10 Tips to Keep Your Online Environment Safe
School is starting up again, and for many students, they will be learning in a hybrid situation, meaning part of the time in the classroom and part of the time at home, remotely. With mom and dad working from home, and kids attending virtual classrooms, we need to make sure the online environment is safe and secure against those wishing to cause harm.
Let's face it; we live in a very technological world. A world of smartphones, smart homes, smart cars; and we can find at least one or more devices connected to the Internet in more than 90% of households. According to a study by Deloitte, U.S. households have an average of 11 devices!
"a significant increase in connected devices,” ... Kevin Westcott, vice chairman and U.S. telecom and media and entertainment leader at Deloitte
There is a lot of new opportunities for hackers. New ways to enter your home virtually and steal your data, your personal information, and even spy on you! You can protect yourself significantly just by following these ten tips.
1. Stay Off Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is not secure and is a hacker's playground. They can set up a look-a-like network, hoping you'll connect to it, they can intercept your data, and even create fake Wi-Fi access points. Once you've connected to their network, they can see what you see—going to check your balance in your checking account? And now, they have your password and account information. They can also get any information you have stored on your device. When you're out of the house and need to connect, it's always better to use your service provider's network. There may be a fee, but what is your data worth to you?
2. Use a VPN
Maybe you're in public often and rely on public Wi-Fi? If so, I suggest signing up for a virtual private network (VPN) to ensure your data is safe on an unsecured network. Many VPN providers have free trial periods. TechRadar lists the Best VPN Services in 2020. Your Internet Service Provider may also have a VPN service as well.
3. Best Router Practices
I really wish router manufacturers would require manual set up rather than being ready-to-use right out of the box. The default router settings are very common, it's like using "password" for your password. We'll talk about that later. So what are some of the things you can do to make your router secure?
- Rename the admin account and change the password
- Create a unique network name (SSID), do no use the default name
- Turn on encryption, use WPA2
- Hide your network from anyone doing a random search
- Place your router in a central location, away from windows and doors, and exterior walls.
4. Use Complicated Passwords
Avoid simple passwords. Using “password” might be easy for you to remember, but that is the first word a hacker will try. Most sites now require a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. Creating a complicated password is a good rule of thumb, even if the site doesn’t require it. In general, a good password is at least eight characters long, but the longer, the better. The best password is 25 characters. Another good practice is to form a password from a phrase. For example, you can create t1$!C4gtMpSd from “This is so I can’t forget my password.” You can use multiple methods to help you form unique and cryptic passwords.
5. Use a Firewall
Most routers will contain a built-in firewall that will protect and prevent any network attacks from intruders. The default setting is typically disabled, so be sure to confirm that your router's firewall is on.
6. Keep Security Software Updated
Just like technology moves at a fast pace, so does malware. Your Anti-Virus and malware software is only as good as the latest update. If you are not updating regularly, you are putting your computer and any other device on your network at risk. I recommend setting a schedule for the updates to run, preferably during non-peak usage times, as they can be resource-heavy.
7. Protect All Connected Devices
Your computer is not the only device at risk. Keyloggers, spyware, viruses, etc. can also infect your smartphone, Xbox, Playstation, tablet, iPad, pretty much anything connected to your network is at risk and must be protected.
Ensure all devices are behind your home router/firewall to protect them from unrestricted access from the Internet.
8. Scan External File Storage
Run your anti-virus scan on all USB drives and other external file devices before you open any files. Keyloggers are often passed on by a thumb drive. You open the infected file and it secretly installs on your computer and sends every keystroke to the hacker.
9. Look for the S
Always make sure you are on a secure site before transmitting any personal or sensitive information. Just look at the address bar for the locked padlock, and make sure the website address has an S. For example, http://notsecure --> https://secure
10. Backup! Backup! Backup!
Perform regular backups. How often you schedule the backup to run depends on how often you make changes or add files. Having a backup is not just good common sense, but it can save you a lot of time and trouble should you ever be faced with a ransomware attack. I store all my backups in the cloud, and on an external drive. I do a full back up monthly, and nightly file backups. Take it from someone who has lost all their information, it can happen to you!