Online Safety - Simple Steps

By Security Communications and Awareness Team, Jeff Stanley ·
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From cyber bullying to obtaining personal and sensitive information through phishing campaigns, harm lurks in many corners of the Internet. With a few simple steps, anyone connected can improve their personal security, making their online activities safer.

It’s important to practice good habits to protect your devices, personal information and Internet connections. October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and now is a great time to take these simple steps to help protect yourself and your family from becoming victims of criminal activity.

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Secure your devices. Viruses, malware and ransomware are tools of hackers and thieves designed to damage or disable computer systems and steal personal information. In order to protect from these threats, home users can take a few steps to harden their defenses.  

  • Maintain updates to your security software, web browsers and computer’s operating software. Updates from manufacturers or service providers are designed to protect you from new threats, keeping criminals away from your connected devices and the data they store. Automatic updates should be enabled where available on all devices used to connect to the Internet, including computers, smart phones and tablets.
  • Scan devices connected to the network for viruses and malware (including portable storage devices). Don’t forget to include scanning of internet of things (IoT) devices, which are connected to support today’s home and office automation.
  • Lock your devices when you aren’t actively using them. Locking them with a strong passcode can prevent data theft and unauthorized access to your accounts if you lose the device.

Secure your personal information. Your personal data is the ultimate target for online criminals. Protection of account login credentials, passwords and sensitive information is paramount to keeping you from being victimized. Because criminals and their tactics have become more sophisticated, using just a user name and password are no longer sufficient to protect you.  

  • Use multi-factor authentication options offered by banks, commerce and social media websites to verify your identity during the login process. Multi-factor authentication may include inputting a unique code from a token or smart device, and should be used anytime it’s available to inhibit unauthorized access to your accounts.  
  • Choose unique and complex passwords. An effective password should be at least 12 characters long and contain upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, and be easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess. It is important to choose a different password for each website you visit so that if one website is compromised, the attacker will not be able to access your other accounts.  
  • Periodically review and adjust privacy settings to protect your information from online targeting. Social media and commerce websites make it easy for us to stay connected or order our favorite items, but much of their revenue comes from advertising and sale of consumer data.  Your information in the wrong hands could put you at risk.  

Secure your connections. Internet criminals are very tricky and use lots of tactics to get to your information. Online advertising, social media posts, tweets and email attachments are some of the most common ways they’ll try to compromise your data. 

  • Never click on a link or attachment in a suspect email, particularly those coming from an unfamiliar source. This is known as “phishing” and it remains one of the easiest and favorite ways for criminals to gain access to your valuable information. Receiving an email from a trusted source often takes down our defenses. Knowing that, criminals try to make their phishing emails look like they’re coming from your bank or a known email contact. Instead of clicking a link or opening an attachment, it’s always best to type in the website address yourself or ask your friend or colleague if they sent you a document.  
  • Avoid connecting to unsecured, public Wi-Fi networks. Our modern and mobile lifestyle allows us to connect to the internet in a variety of ways. Many businesses, hotels and coffee houses offer free Wi-Fi or mobile hot-spots as a matter of convenience to their customers. While it’s usually fine to use these connections for generic Internet surfing, never conduct banking, shopping or access sensitive online information on open networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are set up to enhance customer experience, but they usually don’t have the necessary security protocols to protect your most sensitive data.

Secure yourself. Internet hacking, unauthorized access to data, and tricking users into sharing personal or sensitive information is an ever-evolving threat to our online safety. What we share and how we share it is a personal choice. The Internet isn’t private and information shared can never be completely deleted, so it’s important to follow common sense when putting information “out there.”   

  • Only connect on social networks with people you know. 
  • Be cautious about the information you reveal online. If sharing vacation pictures or business accomplishments, it’s always best to do so historically – don’t alert criminals of an easy, empty home or office to target.  
  • Check your settings. Many apps, networks and devices now have default geo-tagging features, which make it easy to determine a user’s geographical location. You should periodically check and change your settings to disable these features.

With these simple steps, you can enhance your online safety. Embracing a culture of security and keeping abreast of new ways criminals conduct their nefarious activities will help protect your devices, information and connections to the Internet.

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