The First Steps to Online Security

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online-safety-security-the-basics

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, so for the remaining two weeks of the month we want to talk about different aspects of cyber security.

In the first post of this series we will discuss some of the basics of online safety and security.

According to Stay Safe Online, companies lose an average of 15 million dollars every year from data breaches and cyber-attacks. These attacks come in the form of phishing scams, malware, viruses and ransomware. These threats have obviously major consequences, but many people don’t know the first thing about stopping them in their tracks, or better yet preventing them before they can occur.

Computer safety and security starts with you. Here are a few simple ways to ward off threats, and work to keep your personal and professional data secure.

Keep your Machine Updated

While those “update” notifications on your phone or your computer might be annoying when you don’t have the time or desire to update your device or operating system, installing those updates is extremely important. Many of those updates contain security patches to make sure that cyber attackers can’t get through any loopholes in the current version. Some of them even contain enhancements that will improve the product’s performance. So really, it’s a win-win.

And don’t confuse regular updates with “new versions”.  For instance, lots of people like to wait before making the jump to the new major version of say the iPhone iOS operating system.  For instance, Apple released iOS 10, a major new version over iOS 9 that changed how some things work and even introduced some annoying bugs.  Holding off on big upgrades like that is one thing, but that’s no excuse for not applying day-to-day updates to keep you safe!

Having up-to-date security software like antivirus is another major and simple way to protect against unwanted viruses, malware, and any other online threats. Most antivirus software should be set to update automatically by default, and most operating systems these days like Windows auto-update during off-hours as well.  Make sure that your settings all allow for automatically applying security-related updates and you’ve got one less thing to worry about.

Connect with Caution

While most people are quick to hop on public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or a store while shopping, it’s important to know there can be risks in doing that. If a public connection is unsecured anything you do on that connection is subject to being “sniffed” and potentially read by a third party.

The best advice we can give is to limit your activity on public networks. Don’t enter personally identifiable information into a website, try to avoid online banking or websites that require or contain sensitive personal or business data unless connected to a VPN or on a network you know is secure.

Something to pay special attention to when on public Wi-Fi networks is whether or not the site you’re on takes basic security measures to protect your information. If the web address starts with https:// or shows the familiar green lock icon in your browser, that means they take those extra security measures… that type of protection isn’t always perfect, but you do at least have a basic level of security for the info you’re exchanging with that site.  Just plain http:// doesn’t provide any security, so someone really can read that info “out of thin air” if you’re on a public Wi-Fi network.  Always look for the green lock icon when doing anything sensitive online, and doubly so if you’re on a public network!

Be Aware of your Online Presence

The Internet is a fun and extremely useful place, but it’s easy to forget how huge (and potentially unfriendly) the audience is and that nothing that makes it online is ever truly deleted.

Your personal information is important, and your business’ data that may be on your computer is just as important. Keeping those things protected should always be on your mind while surfing the web.

Always remember that it’s usually a good idea to limit how much information you’re sharing and with whom you’re sharing it while online. Your device has privacy and security settings that can be adjusted, make sure they are set to only share what you feel comfortable sharing. When sharing, always remember that more eyes are going to see it than you think, understand what the post reveals, and remember that once something is on the Internet, it’s on there forever.

Keeping yourself safe and others safe online starts with you. Make sure you report stolen identities, and any cybercrime you come across to the Internet Crime Complaint Center and local law enforcement if necessary.

Check out the following infographic from The National Cyber Security Awareness Month website with more information on the basics of cyber safety and security.

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