By Beth Kotz for Deductr Blog
According to a recent cybersecurity study conducted by telecommunications giant Verizon, “No locale, no industry or organization is bulletproof when it comes to the compromise of data.” This troubling trend is clearly evident in the fact that, in 2013 alone, the FBI recorded more than $780 million in cybercrime-related losses. In order to keep your personal information and finances safe, you need to be proactive in combatting fraud and theft. Let’s take a look at the most important things you need to know to keep yourself and your family protected.
Recognize the Threats
Modern hackers employ a variety of sophisticated methods for targeting their victims, and effective cybersecurity begins with learning to recognize and avoid these scams. The most prominent of these methods is phishing, in which scammers send authentic-looking emails purportedly from reputable companies or trusted individuals requesting sensitive information. To avoid this threat, never open or click links within unsolicited emails, and be sure to verify that every email you open is sent from a trusted email address.
Many scammers also use fake virus alerts to gain access to your computer. The best way to mitigate this risk is to avoid or quickly close any alerts or pop-ups originating outside of your existing antivirus program.
Network and PC Security
One of the greatest threats to your online security is inadequately complex passwords. Be sure to use unique passwords for each account and device you own, and always practice good password habits. This means using a mix of letters, cases, numbers and symbols, using passwords of 12 or more characters and avoiding distinct words, important numbers or other easily identifiable combinations. It’s also important to keep your router firmware, browser and other software up to date to ensure that you have the latest security patches. Additionally, monitor your home network regularly for unrecognized devices, which may indicate that someone is attempting to access your network without your consent.
Securing Your Smartphone
A smartphone is a wonderfully powerful tool, but it’s also a major security risk if used improperly. To minimize your risk, keep your operating system and apps updated to the latest available version. Avoid unsecured public Wi-Fi networks whenever possible, and if you must use them, never access a private account or send sensitive information. Assume that any activity done over a public network is being observed. Finally, download apps only from the Google Play Store or Apple Store. Apps from other sources may not be secure, while those on the official web stores must go through a variety of security checks before being approved.
Making the Smart Web Safer
The Internet of Things – the interconnected network of web-enabled appliances and devices, from smart surveillance cameras to smart thermostats, is a powerful tool for making your home and your life more personalized, more convenient and more capable. Unfortunately, it also poses a serious risk to your security. As with other devices, it’s essential that you always keep the firmware updated on your smart devices. You should also change the login information these devices use. More than ten percent of all IoT devices use the same five default passwords, leaving the 15 percent of people who fail to change these credentials at serious risk of intrusion.
Smart Sharing Practices
One of the greatest aspects of the internet is its ability to facilitate sharing and connections, but sharing isn’t always a good thing. Sharing too much of your personal information online, and particularly on social media, may leave you more vulnerable to social engineering scams. Carefully consider the risks before you share any private information on the web, and be sure to check your privacy settings on social media to make sure that your posts are only shared with the people you choose.
Similarly, never make purchases or send sensitive data unless the site you’re using is verified secure. A secure website will include “https” in its address and feature a green lock icon on the address bar. If you are unfamiliar with the site, it’s also a good idea to do an online search to verify its safety.
Security at Any Age
Unfortunately, the youngest and oldest among us are often the most vulnerable online. Children may not yet fully understand the risks of cyber security, while seniors tend to be less tech-savvy on average and may be less able to distinguish phishing attempts and other scams. Parental controls offer some protection for children, generally by limiting the number of sites and applications to which they have access and providing monitoring tools. Seniors are particularly prone to financial scams, with those over 65 being 35 percent more likely to fall prey to these attacks than their younger counterparts. The best remedy for this situation is education. Take the time to explain cybersecurity threats to your older loved ones and teach them to be skeptical of any requests for money or personal information. To ensure they have the latest security protections, you can also install software on their computers and other devices that will silently update programs in the background.
Cybersecurity is an issue that affects everyone, regardless of age, financial status or tech savvy, and learning to recognize and deal effectively with the risks is the best way to address this gargantuan $3 trillion-plus threat. With the simple tips above, you can take steps toward ensuring that you and your family don’t become a part of this ever-growing statistic.
Beth Kotz is a freelance writer and contributor for numerous home, technology, and personal finance blogs. She graduated with BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL where she continues to live and work