Our lives rely ever more on digital devices to keep us connected and manage our lives. Without careful protection, though, they can help criminals connect to our data and assets.
Every smartphone, laptop, desktop, tablet or smartwatch contains a treasure trove of personal information. As such, cyber criminals are increasingly targeting these devices to access your financial accounts and potentially ransack your online life.
The threats are everywhere. Phishing emails try to trick you into clicking on links that’ll take you to a malicious website. Malware hides in legitimate looking apps and steals your login information. Ransomware locks you out of your devices and software and demands money to let you back in. Spyware steals information – and can secretly activate your webcam.
Don’t forget the basics
Vigilance is key. Always be wary and keep up to date on best practices for defending your devices and data. You should engage in simple but effective internet habits. Monitor notifications for untoward activity and regularly back up your data on a separate device or USB.
Regularly your change passwords. You should have different ones for each website, especially email, banking and social media accounts. Avoid storing them on shared computers. Instead, rely upon your browser or a password manager instead. Unusual passwords are strongest. Use three random words, the longer the better – exhileratingmammothflammable. Consider including special characters and numbers, but avoid mixing symbols with very common words e.g. P@$$W0rd1!.
Be on guard with emails. Bad spelling and formatting are clues that an email is from a suspicious source. Avoid clicking on links until you’ve Googled the website or moved your cursor over it and seen where the URL could take you to. And never open attachments from senders you don’t recognize. Even when you do know the sender, it’s wise to treat unrequested attachments as suspicious until proven otherwise.
Moving security up a notch
Today’s devices have a range of security features that all too many of us never seem to get round to using. But they offer crucial layers of additional protection against increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals. Take two-step – or multi-factor – authentication reduces the risks by challenging you to provide a one-time code that is sent to your registered device or generated by a digital token. Turn this feature on for vital accounts.
Encryption is your friend. Use it for any emails or messaging containing sensitive personal data, such as addresses or birth dates. Ensure auto-updates for apps and operating systems are enabled and buy only from reputable stores. Only give trusted apps access to key functions and sensitive data such as your location, camera, photos, and microphone.
Hackers can steal unencrypted data through unsecured public Wi-Fi, so never connect at unknown hotspots. Rely on your own device’s 4G or 5G network instead. It makes sense to try a Virtual Private Network (VPN) as these encrypt data before it’s sent.
If your device is lost, the ‘Find My Device’ function available on some models can help you recover what’s gone astray. This has the even greater benefit of allowing you to delete important personal data remotely to stop it falling into the wrong hands.
And finally, if you think you may have fallen victim to any scam, always report it immediately because fraudsters will make extremely fast use of your stolen data.
Further information and best practices are available online. For example, see the FBI and National Cyber Security Centre’s websites.