Five ways to protect against a cybersecurity attack

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and practicing good cyber security habits is critical in today’s interconnected world. Here are five ways you can protect yourself and your family from a cyber security attack:

#1: Install and update security software. The best defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats is a security software program. Any device that connects to the internet should be protected. Along with computers, this includes smartphones, gaming consoles, and tablets. USBs and other external devices can also get infected so use your security software to scan them, too. You can’t just install anti-virus software and walk away, however. Manufacturers of these programs constantly release new updates to combat recently discovered threats, so make sure your software stays current.

Also, update your web browsers and operating system, since many of these updates are related to security. Both Mac OS X and Windows provide automatic updating mechanisms that check every day for new security patches and automatically apply them to your systems. You just need to ensure that this functionality is turned on. Your computer will take care of the rest.

#2: Just say no to suspicious emails, links, and websites. Links or attachments in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often how cyber-criminals try to steal your information. Even if you think you know the source, if something looks suspicious, do not click on it. Instead, delete it.

Unless a website’s URL begins with “https,” be very cautious of sharing your personal information on it. “Https” is the secure and encrypted version of “http.” It essentially converts your data into gibberish for anyone trying to see it other than the authorized parties.

#3: Make your passwords strong by padding them. Look at your current passwords and consider putting some padding on them. With password padding, just about anyone can create seemingly uncrackable passwords. The best part is you won’t have a problem remembering them. Password padding just means that you take your password and add one or two characters repeatedly.

For example, a weak password is: Turtle. A padded password is: !!!Turtle!!! and an even more secure password is: !!!33Turtle!!!33. It’s a simple way to improve password security without having to resort to memorizing incredibly long passwords. Of course, you should never write down your passwords. If you’re having trouble remembering them, use a password manager like LastPass, KeePass, or others.

#4: Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt. If you have files with sensitive information stored on your laptop, it’s a good idea to encrypt those files. This will ensure that no one can read your data if the computer is lost or stolen. Of course if you wanted to you could also encrypt your entire hard drive using perhaps the BitLocker feature, which is built into Windows. But for most people, that step is complicated and unnecessary. Most users will be fine using a free, open source program like VeraCrypt (TrueCrypt’s predecessor).

In addition to encrypting your files, you can also encrypt your emails. Both Google and Microsoft offer simple ways to do this. Businesses may want to consider using programs like Sharefile to send secure emails and attachments to their clients.

#5: Talk to your child about cyber security and cyber-bullying. As soon as your child is old enough to use the internet unsupervised, you should talk to him or her about cyber security and cyber-bullying. Make sure they understand to never talk to strangers online or share any of their personal information. Use parental controls and monitor their online activity. Create rules that are appropriate for you and your family about using social media like Facebook and Instagram. Finally, explain to your child what cyber-bullying is and what they should do if they experience or observe it.

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