Cybersecurity: How to Stay Safe Online

Everyone is concerned about safety online.  No one wants to deal with a computer virus, someone hacking his social media account or finding that her email account is compromised.  These are the top five things to do RIGHT NOW to make sure your online activity is safe:

  1. Create and use unusual passwords and use a password manager — I know, it’s impossible to remember unique passwords for all the sites we access.  So password managers have been developed to help.  Here are a couple of good ones that we have used:  Last Pass and Keeper.  If you want to investigate more options, here is a handy comparison chart with links that was just published November 30, 2019.
  2. Keep your operating system up to date — I really can’t stress this one enough.  Make sure your Windows, Android and iOS systems are set for automatic updates, or at the very least, set time on your calendar on a weekly basis to check for available updates.  Here’s how to do that for Windows 10, and here’s a link for macOS on your MacBook and iOS on your iPhone or iPad.  For Android updates on smartphones or tablets, you can find instructions here.  By updating your device’s operating system, you are ensuring that the most up-to-date security features are in place.
  3. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible — More and more sites are offering the option of two-factor authentication, or 2FA.  This simply means that not only will you log in using the traditional username/password combination, but you will also use another form of identifying yourself, such as your fingerprint on your mobile phone or receiving a security code via text or email that you must enter on the site.  This process, while it takes a few extra seconds, can make a tremendous difference in your security.  Here is a great article that explains it in understandable terms and, even more important, shows you how to set it up.
  4. Do NOT use public WiFi — I repeat, do NOT use that free public WiFi offered at restaurants or hotels.  Any time you are online while away from your (hopefully!) secured home or office network, simply use your mobile phone’s network.  That is far more secure than a public hotspot.  However, there are times when there is inadequate cellular signal and you must access the available WiFi network in order to be connected online.  In that case, always use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.  It’s much easier today than it has been in the past to get access to and use a VPN, even if you don’t have access to a VPN from your employer.  Here is more information on how VPNs work and how to use one yourself.
  5. And finally (and it was really hard to decide on one last recommendation!), be a smart user of online content — What??  Okay, let me break this one down.  You’ve probably seen links on social media (e.g., Facebook) from your friends that may seem a bit out of character for them.  You sort of scratch your head and wonder why they are sharing those particular products or ideas.  Then you realize that their accounts may have been hacked, and you later find out that indeed that is the case.  Whew!  You didn’t click on those links.  Good for you!  Another example is that you receive an email message from a friend whom you trust, but the language seems a bit off, and like the social media example, the product or idea just don’t seem to jive with your friend.  Do not click the link.  Do not open the attachment.  Honestly, do not even open the message if you haven’t already.  You can either delete the message, skim over the social media post, or contact the friend to see if the message is in fact legitimate.  But always be cautious.  Just like the term “If it seems to good to be true, it probably is,” in these cases “If the message seems out of character or unlike the style of a friend, it probably is.”  Here is a link to some more examples of “clickbait” as this phenomenon is called.

There are many more steps you can take to be savvy and safe online, and you can find some of them here and here.  You’re definitely going to see several duplicates in these lists.  And for good reason:  they are important!  Now, put these recommendations in place and go forth confidently on your online journey, knowing that you’ve got this.