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October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and the Delap Cyber Team wants to take this opportunity to share three simple steps you can take right now to protect yourself from cyber criminals. Our digital lives and "real-world" lives are increasingly intertwined. Your bank accounts, private messages, photos, GPS location, and public image are all extremely valuable to identity thieves, scammers, and other cyber criminals. We hope everyone can implement these easy, personal cyber security hygiene tips in order to significantly reduce the likelihood of your digital—and real—life being compromised.
1. Keep your devices up to date
One of the easiest ways you can increase the level of your protection from cyber criminals is to keep all your devices up to date. Device manufacturers continuously release updates to patch critical security vulnerabilities in their software and applications. These vulnerabilities are often not public knowledge; however, you can bet that cybercriminals are more than aware. As soon as a vulnerability is known within the cyber-criminal world, attempts to exploit it skyrocket. Installing all updates within a timely manner is a vital step to protecting your digital life.
Take it up a notch: If your device supports automatic updates, we encourage users to turn this functionality on. While there may be occasionally inconvenient downtime as you wait for updates to install, your devices will always have the most recent security patches to protect against cyber criminals.
2. Practice good password hygiene
Practicing "good password hygiene" is likely something you know you should be doing but more likely have put it off. You've heard the drill: Passwords should be at least 12 characters long, upper and lower case, not include words found in dictionaries, include special characters (such as !@#$%^&*) and never used twice across different services. These best practices can feel unreasonable to most people. Thankfully, with the prevalence of secure password managers, this security best practice has never been easier to implement. Services such as LastPass, 1Password, Bitwarden, and Keepass allow you to manage all your passwords in your digital life under one "roof." This allows a user to generate and manage much stronger passwords than anyone could feasibly ever remember on their own. All you need to do is remember the single master password, and these tools will do the rest for you!
Take it up a notch: To take your account security to the next level, we highly encourage everyone to turn on multifactor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. Most financial institutions, social media sites, and email services support MFA these days. MFA forces you to verify your identity using a second authentication "factor" in addition to your password. Most of the time, this involves a code that the service texts or emails you, which you then enter into the site when logging in. While it may take some time to get used to this extra step, when properly managed, multifactor authentication can protect your accounts from being breached even if your password is compromised!
3. Don't connect to open and insecure Wi-Fi
Wireless internet (Wi-Fi) is prevalent almost anywhere we go. Free Wi-Fi can be found at coffee shops, airports, hotels, businesses, and even the doctor's office. However, before you go connecting to a free Wi-Fi network, there are a few things that you should consider in order to protect yourself.
While no public Wi-Fi network can be 100% secure, there are a few tips you can use to decrease the chance of connecting to an insecure network. The main identifier of a potentially insecure Wi-Fi network is a network without a password. With the exception of wireless networks that take you to a captive portal in order to then enter a password, if you see a Wi-Fi network without a password in a public place, you should think twice about using it. An open network leaves open the possibility for cyber criminals to "sniff" the traffic of all the devices using that network. This could lead to the compromise of sensitive information and passwords.
Another tip: Look out for misspellings in the Wi-Fi network name. For instance, if you're at a Starbucks and trying to connect to the Wi-Fi, be sure that you are connecting to "Starbucks Wi-Fi" and not "Slarbucks Wi-Fi." This misspelled network could be broadcasted by a cyber criminal who hopes an unexpecting user connects to it, allowing them to sniff all the user's network traffic.
Take it up a notch: This Wi-Fi security item is a bit harder to identify; however, it can be very important to consider. Many public Wi-Fi networks, including those that are password protected, use deprecated protocols to "secure" the network. These protocols are known as "WEP" and "WPA." The most current protocol in use, and the one that you should be looking for, is "WPA2."