Every day we put into practice our set of rules in order to keep ourselves safe, healthy and organized: when we wake up, we start the day by making our beds, brushing our teeth, and tidying up as we go. Before long, most of us will have booted up our laptop or checked our phone.
But what should you be doing when you log on to your computer? As the internet has continued to play a larger part in our everyday lives, it has become essential to practice good cyber hygiene in order to avoid falling victim to scams and attacks. Today we will be going through some of the best practices which you should be doing to keep yourself safe online.
One of the easiest ways for bad actors to gain access to your data is through old versions of software, which could be anything from your internet browser to your entire operating system. The reason that software publishers continue to push out updates is to patch out vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. When you neglect a software update, you put yourself at risk. Make a point to update your software as soon as you can, and for any applications that may not automatically check for updates on their own, remember to periodically check for updates yourself.
Especially important to avoid is software that is no longer being supported by its publisher, and therefore will receive no further updates. This is known as an end-of-life product. The longer a piece of software goes without receiving any security patches, the longer that hackers have to find and exploit weaknesses in the code. In this instance, best practice is to remove the program and replace it with one which continues to be updated.
A growing concern among consumers is the idea of 'planned obsolescence', where software updates may either be halted for older hardware or intentionally designed to cripple it. Regardless of how you feel about it, if your hardware is no longer being supported by the manufacturer then you need to look to replace it as soon as you can. Older devices may not be able to install the latest updates, so you risk using unsupported software on unsupported hardware which is a recipe for disaster.
You may not be the only person using your computer or network, and sometimes other users will need permission to download software or to change settings. However, it may not be a good idea to give everybody admin privileges. You need to be certain that they practice good cyber hygiene themselves, and even then, restricting access to admin privileges to a select few does a lot to keep your network and devices secure. It also helps you better trace attacks and vulnerabilities, and mitigates the damage that could be caused by user error. As inconvenient as it may be for those without admin privileges, strongly consider enacting this policy.
'Brute forcing' is a form of attack where a hacker will run a program to try to log in to your account with hundreds of different passwords each second. It is considered one of the most primitive forms of attack, but if your password is as weak as 'password123', then it is just a matter of time before your account is compromised. The best passwords use a range of letters, both lower- and upper-case, numbers and symbols and are at least 10 digits long, however the longer the better. For more information, consider reading our guide to passwords here.
You can still be hacked even if you have set a strong password. Usually, this won't be by brute force, but by some other exploit - phishing, social engineering or a data breach for example. If you use the same passwords on every website and neglect to change them regularly, then you are making yourself vulnerable to attack. One way you can prevent this, though, is by using multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever you can. This is where at least one more device, usually a phone or PIN device, is needed to confirm a log-in before anybody can access your accounts, including yourself. This will hugely improve your account's security but is not impenetrable, so you will need to continue to demonstrate caution. Furthermore, it is not offered everywhere, but it is strongly recommended that you use it wherever it is offered.
While most operating systems will have some integrated virus detection, you may like to consider installing another antivirus. Good antivirus software is kept regularly updated in order to detect and shut down all the latest viruses and malware, and some offer additional services such as detecting unused software and ways you can free up disk space.
Firewalls are designed to keep entities outside your network from getting in. There are a variety of ways they do this, but generally: they outline a security policy that limits connections to the network. This keeps your private network secure, and means that bad actors will be blocked from connecting to your network through the internet. Your router may have a built-in firewall, else you may like to consider setting up either a hardware or software firewall.
Encryption is an important safety measure which pays dividends if your devices or data is ever stolen or intercepted. For example, USB drives are not encrypted out of the box. If it is stolen, the hacker can plug it in to their computer and search through the data as they like. On the other hand, if your computer is stolen and your drives are encrypted, then they will not be able to access the data on it without first logging in - they would need to know your log in credentials as well. There is no way for them to extract any useful data without them, and your encrypted data is generally too complex for a hacker to decrypt. Remember that this also applies to data that is stored and shared online, so you should consider using end-to-end or client-side encrypted services where you can.
Keeping your data backed up, either on the cloud or on external drives, can be a useful way of mitigating the damage caused by malware or data loss. Always ensure that you keep your back-ups secure. Consider following the 3-2-1 rule for creating your back-ups: three back ups, saved to two (or more) different devices, with one (or more) kept at a different location.
There may be personal or even sensitive data on your device that you no longer need, and would be easy for a hacker to exploit. Always consider what data or software is no longer required, such as apps you no longer use with cached log-ins, obsolete apps or data, sensitive information that could be used to identify you and so on. Keep your desktop and folders organised so it is easy for you to reallocate disk space when needed.
This is arguably the most important thing you can do to avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime. Ultimately, the biggest risk factors to a device or network are its end users, those being yourself and anyone else who uses your network. It is your responsibility to remain vigilant and to continue to educate yourself on the ever-changing avenues of cyber-attack. You should be able to recognise and avoid an array of phishing attempts in various formats. Recognise when you may be using a shady website, always check to see if it is secure or not. Always be cautious about disclosing your personal information online no matter what website you are using. And, importantly, remember to always maintain good cyber hygiene.
The information contained in this article is provided by White Blue Ocean, part of CRIF Group, a global company specializing in credit & business information systems, analytics, outsourcing and processing services, as well as advanced digital solutions for business development and open banking.
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