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How to Protect Yourself Online #BeCyberSmart

This post is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

As our lives are becoming more and more digital, we get more exposed to the risks associated with that. People all over the world are getting hacked for ransom, having their data stolen or exposed and being impersonated every day. And if you think that this doesn’t apply to you and that the younger generations are harder to trick, think again: 44% of Millenials were victims of online crime last year.

The number one crime online is the impersonation scam, where imposters pretend to be your friend or loved one and ask you for money. Raise your hand if you have received those ?‍♀ – oh yeah, I have a couple of those hanging out in my spam inbox as we speak. What’s crazy, however, is that these scams can often be very convincing. 1 in 5 people who receive such messages ended up suffering a financial loss in 2017. In fact, last year alone, 328 Million dollars has been reportedly lost to impersonator scammers.

As you can see, being vulnerable online isn’t only risky, but it’s also costly. On average, users worldwide lose $368 and countless hours to cyber crime. What can you do to protect yourself and minimize the risks though? Here are some tips from the Department of Homeland Security (learn more here

1.     Use Multi-Factor Authentication:

Let’s be realistic, passwords alone aren’t good enough anymore. You need multiple layers of protection and a Multi-Factor Authentication system is the way to do that, so make sure you activate it on all of the platforms where you can.

How does it work? Once you set it up, not only you will have your password, but also a trusted device or system where you could double confirm your identity. For example, I have that set up on my email account and every time I enter my password when logging in, I have to also unlock my phone and confirm my login attempt on it. This adds an extra layer of security and so if hackers get hold of my password, they would also need to be able to control my phone – which is harder to do.

Have you ever seen medieval castles with long paths to enter and multiple gates on the way? Think of this system as that: the more gates you have, the harder you are to conquer.

Photo by Dorian Mongel on Unsplash

2.     Be Wi-Fi conscious

Not all Wi-Fi’s are made equal, and especially those free public ones that are so tempting to connect to! I’m not saying don’t connect to those, but just be very careful when using them – because if a network isn’t secure or encrypted, a hacker could be easily watching your every step. This means that if you enter your password to social media or something, they can get hold of that pretty easily. And never, ever, login into your online banking or something very sensitive on networks like that – use your phone’s hotspot if it’s urgent, or wait until you get to safety.

Unfortunately, we are vulnerable when we are at home as well. Hackers can break down the encrypted firewall or use a smart device to get on your network (are your smart fridge/dishwasher/kettle secure?). I’m not trying to scare you here, but I’m trying to warn you about the things that you should be aware of. Always look for the green “Secure” lock icon on your browser’s bar (before the website URL) to ensure that your connection is safe.

3.     Understand what the apps on your phone can access

Could the apps on your phone be spying on you? Now the paranoia is real haha!

Always remember that you have control over permissions on your phone – what apps are allowed to access your camera, microphone, photos, files, etc. Only allow those that you will actually use: e.g. your weather app doesn’t need access to your camera and your health app doesn’t need your microphone. Do an audit of these permissions on a regular basis and check if some apps are behaving suspiciously (e.g. running on the background too much or eat up too much of that precious power when you’re not even using it?).

4.     Limit what you share

Social media has trained us to share a lot of personal details. Sometimes it can get too much – and not just because people don’t really care about what you’ve had for lunch. When you’re sharing personal information about locations and addresses, you’re exposing yourself to people who might have bad intentions.

Don’t share your home address, the location of places you frequent and if you want to share the location of your pictures online, post after you leave it. Also, turn off location tagging of your pictures on your devices, as this information is then stored along with the image and can be extracted.

If you need to share an address online, there are different solutions for that. I rent a box at a post office to make sure that I’m not sharing my actual address with people and that’s not me being paranoid, that’s one of the measures you can take to protect myself.

There can be people with malicious intentions and you might not even know about them before it’s too late.  As part of my previous job, I built relationships with lots of famous YouTube creators. They told me some unnerving stories of stalkers figuring out their addresses by the views outside of their windows and then sharing that online. I’m not kidding. And yes, you might not be a YouTube celebrity, but being cautious about what information you share online is a great practice for everyone.

5.     Don’t get phished

You might say: “You have to be an idiot to get phished” – but I’d argue that one, there are some really smart phishermen out there.  But before I expand on that, let me first explain what phishing is – if that’s a term you’re unfamiliar with.

Photo by Autri Taheri on Unsplash

Phishing is basically fishing for your information – getting you to share your password by logging in somewhere or providing some personal details that cyber criminals can use. It can be done in a variety of ways, the most common that I’ve encountered is through an email that may look very real. The email might ask you to login somewhere, fill out a form, download an attachment or even just respond with some details.

Now this might seem like child’s play, but some of these phishing emails can be very realistic and catch you off guard. Remember the recent Sony hack? When tons of emails were leaked, exposing some scandalous details? Well, that was a phishing attack on some employees. If companies like that or even governments get tricked this way, you can probably too.

To stay safe, never respond to suspicious emails or open their attachments. If it looks like a colleague or a friend has sent it, contact them using a different communication channel to confirm that it was indeed them who’ve sent the email.

What’s a suspicious email you may ask, well that’s very personal to you. It might be something you’re not expecting (an invoice or a report) or it can be off-putting because of the graphics in the email, fonts or the email addresses.  Some companies, including banks, are proactive about telling you what emails they will never send you. Remember those and never share your personal details this easily.

Cyber Security is becoming a hot topic for a reason: the more data we put online, the more vulnerable we are. Having common sense and being cautious is very important both: in real life (you will never take a dark suspicious-looking alleyway in a neighborhood that’s known to be dangerous, right?) and online.

Let’s Be Cyber Smart and minimize our risks and vulnerabilities. Stay up to date and learn more here:

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