As the Internet of Things slowly infiltrates into every aspect of our daily lives, securing our digital life needs to become a priority. We tend not to think of the information that we share and access via the world wide web as valuable or requiring protection because it is not something tangible that someone can break into our house or office and steal. But when it comes to the online world, data is everything and it is critical that we take digital security seriously.

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Below are 10 steps that can help you protect your data online, gathered from a recent Alacrity Lunch and Learn presentation. They include basic and more advanced precautions. A range of these is what everyone from your tween to your co-worker to your grandpa should be making a habit of using.

Antivirus/Ad Blocker Combination

The most basic of tips, make sure that any computer in your network has an antivirus running. Think of an antivirus like your local police force. The provide an overarching sense of security, while also catching suspicious activity.  

Antivirus check for patterns and unexpected changes in patterns on your computer. They also scan your files to ensure that no unwanted changes are made to them and they warn you when programs attempt to make changes so that you can verify that activity. They protect you from malicious software being installed on your computer and are a basic last step in security if all else fails. Antivirus software varies in price and features and there are also plenty of free antivirus options to choose from.

Ad blockers are different in their approach, but similar in their result. Having an ad blocker running in your browser ensures that any potentially malicious ads will not be shown, decreasing the likelihood of loading a suspicious ad and infecting your network.

Stay Updated Across Devices and Make Regular Backups

Keeping your computer programs and operating system updated reduces the chance of having vulnerable software running on your computer. It closes security risks and makes sure you are running the latest, best version of the software.

Know what you are updating though. Look through the option and try checking the advanced settings to see if there are any unwanted add-ons bundled into your update. Do not fall victim to the frustrations of updating and getting unexpected results.

The same goes for your smartphone, tablet, and any other device that you use. Your other devices also store your personal information and should be secure as well.

Making regular backups and storing them on an external device can also help you keep your data safe in the event of a security breach. Having multiple backups stored in multiple locations will ensure that you will have enough redundancy that your data will not be lost in any event. The best tip for this is the Backup 3-2-1 rule that says you should have 3 separate backups in 2 different formats and 1 of them should be stored off-site.

Use Safe, Unique Passwords

“password” is probably not the safest password to use. Use those secure password tips that you see everywhere or use a service that stores your passwords in a vault. Keep your passwords unique across the services you use and update them often.

Do Not Download “Cracked” Software or Unknown Files

You should not blindly trust the source of software, unless you have purchased it directly from the company or publisher. Cracked software, programs you find on the internet and download for free or purchase from somewhere for a reduced price, is impossible to verify as safe. You have no knowledge of how that program has been modified and installing pirated software can open your computer up to vulnerabilities.

Be Wary of Strange Emails or Messages Asking for Sensitive Data

Do you know the sender? Does the address look questionable? Are there strange attachments? Are they asking for sensitive information? You probably should not click on or download anything and you should definitely not reply with any information before verifying the sender as legitimate.

Always use caution with emails that you are unsure of. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Multifactor Authentication (MFA)

Multifactor authentication is a security measure that has been gaining popularity in recent years. MFA protects you by requiring additional methods of authorization beyond just a password. This generally involves a second or third method that is done through a separate means of proving that you have authorization to access an account.

How you authenticate can vary, depending on the service you use, but it usually fits into one of three categories: knowledge (something you know), possession (something you have), or inherence (something you are). Examples of these include asking a personal identification question once a user has logged in with the right credentials, asking users to fill in a code sent to a different account or device such as a phone, or physical (biometric) features such as fingerprint, retinal, or voice recognition.

Use a VPN with WiFi Hotspots

Ideally, you use a virtual private network (VPN) whenever using public WiFi services. This will create a secure network for you, whereas that free public WiFi does not.

If you do not use a VPN, at the very least, do not sign into online banking or access other sensitive information using public WiFi. Wait until you are on a secure network.

Use Secure Sites and Encryption

Encryption adds an extra layer, protecting your data, even in the event that it does get stolen. Encrypting the information being sent ensures that no party in between the sender and receiver can read the contents of the message, which is particularly important in online transactions such as banking or online shopping.

While many sites already do this for you (you can tell by the HTTPS certificate at the beginning of your URL), you can also choose to use services that encrypt your instant messages and other communication across your devices.

Limit Access to Those Who Need It

Good advice for individuals and companies, families and teams. If you do not absolutely need to have access to something, you should not have it. Human error is the biggest vulnerability that we have when it comes to online security.

Through social engineering, getting access to an account through a customer service helpline is relatively easy because we leave access open. We need to limit who can access our online data and make sure that authentication is required whenever accessing it.

Relevant for both families that need to access online bills and companies that need to access various services or data, limiting which members of the family or team can gain that access is critical to reducing human error and taking the necessary precautions to keep data safe.

Consider Security Services

For companies, an additional precaution may be to use professional security services. These services will help you set up secure networks and can offer the expertise necessary to show your team how to stay protected. They can monitor your networks for threats and protect you from vulnerabilities.

While obsessing about online security is not necessary, being totally naive about it is foolish. A lot of these security measures stem from common sense and some add extra levels of protection in case the data you deal with is particularly sensitive. Be skeptical and do not make a habit of trusting everything you come across online. Take the basic precautions (and maybe a bit more if you need to) and make the effort to keep your data safe. It is so worth it in the off-chance that your cyber security is threatened.

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