Did you know that October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month? Every year, in a joint effort with the Department of Defense, the National Cyber Security Alliance rolls out a brand new batch of Internet safety tips for businesses and families, alike, to implement throughout the year. However, the October timing is no coincidence. In fact, this week marks the very first of the dozens of weeks which comprise the online holiday shopping season. Between October and January, the cybercriminals really start to come crawling out of the woodwork, with an eye toward your personal information: credit card numbers, passwords, travel documentation, you name it!
Here are few simple tricks that will always hold true, no matter the season, which you really ought to start implementing now.
1. Update ALL of your software. Remember, every single device that connects to the Internet requires protection: smartphones, gaming software, computers, etc. If it can access the Internet, consider it a mini-computer, in need of regular software updates and anti-virus protection. That’s right. Unfortunately, even your mobile devices need an extra layer of defense against online attacks. The best defense against malware and other online hazards is the latest version of your current security software. And if you don’t have any anti-virus tools loaded onto your smartphone, now’s the best time to invest.
2. Don’t give out your mobile phone number. Consider all of your personal data, sensitive information. That goes for the number to your smartphone, your email address, your social security number, and your full name. If you’re filling out a web form, be sure that the source is one you can trust before divulging any data. And if someone asks for your mobile number or email address in person – be wary of that, too.
3. Secure your home router. It’s likely that you set up a password for your home network when you first set up your home router, but did you know that you can make a separate log-on for guests? That’s right! If you ever have visitors staying over at your home (especially over the holidays), set up a guest network for them, in the same way you initiated your home network. The rationale behind this tip, is that the more users you introduce to a single network, the more potential you introduce for breaches. And while you’re at it, double check to see that you’re router’s security levels are set at WPA or WPA2, as opposed to the WEP option. Those are the stronger security levels of the three
4. Use a firewall. The job of your firewall is to watch out for break-in attempts. It checks all of your incoming emails, files, and website communications, while ensuring that your outbound communications with the Internet are likewise secure. In Windows, you can check to see that your firewall is turned on within your Control Panel, under “Security and Features.” If you’re on a Mac, you’ll find a similar tab within your System Preferences. Coupled with updated software, your firewall will keep the private information stored on your desktop secure.
5. Check your URL for the “S.” If you conduct online banking or shopping, this is a huge trick to make sure that your financial transactions take place over a secure network. Look for web addresses that contain the phrase “https://” or “shttp://” up top. If it helps you remember, just think that the “s” stands for safety or security. An address that starts with only “http://” and doesn’t contain any “s” is not secure.
6. Back up your data. Unfortunately, accidents happen over the hectic, holiday season and so do company breaches, which are beyond the consumers’ control. That’s why this is a measure that everyone should take, regardless of how confident they arein their own, personal security efforts. In the event of a breach or a crash, if you’ve protected all of your digital assets and personal information on an external hard drive, restoring your information will be a breeze. All you need to do is simply re-import the data onto your computer, the moment your system is clean and up-and-running, safely.
8. Notify your contacts of a spam attack. Now, if you are the victim of an email hack, the best course of action is to warn all of your contacts not to open any emails or click on any links sent from your account, because it may contain malware. That being said, on your own computer, if you ever believe you’ve been infected, your first step should be to run an anti-virus scan of your system. Bonus tip: your second step should be to run that scan, again! In fact, you may want to use a different scanner to verify that your computer has been fully disinfected.
9. Change your password. Breach or no breach, it is never a bad idea to change up your passwords, frequently – and to use different passwords for different accounts. Here’s another idea: don’t store your passwords online. Keep them safe under physical lock and key, in a file cabinet, or at desk. Why are you storing them? The strongest passwords aren’t passwords that can be easily remembered. So, write your gibberish down!
10. Collect evidence and contact the authorities. This last tip may be the most important and least commonly shared. If you believe you may have been the victim of a cybercrime, there are very simple steps you can take against the perpetrator. Firstly, save and store any items that could provide evidence related to your complaint. Then, submit your claim to the IC3 or Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. There, your information will be reviewed and forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement group, under whose jurisdiction it falls. Remember, it’s crucial that you report your case as soon as you suspect a cybercrime! Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that these attacks come from people, rather than the Internet, itself or other computers.
As long as you keep these ten tips top of mind, you should be able to cruise through this year’s holiday season without a hitch. Just remember, you can never be too careful online. Do you have any other tips to add to this cut? Share them in the comments below!