SoftActivity
October 31st, 2013

7 Steps You Can Take to Amp Up Your Cyber Security

malware ahead

Websites can have malware or other malicious code built into their programming language. Fortunately, most web browsers have some degree of built-in security measures to help prevent users from visiting such sites. Browser security can only go so far, however, and users must remain proactive and ever-diligent in protecting themselves against theft and fraud.

Since the olden days (when state-of-the-art computers occupied entire rooms), computer technology has been in a perpetual state of advancement. Today, we’ve shrunken those room-sized behemoths into pocket-sized, mega-powerful machines that are 1000s of times more efficient than anything envisioned in the early days of computing. More powerful, however, doesn’t automatically equate to more secure; a fact I think many users forget when using their devices. Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that hackers and cybercriminals benefit from advances in computer technology, just like the rest of us do. Improved computing power means more-sophisticated hardware and software for thieves to use in stealing your personal information and your identity. Moreover, hackers and cybercriminals are constantly improving their skills and knowhow, continually adjusting and altering their techniques, and constantly devising new schemes to dupe users into divulging private information. Thus, users must remain ever-diligent, ever-aware in working to prevent data and identity theft.

My Seven Steps to Better Cyber Security

  1. Be careful when using public hotspots. Public hotspots, like those featured at McDonalds, Starbucks, public airports, and many other businesses and public places are a great convenience, but they offer zero cyber security. I’ve also seen that in some major cities, people are now taking on the role of Wi-Fi hotspot…weird…I don’t think I would trust a human hotspot, but that’s just me.Note that using these networks requires no password, meaning they’re not encrypted. A cyber thief with the right equipment, software, and knowhow could easily covertly setup nearby and intercept any password or other sensitive information you send over one of these networks. That means, when using a public hotspot, logging onto any site that requires a password – e.g. email or banking sites – poses a cyber-security threat. Learn to be disciplined when surfing such networks; limit yourself regarding the types of transactions you complete and avoid any sites that require a password to log in.
  2. Consider creating your own “hotspot.” With the right data plan, many mobile devices will allow you to broadcast a signal that can be picked by other Wi-Fi-capable devices, allowing those devices to use the signal to log onto and surf the web. This means that, with your mobile device at hand, you can broadcast a signal, set up your laptop and log on. Your friends can log their devices on, too. Be sure to password protect your mobile hotspot, though, or you’ll be just as vulnerable to hackers as you would be on an unsecure public network.
  3. Don’t set your mobile device, laptop or PC to automatically log on to open Wi-Fi networks. If you’re on an unsecured network without your knowledge, this opens you to attacks from hackers, cyber thieves, and other cyber security threats.
  4. Know your network. It may sound farfetched, but hackers and cyber criminals have the technology to set up fake “public” Wi-Fi networks and dupe unsuspecting users into transmitting passwords and personal information. If you’re unsure of the source of a hotspot or network, don’t use it. The same goes for when you’re at home: if your home connection goes down, don’t assume the open, unencrypted network you see belongs to a neighbor who simply forgot to password protect his or her home network. Speaking of which…
  5. Password protect/encrypt your home network. It seems as if everyone’s got a home Wi-Fi network these days, and that’s no surprise. The technology to set one of these networks up is relatively inexpensive and easy to use. The networks themselves are extremely convenient. The signals broadcast by home networks are easily intercepted by outside users, though. If your network isn’t password protected/encrypted, it’s vulnerable to hackers and cybercriminals. Be certain to use the most robust encryption standard with which your equipment is compatible. Currently, the WPA2 encryption standard is the most up-to-date standard. If your equipment allows for WPA2 encryption, use it. If not, WPA is the next-strongest standard. After that, WEP is the standard; if your equipment won’t allow higher than WEP encryption, you might consider upgrading, as WEP has been shown to be significantly vulnerable to attack.
  6. Take advantage of opportunities to partner with financial institutions to increase your financial and cyber security. Most banks and credit card companies will allow you the option of receiving a text, email, or even a phone call in the event there’s a large or unusual transaction conducted from the account. Tell your financial institution you want to be notified. The sooner you can spot a fraudulent transaction or charge, the better your chances of stopping or reversing it, and the sooner you can take steps to secure the compromised data.
  7. Be careful of the links you click. I’ve found that whether you’re on a social media website, browsing through the results of a Google search, or reading an email, be careful of the sites you visit. Websites can have malware or other malicious code built into their programming language, meaning the moment you land such a site, you’re infected. Keep in mind, too, that ad banners can have malicious code written in them or can lead to sites with malicious code.

The Internet has made life easier and more efficient; unfortunately, it has also made fraud and identity theft easier and more wide-spread than ever. Faster, more powerful hardware and ever increasingly-sophisticated software don’t guarantee increased cyber security. Users must be ever-diligent and proactive then, in making sure networks and devices are as secure as possible.

By Frank Winston, SoftActivity

Photo by Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology (Flickr)