Creating and maintaining a safe and secure cyberspace is key to preventing your private informationsuch as your Social Security Number and your bank account numbersfrom landing in the hands of individuals who would use it for their benefit. The concepts of fraud and identity theft aren't new, but the proliferation of internet connected devices has made it increasingly easy for people to fall victim to potentially damaging scams.
The number of ways that you can fall victim to a cyber incident are numerous. What makes matters worse is these days, you don't even have to turn your computer on to be at risk. Smart phones, and their ability to connect to the internet from just about any location, have served to complicate matters. Check out these tips for keeping yourself, your family, and your information safe from cyber threats.
- Use caution when reading and opening emails. Far too many people take a lackadaisical approach to reading email messages. But even those who are vigilant and who don't open messages from parties they don't know can be at risk. Remember, the email accounts of your friends and acquaintances can be easily hacked. Simply because you're receiving a message from your best friend doesn't mean that you're in the clear. With that in mind, never click any hyperlinks in email messages you receive. This will prevent you from inadvertently launching a website that's programmed to take over your computer and give a hacker access to all of the private information you have stored within it. The same goes for your smart phone.
- Don't open or download an email attachment unless you are certain of the origin or have verified it is legitimate. This is one of the easiest manners in which viruses are transmitted to your computer. By unknowingly downloading a virus sent to you by a cyber attacker, you may be effectively unlocking the door and giving them free reign to your private information. Most email programs have an option you can select to turn off the automatic download of email attachments. To play it safe, turn off automatic downloads.
- Never offer personal information, such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or your Social Security Number to anyone who contacts you via email. The same goes for those who attempt to contact you through social media, text, or even by phone. The job of cyber criminals and identity thieves are often made simple by the unknowing actions of their victims, and it's your responsibility to be aware of these tactics. Even if the individual you're speaking to is able to give you specific information about yourself (such as your address or the fact that you have a line of credit with a specific retailer) this doesn't mean they're on the up-and-up. Always ask for a call-back number so that you can instigate the conversation if you believe the request to be legitimate.
- Set secure passwords and change them frequently. The most difficult to crack passwords are those that contain a combination of capital letters, numbers, and symbols. But even these passwords can be at risk of being compromised if you don't change them often. As a best practice, take the time to change your email, social media, online banking and online credit card logins on a monthly basis.
- Protect your computer with an anti-virus scanner. Some anti-virus programs work better than others, and it's your duty to ensure that whatever program you're using is from a reputable source. Additionally, be sure to enable automatic updates so that the anti-virus software is always current. The same goes for your computer's operating system and your browser. These are frequently updated with security patches that will keep your computer better protected. Check out this valuable resource, which will help you take advantage of the many free security checkups you can get from reputable software providers online.
Threats to cybersecurity can put not only your private information at risk, but can also jeopardize the safe operation of the infrastructure of the country. For this reason, it's everyone's shared responsibility to educate themselves on the best ways to remain cyber safe, whether at home or at work. To learn more about staying safe online, visit www.staysafeonline.org.