Did you know that a quarter of Canadian companies have been victims of cyberattack in 2021? This was reported by a Leger Survey which also said that 56% of Canadian organizations targeted by malware have paid money demanded by cybercriminals (Montreal News). This is concerning, more so for regular individuals like us who don’t have sophisticated protection tools at our disposal.
Even then, there are basic things you can do right now to secure your accounts. The following are simple habits that make up your first line of defense to prevent hackers from targeting you:
Turn your computer off after use
This seems simple but did you know that many people don’t do this? Many leave their computers on sleep or hibernate mode thinking that it saves more energy compared to turning it on for each use. This has been proven to be false. Newer computer models actually don’t use more power when booting up.
Aside from wasting energy, leaving your internet-enabled computer on but unused for an extended period of time can leave you vulnerable to rogue attacks. And if you also don’t log-off of from your email, social media, or bank accounts, you’re making it easier for hackers to install malware or even take over them.
Make difficult passwords and change them often
- Use passphrases instead of passwords – A passphrase is a sentence or a line that is made up of several random words (make it something meaningful for you so you don’t forget). The more characters it has, the harder it will be for hackers to guess.
- Use unique passwords for different accounts – This prevents the likelihood that all your accounts will be hacked all at once. Also use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters when creating your password. Passwords that consist of mixed characters are harder to crack.
- Don’t base them on personal information – Don’t include your first and last name, nickname, name of your child or pet, birthday, or any detail that can be easily found on your social media pages.
If you’re like me and find it hard to remember multiple passwords, consider using a password manager. These are apps that store your passwords securely. All you need to remember of course is your password to your password manager account. There are plenty of password managers to choose from. Many have free versions but as you can guess, the paid versions offer more security features. You can try these apps:
- Dashlane – Allows you to store up to 50 passwords for one device for free.
- Avira Password Manager – Provides unlimited storage on unlimited devices.
- RoboForm – A user-friendly app that provides unlimited use for one device. It automatically saves new passwords as you log into online accounts.
Another option would be to do it old-school: Write your passwords down on a piece of paper and then keep it safe from prying eyes. Techies may frown on this practice but it’s a simple, offline solution that would be impossible to hack.
Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication adds another layer of protection for you. Most banks, major social networks, and government entities (like the Canada Revenue Agency) provide this option. Choosing this will require you to provide an email address and/or phone number. To open your account, you will be required to key-in your username and password, and enter a code or set of numbers only you can access. This secret code can be sent to you via text, call or email. It can also be done through an app like Google Authenticator.
Avoid using public connection
Do you like using free wi-fi at libraries and cafes? It’s all good but just be aware that public connections have less security and are easier to hack. Encryption is also not enabled, so others using the same network may be able to see what you browse and send. If you intend to use shared networks like free wi-fi, make sure that you’re not sharing sensitive information online, and don’t forget to disconnect from the network when you’re done.
Clear your cache and install updates regularly
Your browser history holds personal information that can be easily tracked. Cyber criminals can use what they learn from your browsing habits to customize their attacks. For example, they can send you a link to fake a website that looks like the one you frequently visit to trick you into providing your username and password.
To clear you cache, go to your browser page, click on the three dots on the top right of the page. Look for “history” or “more tools – clear browsing data. Choose the time range (preferably All time) then click on the boxes for browsing history, cookies and other site data, and cached images and files. Do this every two to three weeks.
Installing Operating System updates, on the other hand, is important because these often come with critical security patches that protect your system from newly discovered threats. Windows OS usually sends updates every month. Aside from protecting your computer, installing updates also makes your computer run faster and more efficiently.
Get Cyber Safe | Multi-factor authentication
Bonus tip: Do you want to know if your email accounts are secure? Check to see if your emails have been part of data breaches by going to have I been pwned? Simply provide your email address and click the search button (pwned?). If you’ve been pwned (or breached), change your account passwords immediately and add security options like two-factor authentication when you can.
Sources: How to protect your digital privacy, Thorin Klosowski, The New York Times; 101 data protection tips: How to keep your passwords, financial and personal information online safe in 2022, Juliana de Groot, Data Insider; and What is Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)? Twilio. Accessed April 20, 2022.
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