Our world is full of connected devices, everything from our computers and cellphones to our cars. This constant flow of information provides efficiency, convenience, and comfort, but along with these benefits comes increased risk. According to Forbes, cyberattacks currently account for losses of over $400 billion annually and that number is expected to skyrocket to over $2 trillion by 2019. Cyberattacks can target large corporations, as we have seen with Target, Home Depot, and JPMorgan Chase, but they can also target anyone who uses the Internet. Over half of all adults in the US suffered from a cybersecurity incident in 2016.
The amount of money lost to cybercrime has quickly surpassed that which is lost to physical theft, yet many of us do not protect ourselves from cybercrime the way we do with traditional crime. There are a variety of methods malevolent parties may use to get ahold of your personal information, which is why it is important to be vigilant when doing anything that involves your personal or financial information. Most cybercrime involves a combination of hacking and phishing. So, to protect against these attacks, you must ensure that both you and your devices are prepared.
Here are 7 steps you can take to protect yourself from cybercrime:
1. Keep your computer up-to-date with the latest patches and updates. Setting your devices to automatically update will save you the time of looking for the latest updates and is a good first step to protecting yourself from simple cyberattacks.
2. Only use encrypted email or secure file transfer software for exchanging documents. At Morton Capital, all of our attachments are sent via encryption. When sending documents through email, always reply to the original email in order to ensure your documents are securely returned to us. However, this will not protect your information if the password to your email or computer is stolen (see tip #4 below). It is best to avoid sending sensitive personal information via email altogether. Faxes, the Morton Capital portal, or other file transfer software are more secure conduits for sharing personal information.
3. Do not use public Wi-Fi. If a hacker is able to access an unsecured Wi-Fi network, they can see the information being shared over the network. This information can include passwords, usernames, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information. Because of this risk, public Wi-Fi should be avoided whenever possible; in fact, it is best to turn off your cell phone’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you are not using it. If you do need to connect to public Wi-Fi, always use a virtual private network (VPN), which can make it harder for your activity to be tracked. There are a variety of free VPN apps, such as Hotspot Shield, for both your computer and smartphone.
4. Use strong passwords. It is important to create a strong password that uses a variety of symbols, letters, and numbers and that does not include any easily discovered personal information such as your name, username, or date of birth. Strong passwords are especially crucial for any online banking or other activities that involve financial information. Changing your password regularly and not using the same password on multiple sites can prevent attacks from someone who has already discovered your password and is waiting to act.
5. Use a password manager. Making your passwords hard for hackers to guess will make them nearly impossible to remember. Luckily, there is a solution. Password managers, such as LastPass, can store all of your passwords completely encrypted so you only need to remember a single password to access the rest.
6. Check the website security. Before entering personal information into a website, make sure it is secure. If the URL starts with https:// instead of http://, this means any data entered into that website will be encrypted so no one else will be able to see it.
7. Question unusual emails and activity. Oftentimes the biggest vulnerability is human. Cybercriminals are often able to pose as someone they are not and fool their victims into leaking their own information. This can take the form of emails that appear to be from your bank or place of work, or faux websites that appear to be something you recognize but steal your personal information and passwords. Be sure to maintain a questioning attitude: if an email or website doesn’t seem quite right or an offer for a download seems too good to be true, question it, and always think twice before sharing your financial information.
Cybercriminals are always coming up with new ways to steal your identity and your money but taking these few small steps will dramatically improve your safety.