October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Known as NCSAM for short, it’s an education and awareness campaign launched by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Security Alliance. The goal of this effort is to teach the American public (in other words, you!) the importance of cyber security and to provide resources that help to protect them from online threats.
To kick off the month, here are six simple steps to online safety:
1. Make your passwords/passphrases strong
You can increase the strength of a passphrase greatly by making it 14 or more characters long and using four different character types (upper and lowercase letters, numbers, & symbols). Never include things that are easy to guess, such as names of people you know, dates of significance, or phrases from pop culture.
2. Use additional authentication
When available, use another level of authentication beyond your user name and password. An example is a one-time PIN that gets sent via text to your phone. When this is enabled, someone can only gain access to your online accounts by having your login information and your phone.
3. Limit what you share
There are obvious things you know not to share online, such as account numbers, passwords, and your Social Security Number. Be sure you also protect information that can be used by burglars (address, vacation plans) and hackers (full name and date of birth).
4. Be familiar with your privacy and security settings
Many social media sites default to sharing as much information as possible. Take the time to understand what’s being shared and with whom, and adjust your settings to limit the sharing of personal information with as few people as possible.
5. Keep antivirus and all other software (especially your operating system) updated
If it’s a work device, reboot regularly and leave it on the network for 30 minutes or more to maintain current updates. If it’s your personal device, know what software you have installed and the update settings (most offer the option to update automatically or prompt for updates). If your software prompts you for an update, be sure to do so.
Some of the biggest security breaches in recent history could have been prevented with proper updates and patches!
6. Think/Confirm before you connect
Always double-check the exact name and login credentials for a network before connecting. Criminals often create hotspots with a name similar to legitimate ones in the hope that you’ll connect and access sensitive information for them to intercept. Don’t use networks that aren’t secured with a passcode, and never do online banking or other sensitive personal business on ANY public network/hotspot.