Did you know that October is National Cybersecurity Awareness month? If you didn’t, you are not alone. As with any topic, the goal of the campaign is to raise awareness and educate.
With the proliferation of hackers, securing and protecting your digital profile is paramount. Failure to do so can lead to a timely and costly remediation.
Secure it, Protect it
Hackers have become quite skilled at prying into our personal information. According to Statista.com, Internet-based crime is one of the fastest growing security threats in the U.S. Cipher.com noted that 55% of security breaches come from phishing/hacking/malware and individual mistakes. Yet, many breaches are preventable by taking simple steps.
1. Create a strong password. Gone are the days when you could secure your information behind ‘123456’ or ‘password.’ Instead, choose a phrase you can easily remember and add caps and special characters.
For example: I.HarT-the.flick.Starwars@!, I-LoV-Autumn&&!+, or Ne-FooT!!Ball–. I think you get the picture. Or use a password management tool.
2. Use Multifactor Authentication. Multifactor authentication is a complex way of saying that two credentials are required to access an account.
Let me explain. Once you enter a password, the website sends an email or text with a series of letters or numbers that are required to access an account. If it’s available, use it.
3. Zero Trust. Be leery of suspicious emails or phone calls. Your bank won’t email you asking to update your birthday or social security number. Microsoft will never call to tell you they’ve spotted a virus on your PC. Neither will the IRS call you and demand immediate settlement of a “tax discrepancy.” First contact comes via a letter. If you receive such a call, you are in control – hang up.
In past years, viruses were written to disable PCs. While viruses still exist, there’s no profit in simply wrecking someone’s PC. However, there is big money in ransomware.
What is ransomware? It is a type of malware hackers used to infect computers and encrypt files until a ransom is paid… by you.
Ransomware works by encrypting each file on an infected computer, locking you out of your documents. If the victim pays the ransom, he/she hopes to receive a “promised” cryptographic key to remove the encryption.
These malicious codes are delivered via “phishing” emails that encourage you to click on a program within the email. Or, a “drive-by-download” infects your PC. There’s nothing you need to do except visit a compromised site or an ad. The malicious code does the rest.
Scary? You bet! While dangers seem to lurk around every corner, there are steps that can help keep you safe. This leads us back to Secure it, Protect it and Step 4.
4. Keep your anti-virus, browsers, and PC updated. According to the AV-Test Institute, over 350,000 new malicious programs (malware) and potentially unwanted applications are created every day. And, in case you were wondering, Apple’s operating system is not immune.
Recognize that once security updates are released, hackers create malicious programs designed to exploit systems that haven’t been updated. Therefore, enable your PC to immediately download the latest security patches. Obtain robust anti-virus software from a reputable vendor and keep it updated. The same goes with your Internet browser. Further, install an ad and tracker blocker on your browser, which can limit exposure to malware-infected ads.
Bottom line – don’t become a victim. Minimize your exposure to online dangers. Stay alert, be careful, be suspicious, and keep your software updated.
Sources: Kaspersky, AV-Test, Cipher.com, TechTarget Network, Statista, NICCS, Dept of Homeland Security