2013—as the Champagne hangover fades, the New Year’s resolution begins.
For many, January marks the opportunity to start fresh and improve on the previous year by setting goals—“resolutions”—and striving to achieve them. Weight loss, exercise, and money management are among the most common of all resolutions. After a season of too many cookies and cakes, not to mention holiday parties and gift-purchases, it’s only natural that a vow to lose weight and control spending would follow.
But perhaps you should consider an additional resolution for 2013: improving your personal security online. Cyber-attacks hit record numbers in 2012, ranging from broad-based attacks against corporations to social media hacking to identify theft. New cyber-threats against individuals, governments, and companies are cropping up every day, and their volume and complexity will likely increase in 2013.
According to McAfee, 22% of Americans still lack the core protection to ensure they are prepared for, and protected from, cyber-attacks. Underscoring the nature of this threat is a recent study from the University of Maryland, which reported that 39 seconds after your computer is connected to the Internet, someone is already trying to obtain unauthorized access to it. 39 seconds!
In sum, I suggest you avoid the interminable gym lines (don’t worry, gym attendance is usually back to normal by mid-February!) and awful diet food for this week and instead dedicate some of your time to personal cyber-security improvements.
Below are some quick fixes and lifestyle changes that can help protect your system, identity and other valuable digital data in 2013:
- Change your passwords and use a different one for each site that stores important information. Most people use simple passwords or choose a stronger one and use it all the time. Not only these can be easily guessed by a good hacker, but there are also software programs out there that can go through the entire alphabet within seconds and crack your passwords if not strong enough! As you access your online accounts this January, change every password, use a string of 7-10 characters, include cr@zy symbols, numb3rs, ma+hematical signs, uppercase and lowercase LeTtErS, and make each one unique. Various password management programs—1Password, KeePass, or LastPass—exist to help you manage your various passwords so that you are not overwhelmed. These programs are safe and secure. Additionally, they can even generate hard-to-crack passwords for you.
- Verify your security software settings and keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software updated. Ensure your anti-virus spyware is installed and configured properly. It is critical that you renew your software subscription(s) and ensure your software is updated. Many people ignore this step at their peril. Hackers are constantly updating their tools to try to break into your computers so you also need to update your software (at least once a week) to have the tools to be protected. Then, look at all the capabilities built into your Internet security software and start using the options that can better protect your machine. Security software from vendors like Kaspersky Lab, McAfee, Symantec, and Trend Micro (amongst others) have built-in features for things like proactive defense, password management/storage, virtual keyboards, automated malware quarantine, etc.
- Make sure your firewall is properly configured and turned on. Sometime a firewall may slow down something you’re doing on your computer and you may turn it off. A lot of people forget to then turn it back on. Your firewall, however, is like a front door to your computer—if you don’t have it on it’s like leaving the front door to your house open at night!
- Use your smartphone wisely. 2013 is said to be the year that smartphones turn into mobile nightmares. While iOS devices are relatively secure, Android phones are one download away from being completely corrupted. From mobile spying devices to bogus applications, mobile devices can be extremely vulnerable to fraud and malware attacks if used without sufficient precautions. Smartphones offer convenient consumer resources but can also provide cyber criminals with your personal and account information. Retailers do not have the bandwidth to monitor every transaction for suspicious activity, so consumers must take measure to protect their accounts—use strong passwords and authentication technics, download safe applications, only enter financial information on secure sites, etc.
- Use your social media platforms carefully. Accounts on social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are a veritable gold mine of information and are attacked constantly by hackers and cyber-attackers. Social media sites are making an effort to decrease the prevalence of spam and fraud, but this can be tricky—oftentimes these sites operate on several platforms through social registration, comments, voting/widgets and others. You can better protect your accounts by choosing stronger passwords, checking your privacy and security settings regularly, only downloading secure applications, reporting suspicious activity and only befriending people you know!
These suggestions represent only a summary of security recommendations for the year ahead. These tips won’t guarantee your safety but they will certainly improve your protection. More important than any single resolution is that you slow down and think, use your common sense and keep security as a focus and discipline. With that mindset, let me wish you a very happy and secure 2013!