Keeping your computers safe from cyber attacks isn’t just something governments and large industries have to worry about these days. Anyone who uses a smartphone, computer or other electronic device to send email, visit social media sites, search the internet or even pay bills online can fall victim to criminals looking to hack into your accounts to steal your passwords, identity and money.
The cost of cybercrimes reached more than $4.2 billion in 2020, according to the FBI’s most recent Internet Crime Report, with the number of people and businesses reporting such crimes up almost 70% from 2019. October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and a good time to update your passwords and check in on your antivirus software to make sure it’s the most recent version available.
There are a number of other things you can do to protect yourself and your family from falling victim to attacks from malicious software, viruses and phishing attempts. Consider taking these extra steps the next time you log in to your email or other online accounts:
Create stronger passwords or phrases
Using stronger passwords, or even phrases, can be a simple way to improve your cyber security. It’s important to use different passwords for different accounts so if one password is compromised for a social media account, your bank account will still be safe. A strong password includes 10 characters or more, at least one uppercase letter and one lowercase letter, plus a number and a special character such as an exclamation point. Creating password phrases is an even better way to stop criminals. A phrase could be a song title with a date and a special character such as “Inthenameoflove1986!” It’s easy for you to remember but nearly impossible for hackers to guess.
Install or update antivirus software
Antivirus software is designed to prevent malicious software programs from embedding on your computer, notes the FBI. If the software detects a malicious code, like a virus or a worm, it works to remove it. Viruses can infect computers without you even knowing it. Most versions of antivirus software can be set up to update automatically.
Make sure your operating system is updated
Computer operating systems are periodically refreshed to stay up-to-date with new technology requirements and to fix security issues. It’s important to install the updates to ensure your computer has the latest protection available.
Think before you click
Always be cautious when asked to click a link or download an email attachment because doing so can circumvent anti-virus software on your personal or work computer. You should never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know, and be wary of forwarded attachments from people you do know. If in doubt, delete the message.
Opt for multi-factor authentication
While it may take an extra minute or so every single time you sign on, cybersecurity experts say choosing multi-factor authentication, also known as two-factor authentication, is one of the best ways to keep your devices and accounts secure from prying eyes. Multi-factor authentication requires additional information, such as a security code sent to your phone, to log in to an account. Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, and email providers including Gmail, allow users to choose this option. Adding this second layer of security to your online accounts is an effective (and free) way to stop cybercriminals in their tracks.
With reporting by Casandra Andrews