From computers to smartphones, all of us constantly face cyber security threats. Gary Griffith, PhD, a cyber security expert and faculty member in Walden University’s School of Information Systems and Technology, shares 10 things you need to know to stay safe online—at home and on the go.
Think you’re immune from cyber attack? Think again. From individuals to large institutions, when it comes to cybersecurity, we’re all at risk. All of us need to have our guards up—and stay vigilant.
A strong password is your best bet to keep hackers from infiltrating your online accounts. Make your passwords harder to crack by using uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and multiple special characters. Be sure to make your password at least eight characters in length. Dr. Griffith recommends going even further by combining and/or manipulating words, numbers, and phrases. For example, Washington, 76, and cat could become a password such as 6C@tW@shington7, and “Mary had a little lamb” might be transformed into m@rY_h@D_@_!ittlE_!amB.
Always secure your laptop with a login password, the latest virus protection software, and the latest operating system patches. When in public, be sure to always keep your laptop with you to prevent it from being stolen—and hacked.
Be familiar with the merchant you’re buying from. Search the vendor name along with the word “scam.” Look for user reviews on sites like eopinions.com. Once you’re sure the vendor is legitimate, make sure you’re purchasing from a secure site. The URL should begin with “https” (s for “security”) and have a small gold lock in the lower right-hand corner of the browser.
Instead of one email address, create separate email accounts for different uses, then be sure to create a unique password for each. Also, beware of phishing scams. Scammers “masquerade as a trustworthy entity,” warns Dr. Griffith. “When somebody sends you an email asking for your personal information, you should know right away it’s a trick.” A reputable company will never ask for your password.
Limit the information you post on social media, such as your phone number and address. Ignore strangers who try to connect with you. (“You don’t talk to strangers, so why are you inviting them to stalk you on Facebook or Twitter?”) And “don’t be click-happy,” Dr. Griffith advises. Be wary of the many social apps available for download as many are hotbeds for cybersecurity breaches.
It’s painful for many of us to consider, but smartphones are vulnerable to the same threats as computers. While iPhones are less susceptible to hacking, Dr. Griffith advises all Android users to download the free Lookout security app, which scans all apps to ensure they’re safe for your phone and the accounts associated with it.
Although it’s tempting for those of us on the go, don’t log in to your bank account using public Wi-Fi. When logging in from a secure network over your phone, be sure not to open other apps at the same time. And whether you’re on your computer or your phone, always log out of your account when you’re finished.
Even with the most up-to-date browsers, “You’re only as safe as the actions you take online,” says Dr. Griffith. Guard your personal information and make sure the sites that request it are encrypted. Install protective software on your computer and update Web browsers regularly, enabling all security features. Be careful when it comes to streaming media. “If a download seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t risk it.”
Unless special circumstances require it, disable the auto-connect feature on your computers as it may expose your desktop or laptop to Wi-Fi-based security threats. Be sure to enable firewalls on every computer you own, as well as each router.
Interested in helping people and institutions stay safe online? Learn how a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems or information technology from Walden University can help you enter the exciting field of cybersecurity and land the cybersecurity job of your dreams.