According to the FBI, internet crime cost Americans more than $4.2 billion in the year 2020 alone. In other words, cybercriminals pulled off enough successful ransomware attacks, account hijacks, data breaches and other high-tech misdeeds that they could have purchased the Minnesota Vikings and still had over a billion dollars left over.
“Cyber security” brings images of elite hackers to mind – supernerds working in front of giant computers with esoteric green symbols flashing on their screens. But even if you never quite figured out how to program a VCR (a shame the younger generations will never know), there is still much you can do to keep yourself safer online. Here are seven cyber security tips you can start following today!
1. Use Strong Passwords
Hackers love simple passwords such as “password,” “iloveyou” and “123456.” They have a big list containing all the most common passwords. Even more so, they’re able to crack most of them in less than one second.
Don’t make it so easy for digital ne’er-do-wells. Choose passwords with at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number, and one symbol (except for the following: & # _ @ %).
Furthermore, avoid using the same password for two different accounts or devices. You should always reset your password whenever you forget it. Don’t store your passwords online! However skilled a hacker might become, they will never be able to hack into a notepad sitting on your desk.
2. Use Two-Factor Authentication
Many online services are accessible to anyone who has a username and a password. Two-factor authentication requires an additional step, such as the input of a security code that is texted directly to the user whenever they try to log in.
This can be an extra hassle. But, two-factor identification effectively locks anyone out of your account unless they have access to your cell phone. Hackers operating out of Soviet-era Khrushchyovkas do not have access to your cell phone!
3. Don’t Share Personally Identifiable Information Online
True to its name, personally identifiable information (PII) is any information that can be used to identify a person online. This includes your date of birth, social security number, home address, and anything else you wouldn’t trust a stranger to know. But PII may even include harmless information such as your race, your religion, and places you frequently visit.
The safest approach is to share zero information about yourself online. We’re not insisting that you delete Facebook (how else will your friends know what you had for lunch?), but at the very least set your social media accounts to private!
4. Keep Your Software Updated
Software developers are continually improving their products by detecting vulnerabilities to hackers and patching them. You want the most up-to-date versions of any software you are using. These give cybercriminals the fewest opportunities to access your valuable data. Turn on automatic updates, and don’t avoid updating just because it’s bothersome. Getting hacked is a far greater inconvenience.
5. Use Antivirus Protection
We’re not talking about surgical masks here. Antivirus software is specifically created to detect and remove cybercrooks’ harmful software, as well as prevent its installation in the first place. Reputable antivirus software developers continually update their products to address all the latest worms, Trojan horses, and other colorfully named types of malware.
A firewall, which is a security device that is designed to monitor network traffic, can also prevent a cyberattack. Most operating systems come with their own respective firewalls, but it is worthwhile to ensure that you have one in place and it is functioning correctly.
6. Avoid Phishing
Not to be confused with the jam band from Vermont, “phishing” is any cybercrime in which the perpetrator pretends to be a legitimate institution in order to con their victims into handing over money or sensitive PII. Most successful ransomware attacks start out as phishing!
Obviously the IRS will never call you demanding Apple Store gift cards, but not all phishing attempts are so unconvincing. Never open emails from unknown sources. If you do open an email from a suspect source, never click any links or download any attachments it might contain.
Be aware of the sender’s email address. If someone claiming to work for Microsoft has an email address like “firstname.lastname@example.org,” then they are certainly phishing. But take extra care – cybercriminals have been known to use legitimate companies’ email addresses in the past.
They may even use the same email address as someone you already know and trust. If you get a strange email from a friend that contains only a brief message and a link, don’t click it. Instead tell your friend what happened so they can change their email password as soon as possible!
7. Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsecure. Unless you are utilizing Virtual Private Network (VPN) software which encrypts your data, it is best never to access the Wi-Fi offered by coffee shops, bars and community centers. Use the hotspot on your smart phone instead if you are able – it offers substantially more security than the digital equivalent of a public drinking fountain.
Would you like to know more about how Sherburne State Bank keeps our clients’ personal information safe in the Information Age? Then we welcome you to contact us today, or stop by any one of our branches in Becker, Monticello or Princeton, Minnesota for a friendly face-to-face chat. (Those are becoming all too rare these days!)