, hackers can intercept traffic sent between your device and your banking website. Even encrypted data is not secure if you are not vigilant and click on certificate warnings.
If you have to use public Wi-Fi, then utilize the services of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider. These services create an encrypted tunnel between your device and a VPN server. Not only do these services protect you while you are using public networks, but they also offer you enhanced privacy as they hide your Internet traffic, masking the sites you visit and any other activities you perform online.
Update Your Software and Apps Regularly
Known vulnerabilities in software applications and operating systems are leveraged by hackers to compromise systems. Software vendors regularly release updates which plug the holes these vulnerabilities create. By installing these updates, you not only increase the security of your system but also gain access to enhanced features and benefit from better performance. In addition to applying software updates regularly, you should also ensure your anti-malware solution is updated daily. New malware variants are released all the time, and the only way to protect your systems effectively is to have the latest malware signatures which these solutions utilize to identify and defend against malicious software.
Remember to Use Common Sense and Remain Vigilant
The Internet may have ushered in a new era of productivity and connectivity, but it has also increased the risk businesses and individuals face each day. By following a few basic security rules, you can protect your business from the growing risk of cyber threats. Common sense tactics such as using multiple strong passwords when accessing your various online accounts can go a long way in increasing your security. Furthermore, taking advantage of multi-factor authentication when it is available further enhances your safety in this new digital world. It is also crucial you remain vigilant and never click on links or download attachments from unknown senders, and where possible, do not access sensitive information over public Wi-FI networks. Finally, ensuring you are on the latest software version and have the most recent anti-malware updates installed are also effective defenses against cyber threats.
JMARK has been helping businesses in Springfield, Tulsa, and Fayetteville protect their I.T. environments with the help of innovative cybersecurity solutions for over thirty years. In fact, we were recently named one of the Top 100 Security Service Providers in the world. The driving force behind everything we do is to help our clients move their business forward and achieve their goals. To learn more about how we can help you secure your I.T. services while improving the productivity and security of your organization, contact us today.