As we become increasingly dependent on the internet — and as more of our personal information makes its way online — it becomes even more important to protect ourselves and that information. With more threats than ever, no one is completely safe from cyberattacks. But there are a number of simple steps you can take to ensure that your own cybersecurity is as strong as possible.
We talked to a few cybersecurity experts to get their suggestions for the quickest, easiest ways to be safer online. Of course, there are many other things you can do to further ensure your cyber safety, but this list is a good start.
Use a different password for everything
Using the same password for numerous — or all — password-protected accounts is one of the biggest and most common mistakes that leaves people vulnerable to attacks. “Attackers will use credentials compromised from one account to try to log into your most valuable accounts,” says Blase Ur, a computer security and privacy researcher at the University of Chicago.
Since it can be confusing to keep so many different passwords, Ur suggests using a password manager. A password manager is an application that allows you to store all of your unique passwords in one location, and then uses one “master password” to encrypt all of those passwords. Popular password managers include the free, open source KeePass, the easy-to-use LastPass (which also has a free option), and 1Password (which requires a paid subscription).
But even if you use a password manager, be sure to create unique, strong passwords that don’t contain any specific names or places.
Update your software frequently
We’re all familiar with those persistent little update reminders that appear on our computers and phones. But resist the urge to click “ignore.” Application companies are constantly updating their software not only to improve its quality, but to fix security vulnerabilities. Using an outdated version of any kind of software may leave you susceptible to an attack.
Don’t make purchases while using public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi can be a convenient way to check your email or look up information, but experts warn against using it to make an online purchase. According to Paul Frazier, head of the cybersecurity program at Webster University, entering any data over public Wi-Fi means passing it over an unsecured system.
“If you make a purchase, you will be passing your credit card information over an unsecured line,” Frazier says. “You can browse, but don’t log into your bank or make a purchase.”
Don’t open spam
According to Verizon’s 2017 Data Breaching Incident Report, 51 percent of cyber attacks include the use of malware. Email is often used to spread malware for this very purpose. Luckily, email servers are able to detect this and send potentially harmful emails right to your spam folder. For your own security, never open spam email.
Spam is also often a gateway to a phishing scam — a technique scammers use to trick people into giving out personal information such as credit card numbers, bank information, and passwords. Phishing emails often appear to come from reputable sources. So even if you think an email was sent to your spam folder by mistake, be aware that it could be a phishing attempt.
Cover your security camera
The idea that someone is “spying” on you through your computer’s webcam is one that has been perpetuated in movies and TV. But while it has been the inspiration for many fictional stories, it’s also a very real threat.
“I personally cover my device’s cameras with tape when they’re not in use,” says Ur. “So do most of my colleagues in the computer security community.”
If cybersecurity experts are taking this very simple precaution, you probably should too. Cover your webcam — a simple piece of masking tape will do the trick.