Hurd on the Hill: Staying Safe Online

October 15, 2018
Hurd on the Hill: Local Columns
Implementing a cyber hygiene routine to keep your information secure

When someone says the word “hygiene,” what do you think of? You likely think of brushing your teeth, washing your face or hopping in the shower. However, what’s just as important in today’s increasingly digital world is your cyber hygiene.

Cyber attackers across the globe are working around the clock to gain access to our personal data. They seek out personally identifiable information including bank accounts and social security numbers in order to perpetuate identify fraud, engage in extortion, or sell our data to people who will engage in those activities. All this talk of “cyber” and “digital infrastructure” can be hard to grasp since we cannot always see someone hacking into computers, but the importance of staying safe online cannot be overstated.

Luckily, you don’t have to be an expert coder or computer science prodigy to prevent most cyber breaches. As we observe Cybersecurity Awareness Month throughout October, here are three easy tips you should implement into your daily “cyber hygiene” routine to make sure you protect yourself online.

  1. Create strong passwords for your email, social media platforms and any other online accounts you have. Most people realize “password” is not a strong password. Instead, I recommend having a password of at least 14 characters, including a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols, and to create different passwords for each online login. Once you’ve created strong passwords, make sure to keep them in a secure location so they do not end up in the wrong hands.
  2. Only click on links you trust. If an email is from a strange account or person you do not know, do not click on any of its contents. Even if an email is from someone you know, you should still make sure the email is intended for you. Often times the email account of someone you know has been hacked, so although you recognize the name of the sender, the email itself cannot be trusted. Most email accounts have spam folders to automatically detect obvious phishing schemes and you can mark sketchy emails as spam so that future emails from that sender go straight to your spam folder in the future.
  3. Regularly install updates on your computer, phone and electronic devices. These updates are keeping your information safe by patching software, or fixing holes in it. It may seem tedious to wait for an update to install, but a few minutes could save you a big headache later on!

Think of a camping tent. From thirty feet away, the tent might look fully insulated, but when you get closer, you may notice small holes and tears in the fabric. These small holes could let in bugs that eat your food or rain that dampens your gear and compromises your camping experience. Similarly, if your software isn’t updated, hackers can more easily get into the software, steal your information and compromise your security online. People who work at tech and software companies are always looking closely at their software, or their tents, to monitor for soft spots and send out updates to patch up these holes. It is up to each of you to install updates so these patches are implemented and your digital information is not left exposed.

These steps may seem simple, but these three steps alone could prevent more than 80 percent of cyberattacks we see each day. As we continue to recognize Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I encourage you to implement a simple "cyber hygiene" routine of strengthening your passwords, being wary of what you click on and installing regular updates to your devices, so you can keep your information secure in today’s digital age.