Four Cybersecurity Tips You Can Take Advantage Of Right Now
The internet is central to most of our lives, whether we want it to be or not. Facebook has more users than most countries have citizens, and two out of every three people in the United States have a smartphone. Credit and debit cards are all routed through internet processing centers (like our own TSYS), and websites like Amazon or eBay store millions of profiles with customers’ names, addresses, phone, credit and even social security numbers. All of this has only happened over the last twenty years, and that pace is speeding up, not slowing down.
The extraordinary speed in which internet technology has inserted itself into every aspect of our lives brings with it a tremendous need to learn how to guard our information from thieves. The battle between hackers and security is a relentless one, and it will probably never end completely. But there are a few simple defenses that you can use right now to drastically lower your chances of being stuck high and dry from a cyber thief. October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, so we have created a short list of ways to bolster your defenses and keep your records safe.
- Use long passwords, if you can. The number-one strength of any password is its length. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. A short four or five-word sentence could take millions of years to crack, whereas a name and birth year would only take a few days. If a site does not let you use long passwords or demands that you use special characters and capitals, make sure you write your password down and keep it in a notebook. You can also use free password manager programs like LastPass or Dashlane, which will automatically generate strong passwords for you and save them in a locked database on your computer.
- Don’t open any links or attachments you do not immediately recognize. The easiest way for a virus to get on your computer is to download an infected file from a sketchy website or email. The best way to prevent this? Don’t download anything that you don’t expect. If an email from a friend asking you to open an attachment seems strange, send a reply asking for clarification. Do not download the file. Stay away from file-sharing websites that can be havens for viruses, and only download files from programs and websites that you know and trust. If you aren’t sure, you can call the University IT help desk at 706-507-8199 and they can advise you on whether or not the file or site is legitimate.
- Keep your programs and drivers updated. When developers release programs like Microsoft Office or iTunes, they will sometimes make mistakes and leave “holes” in the code that can allow criminals to swoop in and monitor what you are doing. They can track your keystrokes and watch you type your password, or they can lock your program and steal your files for ransom. Developers often catch these little holes very quickly, and they send updates to “patch” them. But you have to be the one to install those updates. Go through your programs and check to make sure all of them are airtight and up to code.
- Install a basic anti-virus software and scan every few weeks. As long as you follow the first three tips, the good news is that you really don’t need to go out and buy a brand-name antivirus software. At best, they will stop a few annoying toolbars from being installed. At worst, they will actually become the annoying toolbars. There are many free and lightweight antivirus programs that will provide the exact same scans as the expensive ones. Do some research and find one that seems best for your needs, and then run a scan every few weeks to make sure some spyware or adware hasn’t slipped through.
If you follow just these four steps, you will eliminate a huge amount of risk. This October, take a few minutes of time and make sure you are secure. You’ll be glad to rest easy.
-Scott Berson, Student Assistant