The Internet has certainly made life easier during this time of COVID 19 and lockdowns. I’m not Facebook’s biggest fan, but I can certainly say I’ve been able to reconnect with out-of-state cousins I have not seen in over 20 years. Getting online can be a good way to stay connected, accomplish much, and be entertained. But what about the dangers of the Internet? The following are some basic steps everyone should follow to build and maintain a baseline of online security.
- Passwords are key to online safety and passwords need to be strong. The longer the better! Don’t use words that can quickly be guessed by online password hackers. Use a passphrase instead. Your passphrase should have at least 15 characters, including upper and lower case letters as well as numbers, and special characters such as $ # !. Here is an example of a strong passphrase, N0rthw3$tD3nv3risK00l!, which translates to Northwest Denver is Cool! Using the same password for multiple accounts is a bad idea.
- Protect your online accounts with additional layers of security. Because passwords can be stolen, many online accounts allow you to supplement with a second form of identification.
- Use security software on all of your devices and be sure to obtain them from reliable sources. Be aware of security updates from pop-up advertisements or emails. Those could be malware that could infect your computer or phone. Don’t forget to keep your security software up-to-date.
- Adjust your settings in your browser(s) for optimum security. Best practices dictate you adjust browser settings and consider clearing your browsing history at the end of your session so you don’t leave a trail of data behind. Perform a Google search for how to adjust the settings on your particular browser if you are having a difficult time finding it on your own.
- Log out when you are done with your Internet session. Leaving apps open on a mobile device or computer screen can make you vulnerable to security and privacy risks.
- Emails and communication that create a sense of urgency such as problems with your bank accounts are likely scams. Your most critical online accounts such as your bank or retirement account should NEVER ask you to divulge your passwords or personal information online. The key here is to think before you respond.
- Clean out that Inbox! Clicking on links in emails found in your inbox is often how bad actors trick you into divulging your personal information. If an email looks unusual to you, delete it! Be aware that bad actors can commandeer the email addresses of your friends and family and send you messages posing as them. Turn on spam filters for your email account to help filter suspicious messages.
- Be aware of what you share publicly, particularly on social media sites like Facebook. Adjust your privacy settings on these platforms to limit who can see your information and also avoid sharing your location.
- Perform regular backups. Most of us have transitioned from the old family photo album to storing our pictures and other important documents online. Be sure your documents and pictures are protected in an online place you trust. Some of the more popular cloud storage services include Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and iCloud.
Often we only hear about breaches that impact large organizations. There isn’t enough focus on educating individuals even though we are online targets for bad actors causing what could turn out to be significant and time-consuming harm. Get your online baseline in place and be sure to maintain it. Gain the peace of mind you deserve when performing online transactions including when you are connecting with your family and friends.
Mary Rueda is an information security professional. She obtained her Master’s degree from Regis University, holds the designation of CISSP (Certified Information System Security Professional), and lives in Northwest Denver. You can find her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/maryrueda/