October crept up on us as hot summer nights quickly turned to cool, crisp evenings and green leaves have begun transitioning to yellows and reds in preparation for the annual autumn spectacular. Children across the country are deciding which favorite Superhero or villain they want to be when they participate in the annual tradition of “guising” on All Hallows Eve, aka Halloween.
It’s a spooky time of year with all the ghosts, goblins, witches, and other scary characters wandering around creating mayhem and mischief. These days, going online to chat or follow your friends and family on social media, doing research for school, and even working, has become precarious every day of the year. There are a lot of hackers, fraudsters, and other bad actors lurking behind the anonymity of the World Wide Web disguised with tricks designed to steal your personal information.
The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have kicked off their annual October Cybersecurity Awareness Month to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity and provide individuals and businesses with the tips and tools to be safer and more secure online. This year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month theme is “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.”
The 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that 61% of data breaches used compromised credentials. When your email address, passwords, and usernames are compromised by a hacker, there’s a good chance those credentials will be sold at some point (now or in the future) to cybercriminals who will use them to breach websites or apps and pilfer online data. Phishing attacks account for more than 80% of reported security incidents, according to Verizon’s report. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) reported that phishing was the most common type of cybercrime in 2020, with the FBI receiving 241,342 complaints in 2020. Read more about phishing and how to avoid being lured by phishing attacks.
Staying safe online and practicing good cyber hygiene starts with you. It’s up to you to take responsibility and own your role in protecting your personal information and securing your systems and devices. The NCSA has eight basic steps you can take to enhance your cyber safety.
NCSA CYBERSECURITY BASICS
MAKE A LONG, UNIQUE PASSPHRASE
Length trumps complexity. A strong passphrase is a sentence that is at least 12 characters long. Focus on positive sentences or phrases that you like to think about and are easy to remember.
Use 2-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication (like biometrics, security keys or a unique, one-time code through an app on your mobile device) whenever offered.
WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT
Links in email, tweets, texts, posts, social media messages and online advertising are the easiest way for cyber criminals to get your sensitive information. Be wary of clicking on links or downloading anything that comes from a stranger or that you were not expecting. Essentially, just don’t trust links.
KEEP A CLEAN MACHINE
Keep all software on internet connected devices – including personal computers, smartphones and tablets – current to reduce risk of infection from ransomware and malware. Configure your devices to automatically update or to notify you when an update is available.
BACK IT UP
Data loss is spooky. Protect your valuable work, music, photos and other digital information by making an electronic copy and storing it safely. If you have a copy of your data and your device falls victim to ransomware or other cyber threats, you will be able to restore the data from a backup. Use the 3-2- 1 rule as a guide to backing up your data. The rule is: keep at least three (3) copies of your data, and store two (2) backup copies on different storage media, with one (1) of them located offsite.
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OWN YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
Every time you sign up for a new account, download a new app, or get a new device, immediately configure the privacy and security settings to your comfort level for information sharing. Regularly check these settings (at least once a year) to make sure they are still configured to your comfort.
SHARE WITH CARE
Think before posting about yourself and others online. Consider what a post reveals, who might see it and how it might affect you or others. Consider creating an alternate persona that you use for online profiles to limit how much of your own personal information you share.
GET SAVVY ABOUT WIFI HOTSPOTS
Public wireless networks and hotspots are not secure, which means that anyone could potentially see what you are doing on your laptop or smartphone while you are connected to them. Limit what you do on public WiFi, and avoid logging in to key accounts like email and financial services.
Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) or a personal/mobile hotspot if you need a more secure connection.