Until recently, concerns about cybersecurity were largely limited to IT departments. But over the past decade, and especially in the past few years, public concern about cybersecurity is on the rise — and rightfully so. The vulnerability of our personal data is a legitimate cause for alarm and it’s something that needs to be taken seriously by everyone.
We’ve all seen the headlines about major data breaches at companies such as Facebook and Equifax. We’ve heard the stories about identity theft or experienced it ourselves. Cybersecurity isn’t something anyone can afford to ignore anymore. The reality is your private data is valuable to hackers, and although cybersecurity experts are working around the clock to keep criminals at bay, no company cares more about your privacy than you do.
Unfortunately, it is true that we never have total control of our data once it is shared, but we can be careful to follow best practices and take simple precautions to stay as cyber secure as possible.
What is Cybersecurity?
To understand what you need to know about cybersecurity as an individual, you need to first understand the cyberattack threats you are facing.
Think of each place where you share data on the internet as a rental home. You feel comfortable storing your valuables, such as your passwords and social security number; and when you leave, you’re careful to lock the front and back doors. Because you trust the landlord, you assume the locks are in working order and expect the house to be secure.
But then, you may discover an intruder has picked the locks, climbed through the windows, or tunneled a hole through the basement floor. As soon as one entryway is blocked another one can always be created. So no matter what the owner does to secure the home, someone can always get in. This gives you an idea of what you are up against.
Not only do you need to be careful to protect your bank accounts and investment accounts, but you also need to be careful with your email login, health insurance information, social networking accounts, and even apps such as games you play on your phone.
From a company’s perspective, cybersecurity is about protecting customer or employee data from ever-evolving threats of cyberattacks, and recovering networks, programs, and devices if an attack occurs. From your perspective as a consumer, cybersecurity is about being careful to minimize your exposure.
How to Stay Secure While Staying Connected
1 – Use Strong Passwords
No matter how challenging it is to remember a long list of complex passwords, it’s worth it. At a minimum, use a combination of at least 10 letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid repeating passwords on different sites and be sure to change your passwords regularly.
2 – Keep Your Software Updated
Be proactive about updating your software and never ignore prompts letting you know an update is available. Allowing outdated versions of applications and programs to run on your systems or devices leaves you open to attacks. Updates are often patching known flaws and potential exploits that have been discovered.
3 – Use Encryption
Encrypt your computer so your data is protected in case it is lost or stolen. Strengthen your home network, or any public Wi-Fi network you use, by having a strong encryption password on a virtual private network (VPN). This way, if your communication line is hacked, the cybercriminals will only be able to see the encrypted data.
4 – Be Cautious
Small mistakes can cause big problems if you are not careful.
Be discreet when entering your pin at a register or ATM, and check for card skimmers before swiping. Avoid sharing personal information on social media—something as seemingly minor as sharing your mother’s maiden name or a pet’s name could be the key a hacker needs to access your account. When you open emails, use good judgment before clicking on links or attachments, which could contain malware or lead you to a phishing scheme.
5 – Use a Protection Suite
A comprehensive computer security suite, such as Norton or McAfee, will provide a layered defense against common threats, providing safe browsing, firewall capabilities, anti-virus, and anti-phishing protection, automated updates, and more.
6 – Sign Up for Real-Time Alerts and Identity Protection Services
Start using the real-time notifications and monitoring services offered by your banks and credit card companies, so that they will contact you in the event of any purchase attempt that they deem unusual. For a fee, professional identity protection companies will monitor your credit cards, Social Security number, and other data for unusual activity.
Keeping a close eye on your accounts will go a long way toward limiting any damage that can be done by cybercriminals.
7 – Consider Your Entire Household
Talk with your children and elderly parents about how to protect against cyber threats, as they tend to be particularly susceptible to mistakes that can lead to problems.
Also, look around your house to take your personal Internet of Things (IoTs) into consideration — anything that connects to the internet, such as televisions, gaming systems, home security systems, appliances, thermostats, and voice-controlled personal assistants. These devices are particularly vulnerable to attacks, so be sure to unplug them when not in use, change passwords regularly, configure the highest possible privacy settings, and if possible segment them from your home networks.
If you do become a victim of cybercrime, contact the companies and banks involved and alert your local police, who may also recommend you report the crime to the FBI or the Federal Trade Commission.
Most importantly, remain vigilant and never let your guard down. It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you learn how to make simple changes and stay abreast of new threats, staying cyber secure will become as second nature as locking your doors.