Hacker in front of a computer with information security terms relating to cybersecurityIdentity theft and cyber fraud are becoming increasingly prevalent.  Fortunately, there are a few relatively simple steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim.

1. Establish strong passwords

The best practice is to use a longer passphrase that incorporates numbers rather than a single word (e.g., YouAreMySunshine530).  Never use the same password for more than one account.  You can use a password manager such as Dashlane or LastPass to help manage access to multiple accounts across various platforms and devices.

For especially sensitive accounts such as those at financial institutions, consider using two-factor authentication.  This requires that a special code be sent to your phone whenever your account settings are changed.  Unless an email hacker also has your phone, only you will get the code and be able to access your account.

2. Keep software up-to-date

Always install the latest software patches on your devices as soon as they are available.  Microsoft, Apple, and other software suppliers work to minimize your exposure to viruses and other malicious software by regularly releasing fixes that address ever-evolving cybersecurity threats.

3. Maintain privacy

Only use trusted networks to transact business involving sensitive information such as account or Social Security numbers.  Avoid using free, public Wi-Fi for this purpose since those connections can be easily hacked. 

When using social media, limit the information that is displayed to the public at large.  Keep personal identifying data private, such as birthdate, favorite color, and pet names.

4. Scan for viruses

Regularly scan your Internet-connected personal devices for malicious software (malware) using an anti-virus program.  If you don’t have one installed, you can download the free version of Malwarebytes (https://malwarebytes.org/antimalware/).  Make sure other devices with which you connect, such as your office computer, are also routinely inspected for malware.

5. Notify institutions

If you think your account has been compromised, immediately notify the associated institutions so they can monitor it for fraudulent activity.  In addition, you should change your passwords for all affected sites.

6. Beware of e-mail hacking

Never click on e-mail links or open attachments from unknown senders.  Use caution when you receive unexpected messages from known senders that contain links or attachments.  Hackers can hijack your friend’s or relative’s e-mail account and send messages to everyone in the contacts list that look like they are coming from the victim.  When in doubt, confirm the legitimacy of the message with the known sender off-line before proceeding.

If you think your own e-mail account has been hacked, immediately change your password and review the account settings to see if they have been altered.  Hackers will sometimes have your e-mail forwarded to them, which allows potential fraudsters to easily obtain your login credentials as well as the email addresses of your friends and relatives.  If you use an e-mail signature, check that it hasn’t been changed to redirect to suspicious websites, for example.

7. Safeguard your children

Communication is the most important tool in keeping children safe online.  Talk to your kids about how to behave online and set age-appropriate rules on how they should use technology.  Rules should cover things like:

  • Times they can go online and for how long

  • The types of websites they should/not visit; appropriate games

  • Information that should not be shared

  • Whom they should befriend or follow

  • How to treat others (no cyber-bullying)

  • To whom to report problems

In addition to clear communication, parents can use monitoring software to prevent younger children from visiting harmful websites.  For older children who require greater Internet access, consider a dedicated computer just for them to avoid possible compromise of parents’ financial accounts, and locating it in a public area of your home so you can see how it’s being used.  All devices should be backed up regularly and only parents should have administrator rights.  For mobile devices, a central charging station can prevent children going online when they should be sleeping or studying.

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