According to Media Technology Monitor’s most recent report, Canadians ages 18-34 spend upwards of five hours a day online. Keeping this growing number in mind, and with so many of us having recently unwrapped the latest connected toys and devices over the holidays, we can’t overstate the importance of reviewing your cyber safety. With the New Year upon on us, why not review a few fairly simple ways to keep yourself, and your family safer online?
Whether you have just a few accounts or a great many, a thorough audit of your online security starts with strong passwords. Can you recall the last time you updated the password for your email, online banking, Amazon, or Netflix account? If not, don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone. However, please think about making updates a more routine practice. Keep in mind, changing your passwords as often as you change a pair of socks doesn’t necessarily translate to improved safety.
It seems that when we constantly change passwords, it’s human nature to get a little lax about coming up with a truly new password. Rather, we tend to slightly revamp the previous password, leaving ourselves equally, if not more vulnerable to security threats. So, if your existing password is ‘Jedi2017’, please don’t update it to ‘Jedi2018’ and call it a day. According to expert and author of Perfect Passwords, Mark Burnett, scheduling for a password audit every “six months to a year will result in a better experience for users and allow for stronger passwords.” That sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?
We hope you’ve already heard, but it’s worth repeating – please steer clear of easily hacked passwords, such as birthdays, or your spouse, pet or child’s name. Finally, when selecting a new password, avoid one of the most commonly made mistakes: using the same or similar password for all your accounts. Once an account is breached, it takes very little effort for a hacker to attempt logging into all your other commonly used services – let’s not make it so easy!
If you’re already following these guidelines like a password pro, and you’ve got a growing number of apps and accounts on the go, well done! It may also be time to consider stepping your security up another notch. Think about using more advanced solutions, like two-factor authentication or reputable password managers, like 1password, or LastPass.
We trust that as responsible homeowners and renters, you lock your door when you leave your home unattended. Remembering to log out of a shared computer isn’t much different, nor are the risks of forgetting to do so. Next time you’re at work, the library, a print shop, or any other public computer, make it a priority to log out before leaving. If you happen to forget, there’s a growing number of platforms and services with a solution in place for inevitable slip-ups, allowing you to force a sign out remotely.
Another simple cyber safety essential is keeping a close eye on your browser’s URL. You may have noticed that some site URLs are preceded by ‘http’ and others ‘https’. What exactly is the difference? The latter stands for ‘Hyper Text Transfer Protocol’ with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Simply put, that ‘s’ stands for an extra layer of security, known as encryption. Any reputable site that deals with your confidential information must use this technology, whether it’s a social networking site, or a bank. For example, if you’re about to begin an e-commerce transaction, and your browser indicates ‘http’, this is a major red flag. Stop and reconsider that purchase, because your session details (including payment information) could be at risk.
Fake Out Fraudsters
Knowledge is power. Avoiding fraud and identity theft can sometimes be as simple as understanding the basics of common online scams. Even though the Nigerian email scam is nearly as old as the internet, it’s managed to deceive hundreds of people. Police have recently arrested the man thought to be behind swindling people out of millions, but there are still a rampant number of phishing scams out there. Fortunately, in Canada, the RCMP have very detailed explanations and examples of fraudulent alerts and emails online for you to review, including means to report suspicious activity. Lastly, trust your instincts. If an email or direct message seems suspicious, it’s best to treat it as such and avoid opening it. If the sender is familiar to you, there’s no harm in speaking with that person directly to verify whether they are indeed the sender.
Wise Public WiFi
Sure, it’s great to be thrifty about mobile data. Many of us regularly catch free public WiFi while sipping coffee at the local café. Go ahead and enjoy your favourite blog’s latest post, or see what your friends are up to on Facebook. However, it’s best to minimize your security risks when on an open network. Leave sensitive activities – like online banking, or making a purchase to a secured session. If you’re catching up on work, or other tasks on your laptop, reduce the risk of your information falling into the wrong hands by turning off file sharing. It’s best to limit your use of this service to times when you’re on a trusted network, with users you know and trust. Whether you’re a Windows or Mac user, it’s quite simple to adjust this setting, and a good practice to get in the habit of prior to travelling, especially if you’ll be using an open connection at the airport. If you travel regularly, and it’s in the budget, consider investing in a mobile hotspot, so you can simply skip using public wireless altogether. Finally, make sure to disable your device’s WiFi signal when you’re not using it. As an added bonus, you’ll be conserving battery life!
Home Network Cyber Safety
Your home internet router poses a potential risk for being hacked, especially if your internet service provider issued a standard router, and the default settings were never personalized to include a fresh password, sometimes referred to as a ‘key’. If your key has never been updated, or it’s been months since you last changed it, take a few moments to secure your personal data (and prevent unscrupulous neighbors from stealing bandwidth). The process can vary slightly depending on your router’s make and model, but you can likely get the job done by following a few easy steps, outlined here.
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