Improve Your Cyber Hygiene in 5 Easy Steps
We all know that looking after our own personal hygiene is important for our health and well-being. In the digital world, we need to be aware of and look after our cyber hygiene. While the term is unusual, it means performing regular checks and modifying a few behaviors to secure ourselves online. It’s the kind of advice that we here at MakeUseOf offer regularly in the face of a new leak or attack.
Let us guide you through five easy steps to improve your cyber hygiene.
1. Keep Software Up to Date
The software that we all rely on every day isn’t perfect. Nearly every operating system and app has flaws hidden somewhere in their code. As the flaw becomes known, developers quickly patch it and push out software updates. As users, these constant updates can get frustrating, but without them known flaws can be exploited and used to attack you.
Global ransomware attacks like WannaCry and NotPetya both exploited known flaws in order to spread their malware. In the case of WannaCry, Microsoft had actually published a fix for that exploit months earlier, but many computers hadn’t been updated leading to mass infections.
Fortunately the process of keeping your software up to date has never been easier. Windows Update had an upgrade itself in the move to Windows 10 to become less invasive . Apple’s macOS can be updated directly from the Mac App Store alongside your other apps. With many of us now using our smartphones as our main device, it’s important to make sure iOS and Android are fully up to date. Make sure you install app updates as often as possible, especially for sensitive apps like online banking.
2. Perform Regular Backups
Just a few short years ago, there was little choice in easy-to-use, set-and-forget backup options. Now there are user-friendly, convenient options for almost every device and OS.
Windows 10 has a range of backup options baked directly into the operating system , and that’s without all the great 3rd party software available. Of course, Apple beat Microsoft to the punch by embedding Time Machine back in 2007. Even our smartphones are now backed up automatically to iCloud or Google Drive .
Cloud storage has proliferated recently with offerings available from nearly all the large tech companies . In an effort to compete with each other, the services range between free to $10/mo. You can use their generously spaced offerings to backup your files — and have them within easy reach no matter where you are.
Services like Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Photos will even allow you to store unlimited photos for no additional cost. Of course, if you’d prefer a local backup you could always use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to deposit all of your files. NAS devices will even allow you to use multiple drives for improved redundancy .
3. Use an Antivirus
For Windows users, it’s almost certain that you have had a virus, malware, or some other rogue software appear on your computer without your consent. During the days of Internet Explorer 6 and Windows XP, the operating system’s susceptibility to infection was something of a running joke . Three iterations later and Windows 10 finally has a robust, built-in antivirus in Windows Defender . You could stick with the default, but there are better options out there if you want to be fully protected.
The misconception that Macs are immune to viruses and malware has been proven wrong many times. That’s why running antivirus software on your Mac isn’t such a bad idea. As smartphones have continued to proliferate, malicious attackers have moved some of their resources towards your mobile devices. Your smartphone holds some of your most sensitive information, so you should be taking precautions there too.
4. Use a Better Password
Given how many accounts we all use every day, it’s little wonder so many of us rely on simple, easy to remember passwords like “123456” . These passwords — which often follow the patterns of our keyboards — are easily cracked in the event of a data leak.
Using a stronger, more complex password can help, but the problem of easily remembering it remains. Complex passwords that are easily forgotten often end up written down, which undermines the safety of using the better password. While coming up with a pattern to your passwords can help, it isn’t a bulletproof solution.
Instead, you should turn to a password manager. These useful pieces of software function like a secure digital vault for all of your passwords , often locked with a Master Password. This means that you only have one password to remember before your password manager unlocks your secure store.
Many password managers even have a feature to automatically generate and store secure passwords for you, removing the need to create one in the first place. While there are many benefits to password managers, keep in mind that they aren’t perfect .
5. Beware of Online Threats
We have become accustomed to the ever-present threat of people trying to manipulate, deceive, or otherwise con us in our lives. Despite the early Utopian ideals of the internet, this trend spread online. Most of us have probably come across a variation of the Nigerian email scam , but there are many other more insidious threats out there too.
Scammers are always looking for new ways to take advantage of our habits and routines. This has led to the popularization of techniques like phishing , vishing, and smishing . All three attacks attempt to trick you into clicking fraudulent links or divulging personal information using either email, voice, or SMS. Being able to spot a phishing email or SMS scam can be invaluable in the effort to protect your data.
It can sometimes feel like not a day goes by without yet another leak, hack, or global malware attack. It’s no wonder we end up with security fatigue . Fortunately, by managing your cyber hygiene you have created an additional roadblock to any exploitative attacker.
If you want to take your security protections further, you could add Two Factor Authentication (2FA) to your online accounts. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the best things you can do to improve your online security and keep away eavesdroppers. We all post a lot of information online, but if you want to stay protected there are things you should never share .
How do you manage your Cyber Hygiene? Do you regularly perform all these tasks? Are there some you think we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!