Be Cyber Smart: The Way Out

National Cyber Security Awareness Month 2021

Our society, personal lives, business transactions, and critical infrastructures have become largely dependent on computer networks and information communication technology. Almost everything from our web browsing to mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to invade our privacy and personal security. With technological advancement, the level of cybercrime has also increased with time putting our lives at risk and that’s where cyber security comes in. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts cybercrime will cost the world over US$6 trillion annually by 2021, up from US$3 trillion in 2015.

The focus of cyber security concerns is mostly towards organizations as compared to individuals. Cyber-attack is not just a major issue for big businesses, as cybercriminals or threat actors target individuals too. Organizations tend to have the capacity to afford the cost of implementing cybersecurity controls with a dedicated cybersecurity team and cyber insurance package. They are also able to recover from major attacks more easily than individuals. Individuals often just don’t have the resources to easily recover from a damaging attack. The average person is on their own when it comes to protecting their cyberspace, computer, and devices. Many individuals are not even aware of the risk of cyber-attack. It is important and our responsibility as individuals to protect our sensitive data and information that is electronically stored, just as we protect our houses and other physical assets. Let me take you through some important tips you can use to protect yourself from cybercrimes and improve your security in cyberspace.

Use strong passwords

Passwords are important in securing and keeping attackers out of your data. Poor password hygiene is a contributing factor to cyber-attacks. Focus on using unique and hard-to-guess passwords. Make sure you create strong passwords. Passwords should have 10 characters, made up of letters, numbers, and symbols. It should also contain at least one lowercase letter and one uppercase letter. It is preferred to use something more user-friendly and easier to remember like a passphrase, a short sentence like “I Luv my bed @h0m3”, to that of date of births, age, or telephone numbers. Also, cultivate the habit of changing your password periodically, at least every six months, and do not use the same passwords for multiple sites and devices. You can also use a password manager to keep track of your passwords. Password manager essentially stores and secures the login credentials you use to access apps and accounts on your mobile devices and other websites. Some password managers have password generators that help you to create unique and strong passwords.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA is a security system that requires two or more distinct forms of identification by adding layer(s) of security to the standard username and password. With MFA, you would be required to use your biometrics (fingerprints, voice, eye, face, etc.), or enter secret codes received through SMS (text message), email, authentication apps, or authentication devices, in addition to the username and password before access to the system will be granted.

It is very critical to use MFA on all your devices and online accounts. Most online systems, including social media, e-commerce sites, online banking platforms, and emails have the MFA functionality which can be activated and used at no cost.

Keep Your Devices and Software Up to Date

The best defenses against viruses and other online threats are having the latest security software and operating system. Set up automatic updates on your devices so your devices can run updates automatically and periodically restart your devices to ensure that updates are fully installed. Criminals look for vulnerabilities in software. It is worthwhile to set up antivirus software on your computer or mobile device and keep it updated.

Protect Your Sensitive Personal Identifiable Information (PII)

PII includes information such as name, address, phone numbers, and date of birth, Social Security Number, IP address, location details, or any other physical or digital identity data. Regardless of what platform you are on, do not share personal information like phone numbers, email addresses, student ID numbers, or home addresses because your PII can provide hackers with enough information to conduct identity theft and compromise your online accounts and can sometimes be used to identify or locate you.  Avoid sending sensitive PII information over text message or email and limit the PII you share online. Configure privacy settings for your social media profiles to control what kind of information you share with others. I recommend that you only show the very minimum information about yourself on social media and be very cautious about the information you include online.

Backup Your Data and Files Regularly

It is important to make back–up your priority. You need to regularly back up your files on your computer, phone, and other devices so if something were to happen, you won’t lose them. Essentially, you should keep three copies of your data on two different types of media (flash or external drive) and one copy in an off-site location like Google Drive or Dropbox.

Don’t Install or Download Unknown Programs

There is a type of malware called trojan horse which most hackers hide inside a program that looks real and harmless. This is mostly done in games targeted at game lovers, therefore, try as much as possible to be sure of what you are downloading or installing on your computer or phone.  It is important to perform your downloads or installation directly from the developer or a trustworthy source. For instance, if the software is a paid product and there is a website offering it for free, then you need to be very cautious and if possible, contact the developer.

Be vigilant

People are the weakest link in the security chain because criminals find it easier to exploit a person’s trust than to hack into systems.  It is so common to be tricked by hackers and this can be done via emails, text messages, or phone calls. Never respond to requests for personal or account information online. Do not open emails from people you do not know. Know which links are safe and which are not, you must double-check anything before your click on it. When in doubt, do not click on it. Malicious links can come from friends who have been infected too, so be careful. Be suspicious of the emails sent to you in general and if possible, ask questions as many as you can. Asking too many questions can sometimes push the scammer away because the scammer then realizes you clearly would not be pushed to make an immediate decision.

Completely Turn Off Your Computer After Use

Lastly, when you are done using your computer, do well to turn it off completely. Do yourself the favor to disconnect it from the internet to prevent hackers from compromising your cyberspace.

Conclusion

You can follow all the above security measures, but do not forget that staying connected to the internet still exposes you to cyber security threats. Almost everything about you can be viewed as data. It is therefore essential to always be in full control of the information you share. Always keep in mind the information you share and with whom. It can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to protecting your cyberspace. All you need to do is to be cyber smart and security conscious. By consistently adhering to the tips discussed above, you are assured of almost 80% protection of your computer, devices, and personal data against criminals.

If you become a victim of cyber crime, immediately report to the police, the cyber security authority (www.cybersecurity.gov.gh) and may also consult an expert for support.

 

Author: Abigail Dede Okley, Associate Consultant, Information Security @Innovare, Alumnus, Inveteck Global.

For comments, contact Abigaildede36@gmail.com | 0242384921