By: Mike A. Bryan
Do you know the state of your cyber hygiene? Do you know what cyber hygiene is? According to digitalguardian.com, it is “a reference to the practices and steps that users of computers and other devices take to maintain system health and improve online security. These practices are often part of a routine to ensure the safety of identity and other details that could be stolen or corrupted. Much like physical hygiene, cyber hygiene is regularly conducted to ward off natural deterioration and common threats.” In other words, it is the way you take care of and are secure in your digital life, whether on a computer or another device.
So, now that you know what it is, what is the state of your cyber hygiene? Could it use some work? According to zd.net, in 2021, the most important thing to be aware of is what exactly you are doing online. What websites do you use? Are they secure, meaning using https instead of http? Are you using the dark web, and if so, why? Anytime you use the dark web you open yourself up to possible attacks. Always take precautions when using the internet to make sure you know exactly what website you are on, and what actions you are taking on that website. It is easy to get fooled by look-a-like websites, so always double check that the address in the browser address bar is where you mean to be, with no manipulations, like g.mail or gmai.l instead of gmail.
Do you use multi-factor authentication on every device possible? If you aren’t you should be. Passwords are only safe to a certain extent. If you have the option to turn on multi-factor authentication, then just do it. Trust me. It is a good thing, even if it is an extra step. How about a VPN? Do you have one on your home network or your laptop or device? Well, now is a good time to check one out. Hotshot Shield Free VPN is a good one to check out — if you want to test drive this free one before committing to paying for the service click here. If you’re ready to dive in, cnet.com has a great list of paid options here.
How about your passwords? Are they old, meaning more than 3-6 months? Security professionals suggest changing your password every 90 days. This sounds like quite the undertaking, changing all of your passwords on every computer, device, software, apps, etc., but in fact can be done rather quickly and easily. Updating a password only takes a few minutes or less, so don’t let this keep you from maintaining that good hygiene all year long. At the very least, if you haven’t changed your passwords since sometime last year, then you should probably take an hour one day and update all of them. Password crackers used in dictionary or brute-force attacks, software freely available on the internet, are getting better and better at figuring out complex passwords, so you want to maintain a good password management policy.
This goes without saying, but avoid emails and pop-ups from suspicious or unknown people. In practice, this sounds hard, but the way to determine if the email or web address is for real is not that difficult. You just hover your mouse over the email or web address and then look in the lower left corner to see the actual address where you are being taken. If it doesn’t match what you thought it was, or is suspicious in any way, you should avoid clicking on it. This one is simple enough that even children can master this skill.
If you’ve never invested in antivirus software, now would be a good time to consider doing so. Cyber attacks are on the rise worldwide, and are not going to be going away at any point in the future. Pcmag.com always has good articles, and this one about the best antivirus options this year is particularly helpful. If you do have antivirus protection, make sure it is up-to-date. As a matter of fact, you should make sure that you are updating your system as often as updates are released. They are for your own good, and should not be ignored. So, yeah, go ahead and click that little icon in your upper right hand corner of your Chrome browser and update that bad boy. Or if you use another browser, check to make sure it doesn’t need any updates.
Last, if you get hacked on your work computer, you must alert your organization whose network you are on for instructions, or hire a security expert to get you back online if it is your private computer. In addition, in the first moments of a hack, it is important to disconnect all devices from the hacked machine. This will help the hack to not spread to other parts of the network. Even if we take all of these precautions, it is still possible to get hacked. These suggestions are not to be taken lightly. Now that you know about cyber hygiene, you can get yours in order!