Each October since 2004, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance have teamed to create more awareness within the American public about the dangers that lurk online1 – from phishing emails to celebrities having private photos hacked into and displayed.
In a presidential proclamation supporting the month-long awareness campaign, President Barack Obama stated that “cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers” for the United States. “Cyberspace touches nearly every part of our daily lives. It supports our schools and businesses, powers the grid that stretches across our Nation, and connects friends and families around the world. Our constant connection has led to revolutions in medicine and technology and has bettered our society, but it has also introduced new risks, especially to our finances, identity and privacy.”2
And lately, cyber criminals seem to be zeroing in on high-profile corporations, such as JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot, Dairy Queen and many others. So it begs the question: If these large companies – many of whom spend millions to protect their information security – are so vulnerable, how can individuals better protect themselves from the wrath of hackers?
According to the Department of Homeland Security and other sources, every person can implement safeguards to protect themselves, their assets and personal information. Here are our top six:
- Change passwords regularly – and avoid using the same one for multiple accounts. Modify your passwords at least once every three months. Make them long, strong and hard to guess, such as turning a sentence into a password using capital and lowercase letters, as well as special characters in between.
- De-activate geo-tagging on mobile devices. Did you know that each time you take a photo with your mobile device, the photo is geotagged? This means that the location where the photo was taken is automatically added to the photo. Upload it to a social sharing site, and anyone who views the photo knows where you are or where you were when you took it. Cyber criminals can easily deduce your whereabouts, as well as that of present company, and exploit it.
- Install recommended updates to your web browser, operating system and other critical software. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, these are the best defenses against virus, malware and other online threats.
- Be savvy about Wi-Fi hot spots: Be mindful of the type of business you are conducting over these networks, as they are more easily penetrated. Enjoy some electronics-free time at the local coffee shop and save the bank statement reviews for when you return home.
- Protect your funds. Spending some free time banking or shopping online? Make sure that the sites are security-enabled by looking at the web address. Does it say https:// vs. http? That means the site has instituted extra measures to protect consumer information.
- Delete if you aren’t sure. We all get emails that “sound” as though they are legit, the ones that ask you to click on a link to take advantage of X, Y, Z promotion. However, clicking those links can open up the pathway for cyber criminals to have a field day with your computer. Err on the safe side and either get it rid of it or mark it as junk mail.
Although no method is entirely foolproof when it comes to deterring online predators, individual efforts such as these can collectively impact the strength of a cyber-secure world.
What tactics do you employ to stay safe in the cyber world? Comment below!