October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month! The National Cyber Security Alliance has resources for securing your computer, your home network, and your personal information here, and check out the tips below:

On your own computer:

  • Use the latest security software, web browser, and operating system. Keeping these up-to-date is a key defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
  • When you have a moment, give your computer a free security check-up from one of many different vendors.
  • Use your security software to scan your USB thumb-drives, external hard drives, and other external devices on a regular basis, since they can be infected by viruses and malware.
  • Think before you act: Be wary of communications that implores you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information.
  • If it’s important, back it up: Protect your valuable work, music, photos, and other digital information by making an electronic copy and storing it safely.
  • If you think you have a virus, don’t try to deal with it alone. Call your IT support, even if that happens to be a friend or family member!

On your mobile device:

  • Set an unlock password or PIN so it won’t be vulnerable if lost or stolen.
  • Install antivirus or anti-malware software (many think that mobile devices are the fastest-growing pool of infected ‘computers’ today).
  • Don’t install suspicious apps, unpopular apps with only a few other users, or apps that need more permissions than they should.

At public wifi hotspots:

  • Avoid making any sensitive transactions if you can (like logging in to your bank, using your credit card, or entering your Social Security Number).
  • Make sure you see the “s”: Look for web addresses starting with “https://”, which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. Sites using only “http://” are not encrypted, so anyone at the hotspot can see your traffic.

On email, social media, and other online accounts:

  • Use strong passwords: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password.
  • Use different passwords for each account, so if one password is stolen, only one account is compromised.
  • Set up multi-factor authentication if the service supports it. This can keep someone from logging into your account, even if they steal your password. Google, FacebookTwitter, Amazon’s hosting service (though not the shopping portal), Dropbox, Paypal, and Microsoft/Hotmail all support some type of two-factor authentication.
  • Ignore or delete unexpected or unusual links in emails, tweets, posts, and spam. Cybercriminals often take over a friend’s address book or social media account, and they can make their links go to unexpected places, so be sure to check the destination by ‘hovering’ your cursor over the link to see where it goes. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or mark as spam.
  • You can report identity theft and cybercrime to the FBI’s Internet Crime and Complaint Center.

Some problems in cybersecurity require experts, but there are steps all of us can take to make our corner of cyberspace a little safer. Thanks, and stay safe online!

–Brad Edmondson

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