The year 2020 has been an interesting twelve months to say the least with a majority of the workforce having at least some interaction with the virtual world. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced even some of our educators and students into an online learning environment. With more Americans online now than ever before, we are constantly exposing ourselves to cyber-attacks. Let’s dive into some quick tips and best practices for protecting what matters most – your data.
1. “Password123” is not a password
If you're anything like the rest of us, you have a password you are comfortable with and most importantly can remember. It might be a favorite pet, your mother's maiden name, or even your high school mascot. We could even venture to say that your password is probably almost the same (or slightly varying) for a majority of your logins. Little variation between passwords can make it easy for cyber criminals to guess your password and gain access to your information. This illustration below shows that the longer and more complex your password, the better.
Avoid using real words and/or personal information that would be easy to guess. An uppercase/lowercase mixture of alpha numeric characters is good. Adding in a special character is even better. Let’s look at the examples below.
Time to Update
Passwords tend to weaken as time goes on. The best practice is to update or change your password at least every 90 days. Most applications and software have your password security in mind and should prompt you to update your password frequently. Remember, there are countless cyber criminals out there mining for your password and data - it's best to keep them guessing.
If you start making your passwords more complex, chances are at some point you will have a hard time remembering each one or will lock yourself out with too many failed login attempts. One way to avoid this is adopting a password-saving tool. Third-party tools such as LastPass, 1Password, and Dashlane allow users to safely store their passwords and avoid the need to remember all of their login credentials.
2. Phishing for data
We all at some point (whether we knew it or not) have been on the receiving end of someone attempting to get personal information from us. Quite possibly it was disguised as a harmless email, or even a request from one of your favorite social media platforms. Identifying scams or phishing e-mails is an important step to protecting yourself from cybercrimes. Let’s look at a few things that might help us identify a scam.
- The request immediately discusses a need that can be filled only by you. Cyber criminals will try to pull at your heart strings while looking for information. Make sure when you read “We need donations” in the subject line that the e-mail is coming from a legitimate source.
- Unknown or faux sender – these can be tricky. Hackers have gotten good at disguising emails to look like the come from someone you know. Hover over the email address and make sure it’s one you recognize. If John Smith sent you an email as John1axfirstname.lastname@example.org be cautious. Call your sender if you are unsure. They could have been hacked and don’t even know it!
- Trapped in Spam or Junk – If it landed in your junk or spam folder, it’s probably for good reason. Be weary of allowing junk senders into your inbox unless you are sure the sender is real.
- Know how your financial institution communicates with you. Typically, we will never ask for personal identifiable information (PII) or sensitive information via email without a secure login portal.
A good rule of thumb – if you’re not comfortable with an email requesting personal information or something seems fishy, trust your gut and don’t respond or reach out to the sender personally to verify.
3. Shared Drive: What not to share
1. Physical Awareness – leaving a laptop or tablet unattended, storing passwords that are written down, and over the shoulder lookers are all things we should be aware of when protecting our information. Cyber attacks don’t always have to come to us virtually. Sometimes it could be the person sitting right next to you!
2. Private vs. Public – We all have our favorite coffee shop or café that is familiar to us and is a comfortable environment for us to study or get some work done. While their Wi-Fi is probably free, you cannot ensure that it is safe, and in most cases you should avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi. Personal hotspots and encrypted connections are great ways to help you safeguard yourself from the dangers of public Wi-Fi.
3. Keep Work at Work – private files from your personal computer could infect or cause issues to your work laptop, so it is best to keep things separate.
- Have updated antivirus/malware software monitoring and scanning your computer for vulnerabilities.
- Allow your computer time to update - Microsoft, Apple, and most of the other companies are constantly sending updates and patches to our machines in the form of updates. It may seem time consuming or pointless to restart your computer or schedule a time to allow it to update, but you may be doing more harm than good by delaying this process.
- Be aware of your surroundings, protect your passwords, and if in doubt, verify that an e-mail or digital prompt is legitimate.
You will never be 100% protected from hackers and cyber criminals, but there are things you can do to reduce your likelihood of a cybersecurity breach. You can have a number of protections and processes in place to operate safely in the virtual world, but the most important and first-line of defense is you!