Cyber crime is not exclusive to any industry or individual. The power of the internet is a shared responsibility that comes with burdens for which we must all take responsibility. The month of October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an annual campaign by the United States Department of Homeland Security, intended to raise awareness to keep U.S. citizens resilient in the face of cyber security threats.
Read the following tips for some basic steps you can take to protect your data:
Be picky about sharing information.
It seems obvious, but in a rush we often overlook the consequences of unnecessarily oversharing. Before blindly providing your personal information online, such as your full name, email, and address, ask yourself whether it’s worth it. It’s one thing if you’re making an online purchase and the information is required for a transaction, but does every website you’re looking at really need to know your home address and email? Typically if they’re asking for an email address, you’re signing up for something. Read the fine print, always. And if you can skip steps that ask for your information, do so as much as possible. You wouldn’t give up that kind of information to a stranger on the streets, so try to keep that mentality online. Frankly, it’s none of their business. Stranger danger is real.
If it seems suspicious, throw it out.
Cyber criminals creep into your space through links, tweets, posts, ads, and other downloadable content. If it seems suspect, you should just trust your instincts and delete it, or at the very least, mark it as junk so that you won’t receive future messages from the same source. Never click suspicious-looking links, especially if they’re from an unknown source. Malware likes to attach itself through common downloadable content, such as MP3s. If an MP3 download ends in EXE, for example, consider it a red flag.
Set strong, frequently changing passwords.
This can’t be emphasized enough. It’s a pain, but it’s also one of the best ways to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals. Change your password every few months. Be sure to include capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and at least one or two special characters. Unfortunately using your mom’s name plus “12345” is not going to cut it in this day in age. The more complex your password, the harder you make it for hackers to hijack your information.
Secure your accounts with two-factor authentication (2FA or TFA).
Some websites now have the option to require additional identification, other than the typical username and password, before conducting business on a website. A common security identifier used in TFA is your cell phone. The site will use SMS technology to text you a code which you can enter to gain access. Banks, for example, commonly utilize TFA when making online transactions. You know, the part where they ask you for your grandmother’s last name, or the name of your kindergarten teacher? This all falls under the category of two-factor authentication. Every little bit helps.
Secure your cell phone!
Cell phones are no longer just phones. A ton of private information is stored within your cell phone, including very personal information about yourself, your friends, and your family. Protecting that data is just as important as your laptop or desktop, especially if you’re on a network. Any vulnerabilities on one device can affect other devices on the network. Use a passcode. Keep it locked when it’s not in use. And never leave your mobile device unattended in public places.