The month of October typically brings to mind falling leaves, hot wine, and gourds of all shapes and sizes. What’s missing from this warm, cozy picture? Online privacy. Sounds a little strange, I know, but October happens to be National Cyber Security Awareness Month, or – as it’s lovingly hashtagged across the Internet – CyberSecMonth.
We here at BestVPN.com are passionate about protecting peoples’ digital lives and data, and so want to do our part to help spread the word of this important event. We’ve already published a piece on why cyber security should be your priority earlier this month, so here’s a follow-up list of some atypical tips you can implement that go beyond the same-old, same-old.
1. Don’t overexpose yourself on social media
I never thought I’d see the day where Kim Kardashian would teach the public something about cyber security, but here we are. Kim’s constant flaunting of her wealth and location on Instagram and other social media channels is frequently cited as the primary reason behind her being targeted and held up at a gunpoint by criminals who broke into her rented apartment in Paris and stole $8.5 million worth of jewelry at the beginning of this month.
It’s easy to brush this incident off as “this could never happen to me,” but understand that you don’t have to be a social media celebrity or billionaire to be victimized. If you have a bank account, job, or any other data worth stealing and are open about your life online, you can and will be a target. As such, keep a low profile on social media and other online sites to lower your chances of becoming a victim of digital or physical theft.
2. Only buy things online using your own device and network
Online shopping is undeniably convenient – whatever did we do before Amazon? – but it’s an incredibly dangerous if you go about it the wrong way. In order to safeguard your digital shopping spree, you should use not only your private device but your private network as well (we’ll go into why later). In addition, you should never save your credit card or personal details to any online shopping site, no matter how often you shop there. This is because if someone manages to hack into your account, they’ll have access to critical information like your name, address, and bank card details.
3. 2FA, 2FA, 2FA
You probably recognize 2FA or two-factor authentication from being constantly prompted by sites such as Facebook and Gmail to implement it on your account. I know it’s tempting to click the ‘remind me later’ button, but this is something that you absolutely shouldn’t postpone.
For those not in the know, two-factor authentication works by sending you a code via an authentication App or SMS whenever you try to sign in using your username and password. By setting this up, you all but guarantee the safety of your account – unless a thief manages to get a hold of your mobile device as well, that is!
4. Don’t befriend anyone on Facebook that you don’t know in person
One of the coolest things about living in the age of the Internet is that you can meet and befriend people from all corners of the globe without ever having met them in person first. While I think it’s fine to have digital buddies on social media and forums, I draw the line at Facebook and other similarly information-sensitive websites. Should your friend turn out to be a foe, they would have access to not only your confidential data but that of your company, friends, and family as well. As such, I highly encourage that you only friend people on Facebook and similar sites if you’ve met the person in the flesh and are familiar with them well enough to know if they can be trusted or not.
5. Cover up your webcam
Sounds like something that only people of the tinfoil-hat-wearing type would do, I know, but putting tape or a plaster over your webcam is a serious security tip that everyone should implement. It’s becoming increasingly well-documented that hackers can activate the webcams of unknowing individuals. Heck, there’s even a YouTube channel for it!
And if anyone ever makes fun of you for being paranoid enough to cover up, you can tell them that you’re in good company: FBI director James Comey and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg are just a few of many highly-respected tech-savvy individuals who cover up their webcams.
6. Delete old or unused accounts
Interests change and social media evolves, leading to abandoned accounts in forums and digital graveyards like MySpace and Livejournal. While most people are satisfied to just leave them there, this is a serious cyber security liability. Chances are that these accounts will contain personal information about you, or use passwords that you still use elsewhere. As such, you should take some time this CyberSecMonth to make a list of all your old accounts, and then go back to each and delete them. This’ll help to reduce your digital footprint and protect accounts that you use presently.
7. Beware social engineers
Many people think of social engineering as something reserved for movies like Catch Me If You Can, but it’s a genuine practice that both real and digital criminals make use of all the time. Shoulder surfing, phishing, diversion theft… all these tactics and more are used by social engineers to steal your online information.
To learn all about the different social engineering attacks to look out for and how you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim, check out the Ultimate Guide to Social Engineering from BestVPN.com.
8. Only trust HTTPS
I sincerely hope that everyone knows the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, but I know that that’s sadly not the case. A website whose URL starts with HTTPS means that all data you put in and get out is encrypted. A HTTP site, on the other hand, does not. As such, you should only give confidential information such as tax numbers, bank card details, home addresses, and so on to sites that use HTTPS. No arguments.
9. Turn off your Wi-Fi
I know that nowadays asking someone to turn off their Wi-Fi is akin to asking them to give up their firstborn, but hear me out. Wi-Fi hotspots are notoriously unsafe, with many being fake ones set up by cyber criminals so that they can use them to access and monitor unsuspecting people’s devices.
I know how important it is for people to stay connected at all times, but honestly, if you’re between legitimate Wi-Fi connections (such as those at your home or work), do yourself a favor and turn it off. This could save you from connecting or even auto-connecting to a malicious network. Who knows, you might find that you actually enjoy being offline every now and again!
10. Don’t click on clickbait
When I say ‘clickbait,’ you know what I’m talking about. “This Guy Proposed to his Girlfriend at a Baseball Game, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next,” “17 Foods That You Don’t Realize are Making You Fat,” “This Video of a Pomeranian Will Blow Your Mind”… These are but a few examples of the terrible clickbait that infest your Facebook feed and linger in the ‘Continued Reading’ section of dodgy websites. Not only would I advise you don’t click on this type of online content for its sheer stupidity, but there’s safety reasons for avoiding it as well. Some of these articles or videos can take you to malicious websites full of ransomware, viruses, and other digital nightmares.
Cyber Security Tips Conclusion
While I’m happy that there’s a month dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of safeguarding your online presence, you shouldn’t restrict improving your digital security practice to October. Keeping yourself safe and secure on the Internet should be an ongoing practice, no matter what the time of the year. I hope that the tips listed in this article help make you aware of just how important cyber security is, and that you can action some of them to improve your online safety.