Written by Stephanie | Last Updated October 1st, 2019Stephanie graduated in information systems with an emphasis in cyber security management. She enjoys spending her time hiking with her children and her dogs, and playing video games with her husband.
In the last several years cyber security has become a major issue, not only for major stores like Home Depot, Target, and P.F. Chang's, but also for individuals. Hackers are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to get to your personal information. We have made a list of the top six ways to stay safe online.
You may have noticed that password requirements have increased a great deal in the last several years. A few years ago, websites commonly asked for six character length passwords using numbers and letters. But now websites require eight or more characters using numbers, upper/lower case letters, and special characters ([email protected]#$). Many websites also require you to change your password every few months, and you can never use any old passwords. Why are there so many annoying requirements?
Modern hackers use programs to crack passwords. Anything under these requirements can be found given enough time. When I was attending college, we were given demonstrations and taught how to use these programs to see how very easy it is to crack passwords. We were given a time limit, a program, and told one letter of the word and were able to crack passwords within a few minutes. But special programs are not always needed; someone who knows you well enough can use what is called brute force to crack your password. Brute force is when someone guesses your password manually. If someone knows you well enough, they may be able to guess what you use for a password.
What can you do to help yourself? Use passwords with nothing meaningful to you. Do not use pet names, family names, sports teams, or things you enjoy. Using phrases is recommended along with the other minimum requirements such as upper/lower case, special characters, and numbers. Using the site Random ize we can see how strong or weak a password is by testing how long it would take a program to crack it. Let’s take an example:
- itsmemario: 13 hours, 48 minutes
- ItsMeMario: 1 year, 7 months
- ItsMe6Mario: 589 years, 3 months
- %ItsMe6Mario!1: Over 47 billion years
As you can see, all of the minimum requirements add strength to your password exponentially.
The worst thing you can do is to take my advice, create some beautiful password that can’t be cracked for 50 billion years, then put it on a post-it note next to your computer. Don’t write your password down! Paper has a way of getting around.
2. Two-Factor Authentication
Another great way to stay safe is to use two-factor authentication when it is available. This acts as an extra layer of security. Many websites already use this. An example is when you login to pay your credit card bill, you use your password, but then they also ask you personal questions such as what is your maternal grandfather’s first name?
Gmail offers two-factor authentication when you are signing into a new device. You first have to enter your password, and then a code they send to your phone. Two-factor authentication can be a great way to stay protected.
3. Beware of Phishing
Phishing is an interesting new word that you already have or will become very familiar with. It is the fraudulent act of sending emails pretending to be/represent someone else (usually from reputable companies or sources) in order to trick individuals into revealing personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers.
According to Broadband, Phishing is the #1 way that ransomware and malware is being delivered. Eighty-five percent of organizations have experienced phishing attacks. Thirty percent of all phishing emails are opened. So how can you protect yourself from phishing attacks?
- Learn to identify suspicious emails, look for small details that may hint that the email comes from an imposter.
- Know that no one will ever ask for your password or personal information by e-mail.
- Do not use links within emails—go to the sites directly.
- Do not open an attachment in emails until you have verified the sender
4. Secure Your Wi-fi
Many people don’t realize that when they set up their wi-fi they can change both the name and the password of their router. As mentioned before, passwords are extremely important and can be easily cracked. Change your password to something very difficult to crack. I spoke to Sean, someone who had wi-fi and received a letter from his ISP of some illegal activity on his service:
“I received a warning letter from my ISP that I had illegally downloaded music. The letter stated the music, it was from a band I loathe and do not listen to. With some digging, I found out that a neighbor in my apartment complex was using my internet and downloading this awful music. I immediately changed my password and have never had issues since.”
This story could have had a much worse ending than a warning letter. Be careful not only with choosing your password, but with who you share your wi-fi with.
5. Update your System
These updates may seem tedious and take forever, especially when you need to get something done. Although you don’t notice any significant changes with the updates (usually), updates play a pivotal role in keeping you safe. With updates comes fixes to what may be weaknesses in your system.
You may recall the large Home Depot breach a few years ago. It was found that this was accomplished by a vulnerability in Windows. What also did not help the situation is that Home Depot rarely updated their POS systems. The combination, as we all know, was pretty catastrophic (you can find more information about the Home Depot breach here). When companies find that their operating systems have vulnerabilities, they use updates to fix these among other issues.
6. Anti-Virus Software
Anti-virus software is used to detect, prevent, and remove malicious software on your device. Not only should you have anti-virus software, but you will need to keep it updated as well. These important updates help the anti-virus software stay up-to-date with all of the newest viruses and malware. An anti-virus can be there as a first defense if you come across something malicious. Finding the right anti-virus software can be a bit tricky, if you need help, check out our list of top anti-virus companies.
Threats are everywhere online, and are becoming more difficult to identify. Keep an eye out for the latest scams and phishing campaigns. By using these tips you can avoid most attacks and keep your personal information safe from threats.