Practical Cyber Security Tips for the Average Person
Practical: Useful, logical, and transparent cyber security methods to staying safe and secure online
Every October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, but that doesn’t it’s never too early or too late to learn new ways about how to stay safe online. Here are some general best practices for how you can avoid hackers and maintain top notch cyber security.
Avoid choosing a simple combination of numbers and/or words as your password, and especially avoid using numbers and/or words that are salvageable from already existing data associated with your identity. This includes using your name, date of birth, and e-mail address characters in your password. Using a strong mix of characters, diversifying your passwords for different websites, and avoiding sharing passwords with others are all strong tools for preventing a hack. We also recommend keeping a physical copy of your passwords on you at all times. Keeping your passwords physically attached to your monitor, or stored in a cloud-based application such as Notes, may make a breach more plausible.
Another key tool of good password management is locking your devices. It is ill advised to leave any of your devices unattended. If you must leave your phone, tablet, flash drive computer, or any other device unattended, it is encouraged to activate a lock so that it’s not accessible. Again, device passcodes should not be physically attached to the device it’s protecting.
When online, your top priority should be making sure your information stays only yours. This includes limiting your self-exposure on social networks. In 2016, the Russian government used targeted Facebook ads to appeal to certain profile’s assumed political affiliations. Their ultimate goal was to sway American public opinion in then-candidate Donald Trump’s favor. The Russian government manipulated information and created graphics to trigger certain Facebook user’s implicit biases, which were assumed based off of what they shared on their profiles. For example, some ads specifically targeted conservative Facebook users by placing the American flag alongside statements such as “take care of our vets, not illegals.” Keeping sensitive information offline therefore lessens the variety of data available on your identity, which would make any attempted manipulation far more difficult to accomplish.
On the topic of suspicious activity, another way to practice online self-autonomy includes regular account monitoring. Keeping an offline record of where you’ve created an account and when, as well as setting a reminder to check those accounts on a regular basis, can help make sure that you’ve not been compromised. If you have been compromised, checking your account on a regular basis can stop a hacker in their tracks before they’re able to maximize their impact.
“Keeping sensitive information offline therefore lessens the variety of data available on your identity, which would make any attempted manipulation far more difficult to accomplish.”
Detecting and Reporting Fraudulent Activity
One tactic that hackers use to trick Internet users is social engineering. Social engineering manipulates individuals into thinking that their data will be put to use for a purposeful mission such as charity, entrepreneurship, and etc. In reality, the intent is actually malicious. Don’t be afraid to decline these requests, and reaching out to the affiliated company to confirm their identity from the source.
Another means of avoiding fraudulent activity when surfing the web includes safe clicking. Social engineers often send suspicious links, images, and videos via direct messaging, emails, and instant messaging. If it appears out-of-the-blue or unfamiliar, do not click. Pay close attention to what appears in your inboxes – some hackers will misspell a single word, or omit a single letter, in a URL all for the purpose of directing you to a harmful domain. Even if the information seems interesting, it is always best practice to avoid and ignore suspicious activity.
The Final Test
Please note that no matter how active you are on the Internet, anyone can fall victim to a hacker. Knowing that anyone is an attractive target to a hacker should dissuade you from any adventurous online activity outside of your normal practices. Recent events, such as the Russia-Facebook data breach, attest to the bitter reality of how the World Wide Web can inflict serious harm in a moment’s notice. While many of the aforementioned tactics can refine your personal cyber-security, the premier rule is to stay vigilant. If you stay on top of all of your online activity, be it your browser history, e-mail inboxes, or social media profiles, you will likely continue to stay out of harms way.
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