Dr. Jane LeClair By Dr. Jane LeClair • October 6, 2017

10 Simple Tips to Step Up Your Online Safety and Security

Did you know that 594 million people are affected by cybercrime each year?

So it makes sense why hardly a week goes by without hearing of a mega data breach that exposes the personal identifiable information (PII) of countless people to those with malicious intent. These breaches then dominate the headlines and draw the attention – and fears – of users.

What is less known is that more than 95 percent of all breaches have a common denominator: human interaction. Whether intentional or unintentional, most breaches are triggered by people who are either ignorant of cyberhygiene or have made a careless mistake in their online activities.

To help educate people on how they can stay safe and secure online, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Cybersecurity Alliance deemed October as National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). During this month-long awareness effort, those with a vested interest in cybersecurity actively encourage digital users to seriously consider what they do with their computers in the name of cybersafety.

Every year, my goal during cybersecurity awareness month is to encourage education and training. Whether you’re a cybersecurity professional or the average American, staying safe online is a shared responsibility and actually not that hard to do. So to help you limit your digital missteps and protect your devices and information, follow these simple online safety tips.

1. Use passwords that are at least eight characters long including upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.

For example, d5Mb?2B+.

2. Change your passwords frequently.

Yes, it can be frustrating when you forget your password and have to reset it or change it, but it’s worthwhile because the alternative – access to your PII – is much, much worse. 

3. Don’t use the same password everywhere you go.

For example, if someone gets your library password, you don’t want them to also have access to your finances.

4. Do not open emails from someone you don’t know.

If the email is from a bad actor, your personal and professional networks can get infected.

5. Do not click on links you don’t need to or don’t know.

Be careful of where you surf, even on popular social media sites. Links that look inviting could lead directly to you downloading malicious code. 

6. Do not give out information.

If you get an email or phone call from someone at the office asking you to provide your passwords or other personal information, do not give it.

7. Do not put your passwords on a stickie note on your computer or in your desk drawer.

Doing so gives easy access to whomever comes across it while you are not there.

8. Use double authentication wherever possible.

Make it twice as hard for hackers to access your online accounts.

9. Install antivirus protection on your network.

Be sure it is updated and patched to protect it against any vulnerability, whether those threats are known or yet to be created.

10. Stay up to date on cybersecurity issues.

The more you read, the more aware you will be, thereby increasing the safety of you and your digital networks. 

No cyber defense is perfect, and hackers are increasingly sophisticated in their attacks. But at least, if you try to maintain these minimum practices, you will place barriers in their way and force them to seek easier targets.

Dr. Jane LeClair

Written by Dr. Jane LeClair

Dr. Jane LeClair is the president of the Washington Center for Cybersecurity Research and Development, and consults on cybersecurity programming at Thomas Edison State University. She has previously served as the Chief Operating Officer for the National Cybersecurity Institute. Dr. LeClair holds an MS in Cybersecurity and an EdD in Adult Education.

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