As rapid technological expansion has continued to make our big world a smaller, more interconnected place, cybersecurity has become an increasingly important concern for everyone. Cybersecurity is a booming industry with millions of people across the globe working to make the world safer. That said, while businesses are on red alert when it comes to fending off cyberattacks, most average people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their own cybersecurity risk as individuals.
So let’s think about it. How many times a day do you use an electronic device that’s connected to the internet? (If you’re reading this right now, that’s at least once.) For most people, we interact with the internet through our phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, even our cars! Each of those devices is another opening for a cyberattack. Now take it a step further. When you’re using your phone or laptop, how often do you have to input sensitive information? And by sensitive information, we don’t just mean your big family secret… We mean passwords, credit card information, and even personal information like your mom’s maiden name or your first elementary school. Yes, that information could potentially be used to break through your security questions. Even when you start to give it just a little bit of thought, things start to add up, right?
Thankfully, for every potential risk factor, there are plenty of security measures that any everyday user can do to counteract that risk. Yes, you don’t need a fancy degree or any professional cybersecurity training to make yourself safer! (But if you are interested in getting some cybersecurity training, then you’ve definitely come to the right place.) Here are ten things everyday users can do to make their digital life a little more secure.
1. Know what to look for
For digital natives like Gen Z kids and millennials, recognizing scammers can be somewhat second nature. However, as cybercriminals get more and more advanced, it’s important to stay wary of what red flags to keep your eyes peeled for. Some phishing attempts these days may look like they’re coming from reputable companies—they may even use the same logo, similar design styles, or a legitimate-looking email address—but pay attention to the details that may give them away. Has this company used this email to contact you before? Are they asking for your password? (Most companies would never.)
If you’re still unsure of something’s legitimacy, it never hurts to give it a quick google! Look up the email, phone number, or other identifying information of the potential scam and see if anyone else has experienced something similar.
2. Think before you click—every time
Have you ever gotten an oddly out-of-character Facebook message from your third cousin twice removed, said to yourself “Well, that’s weird,” ignored it, and then moved on? If that’s the case, then consider yourself lucky.
Messages like that, phishing emails, scam text messages are all tools that cybercriminals use to try and trick everyday people into clicking an infected link, releasing some personal information, or some other trick geared towards accessing your data or money. If you get an email from an insecure source, a weird message on Facebook, or any other type of message that seems fishy, chances are it probably is. Before you give out any of your information or click any sort of link, take the extra minute to make sure what you’re about to do is really trustworthy.
3. Use multi-factor authentication
Yes, that extra step you always skip when you sign in to your email? Turns out that it actually makes a big difference! (Yes, we already knew that but hopefully, you do now, too!) Having that extra step of security can be just enough to keep a potential cyberattack from affecting you.
Imagine if someone somehow gets access to your Facebook login and is about to start messaging all of your friend’s fraudulent messages or potentially gaining access to your credit card information through Facebook Pay. Without multi-factor verification, you’d be none the wiser until you’re locked out of your account or another friend tells you. With multi-factor verification (most commonly set up using a mobile number but occasionally has other stopgaps) you’d be notified of the unusual login activity and immediately able to take steps to protect your account.
4. Don’t connect to unsecured networks
You’d think that more people would follow this advice, given that these networks are literally labeled “unsecured,” but as discussed most people aren’t thinking about their cybersecurity risk day-to-day. Joining an unsecured network can open you up to a number of cyberattacks, so it’s always best practice to stick with private networks (i.e. your wifi at home) whenever you can but especially when you’re deadline with sensitive information.
5. Keep your software up-to-date
It may seem like software updates are happening all the time, so how important is it really to keep things up-to-date when it seems like nothing really changes? Well, it’s really important! Although the OS may stay the same, what’s happening underneath definitely won’t. Software updates can include vital security updates that will help protect you from cyber-attacks. So when you get that little reminder, don’t just save it for later next time! You never know what you could be protecting yourself from.
6. Vary Your Passwords
There are a ton of different things you can do to help protect your accounts and varying your passwords is a super simple step to start with. We know it’s tempting to just use the same password for everything, but it’s simply too unsafe. Using the same passwords means that as soon as one of your accounts is breached all of your other accounts are vulnerable, too. Start by using a random password generator to make sure that none of your passwords are words, phrases, or combinations that could be easily guessed based on public information.
Additionally, you should change your passwords regularly (roughly every 90 days) to lessen the chance that any old data may come back to haunt you. If this is starting to seem overwhelming, don’t worry too much, you can always use a password manager to help you keep all this together.
7. Consider all of your devices
Don’t just install some anti-virus software on your computer and call it a day! Particularly when it comes to mobile devices, it’s important to ensure that any devices you connect with are secure and that you keep in mind all of the above principles whether you’re on a tablet, a desktop, or anything in between. If you aren’t safe on all of your devices, then you’re not safe on any of them.
8. Don’t save your payment information
Better safe than sorry. As with all data, the less potential attackers have access to, the better! Saving your payment information greatly increases your risk if any of your devices get compromised. In that case, the attacker could have immediate access to your bank account or credit cards. It may seem annoying to put your card information for every single purchase, but it’s a lot better than potentially getting stolen from! (Plus, for any online shoppers, this may even help curb your purchasing habits!)
9. Be aware of your digital footprint
How many accounts do you have floating around out there that you’ve never used twice? It’s important to keep in mind what sites you’re a part of. (Especially if you’re someone who is continually reusing the same password.) Data breaches happen every single day, and they’re often not discovered until months after the fact. Keeping your digital footprint small and being wholly aware of it can mitigate your risk factor significantly.
10. Recognize that cybersecurity attacks can happen to anyone
This is the most important step of all. Whether you take these steps to protect yourself or not, awareness alone is a crucial part of increasing cybersecurity. That awareness may make the split-second difference between you clicking an infected link and staying safe.