Staying safe online
The world is becoming more digitalised. An increasing amount of our interactions are done online: emails, whatsapp/skype calls, social media, online banking, shopping. Online is where we go for entertainment, for connecting with friends and family, for research, to conduct business, to do just about most things.
Are we aware of the safety threats online? Are we staying safe online? We know to protect our physical safety: lock your doors, install a security alarm, lock your car, tell your children not to accept lifts from strangers, don’t leave your handbag out of sight in a public place. In the cyberworld, we are generally less savvy.
As more human activity is in cyberspace, so are the criminals. I recently attended a talk by a regional police unit in the West Midlands. The police report that crimes like car crime in England are rare because it’s harder to get into cars these days and getting caught is too easy. The point being that crimes in the physical world are not as lucrative as before. It’s far easier to steal or scam someone online and far harder to get caught.
That was a wake up call to me to check my cyberhealth. You should to. I’ve compiled easy to do things to improve your security online, thanks to some guidance from the Regional Organised Crime Unit.
1. Anti-virus software & updating software
Install, use and regularly update a good reputable anti-virus or anti-malware software on ALL electronic devices. Remember devices are often connected to others in a home or office network, so if you don’t protect one, it’ll be like leaving your back door open. Also, if software developers develop an update, it’s because there’s a problem that needs fixing. If we postpone the update, we’ll be leaving ourselves exposed to the problem. Updating should be done for anti-virus as well as all software applications.
2. Clever passwords
Use complex (and long) passwords that aren’t easy to figure out. Criminals use sophisticated software to crack passwords by running your password against dictionaries and every bit of personal info they have about you from online (and those purchased from the black market). Avoid family names, birthdays, anything associated with you and passwords used elsewhere. Regularly changing passwords to new ones is a good idea to keep one step ahead of anyone trying to crack your password
Ensure your computers and networks at home and office have a reputable and effective firewall. It’s like a fence around your home and office. It prevents unauthorised entry into your network. Criminals who enter networks are able to remotely control your computer and get it to do all sorts of things.
4. Back up data
Minimise the risk of losing data by backing up data weekly. Many cloud-based applications are available, some free, where your data like work files, home files, photos can be stored safely. If you inadvertently download a virus on your computer that destroys data or worse still holds you to ransom, you will be able to retrieve your data from your cloud. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Many innocent people have accidentally opened an email attachment and downloaded the ransomware onto their computers. Once that happens, it’s very difficult to get your data back without paying the ransom. Unless of course you have back-ups elsewhere
5. Secure your website
If you are a business with a website, it’s important to maintain strict control over who has access to the web server and website. Regularly monitor who has access and actively block anything that looks malicious.
For businesses employing staff and for homes with children, it’s important that everyone is educated and made aware of cyber risks. Simple things like teaching them not to open attachments from someone they don’t know and not visiting untrusted websites will minimise the risk of downloading viruses.
7. Managing user accounts
Regularly monitor who has user accounts and privileges to your website, office network or home network. In offices, when staff leave, remove that user’s account immediately. When staff move roles, check that their access is only what’s needed for the new role.
8. Cyber liability insurance
Businesses should explore insurance to cover cyber risks. A simple google search reveals various insurance providers covering various risks.
Nothing can guarantee 100% protection but let’s make it harder for the online criminals to get us. More information and help is available from the government website or Get Safe Online for free expert advice.
Little Trove, founder