When giving advice on how to better protect our technology, it is often that security professionals make the mistake of thinking that every average user should know the same immense amount of information on security principles that they do. Therefore, securing personal data often appears to users as overwhelming or too much of an effort to pursue, so bad habits continue. However, cybersecurity is not as complicated as it seems. A lot of the time, security hygiene is as simple as the hygiene for brushing your teeth or taking a shower (which hopefully you would follow). Included in this post are ten basic things that a user can do to increase their personal security, without much effort.
Passwords are hands down the security habit that gets users in the most trouble. There’s no blame because we’ve all been there: We had to create a new account for a website, so we grabbed a post-it note and jotted down the first easy word that popped into our heads… then we stashed it and forgot about it.
1. Get a password manager
To avoid the frustration that comes with being disorganized, use a password manager. Password managers encrypt all of your passwords (so they are secret) in one place and are accessed by one master password, which is the only password you’ll need to remember! I suggest using LastPass, which is a great tool and is free to download in the App Store.
2. Do not use the same password for your accounts
Although it is so easy, using the same password across multiple accounts also makes it easy for hackers to do a lot of damage. If they have a password that is the same for your gmail, online banking, Facebook, etc. then they can affect all of those areas. However, you’re giving yourself an extra layer of protection if you have a different password for each. Relevant Stock Market Metaphor: Think of the danger of putting all of your eggs in the same basket.
3. Create strong passwords
A strong password is at least a length of 10 characters long (or longer if you want to be safer), and uses uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters like “!” or “_”. Strong passwords are more difficult for hackers to guess.
4. Turn on multi-factor authentication
Multi Factor authentication (or called 2-step verification) sends a user a code over text SMS messaging for them to enter after they have entered their password to an account. The system isn’t perfect, but it serves as an extra security hurdle for hackers to tackle. If you have the option to employ 2-step, you should definitely do it.
WI-FI & NETWORKS
1. Use a VPN to connect to public wi-fi
Public wi-fi networks are often unsafe for an average user to connect to because hackers are able to abuse the slackened security controls that allow anyone to join the network. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is helpful in that it creates a Local Area Network that allows a user to privately connect to the network from a remote location.
2. Use and create a strong wi-fi password
It is surprising that some people don’t create passwords for their personal wi-fi in their homes, but it is definitely something you should do. You wouldn’t want just anybody accessing your network, looking at your open ports to plan an easy attack. Creating a strong wi-fi password is an extra way to limit access and ensure that only certain users are able to use your network.
1. Always complete any software OS updates or application patches when they first come out
When any software, application, or OS updates come out, they usually include updated security patches that fix past security issues on your machine. Therefore, it is vital to complete any updates to improve the efficiency of your system.
2. Download an antivirus software on your computer to scan for malware and viruses
There is much debate on whether antivirus software truly works to prevent malware and viruses, but you should definitely have some antivirus software on your machine to catch detected anomalies. Antivirus software periodically scans your machine for malicious files or downloads and deletes them before they can be activated. Sophos and malwarebytes are good platforms to start with.
1. Use Apple products
It must be clarified that Macs do not prevent cyber attacks, but they have less vulnerabilities than Windows or other machines. Apple’s security teams work around the clock to constantly come out with security patches for their devices, so this may be a reason why Macs seem to have a lower rate of incidents.
2. When buying IoT devices or any other tech device, check the default configurations of the product and switch them to make them more secure
Whenever we buy a cool new video camera or virtual assistant, it is common to switch it on and let it be without checking the device’s settings. However, keep in mind that anything connected to the internet can and will be hacked! If you haven’t reset the factory configurations on an IoT device, it makes it easier for hackers to access it. You can enhance your device's security by simply changing the default password that the IoT device was assigned when it was first made. It is also a good tip to create a network only for your IoT devices to be on so that they are separate from your main network if they are compromised.
As users, of course we are all not perfect. We make mistakes and we often don’t think twice about using our technology in insecure ways until a breach occurs in the long-run. However, we can be better. By doing these ten simple things, it is not guaranteed that you will become completely safe from cyber attacks, but you will for sure be safer than before when you didn’t. Hopefully, this guide provides a starting point for becoming more secure.