Choose a Safer New Year’s Resolution

Tony Brumley |

Popular New Year’s Resolutions often revolve around health-centric goals. These can include implementing healthier eating habits, pursuing weight loss, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking or other bad habits, or updating one’s fiscal budget to reduce unwise spending habits and save more money. These are all great options to begin 2021!  However, these common resolutions leave a critical area for improvement out: not enough people are aware of or practice cybersecurity in their work and personal lives. Now is the time to focus on your online health by exercising your cybersecurity muscles.

2020 created immense stress for all of us, whether due to COVID-19 or from the near daily cybersecurity reports of data breaches, ransomware attacks, and phishing attacks that accounted for more than a billion accounts being compromised. Looking for an easy way to relieve some of that stress? You can start in 2021 by implementing cybersecurity best practices and reduce the likelihood that you or your employer’s sensitive information will be breached.

So, what changes can you implement to protect your confidential accounts and personal information in 2021 and beyond? The following simple cybersecurity exercises will help ensure you are safe while online.

 

Keep your devices up to date

One of the easiest cybersecurity exercises that will keep you safe in 2021 is to keep your devices up to date. Unpatched systems present known vulnerabilities that allow hackers a way into your device. Running updates will patch vulnerabilities on systems, helping to prevent unknown or unwanted access to your device. 

 

Use strong, unique passwords

“New year, new me” is an old, stagnant saying whereas “new year, new password” is refreshing! If you are reusing a single password on multiple accounts, you should make updating those passwords a top priority in 2021. Passwords or passphrases should be long—at least 12 characters—and preferably 20 characters or more in length. Passwords should contain all four character types: upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Also, passwords should be changed at least annually or whenever a known breach occurs at an online provider you are using. You should read and respond diligently to any genuine notices you may receive from service providers who are disclosing that they have been hacked. See our upcoming blog on the importance of creating secure passwords for more information.

 

Use a Password Manager

Managing all your passwords across numerous sites, while ensuring they are unique, long, strong, and changed at a regular interval, can be a nightmare.  This is where password management tools can help by keeping track of all your passwords in a secure and organized manner. There are several free password management tools available, along with many additional affordable options.  Some market leaders include Password1, Dashlane, and LastPass.  Using a password manager will simplify your password life securely and protect your online accounts from brute-force password attacks.

 

Implement two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication (2FA/MFA)

In addition to password-based authentication, it is a best practice to use either two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) to secure your online accounts. These authentication mechanisms require at least a second confirmation that your identity is legitimate, and they are one of the most effective security controls you can implement. In most instances, there is no cost.

 

Change your default passwords

Change the default password on all your network devices. Remember that new, internet-connected device (i.e. Internet of Things or “IoT” device) you just got during the holidays? It likely came with a default password set by the manufacturer, assigned to your device along with all the other devices they created and sold.  This default password is easily found and will be the first one tried by an attacker. This is also true for new Wi-Fi access points or home routers; the admin password is normally the same for all devices made by the manufacturer.

 

Adopt a Zero-Trust Model

There are apps for everything, and they often require more access permissions than are actually required for their core functions. Does a restaurant need to always know your location? Does a health care application really need access to your camera and/or microphone? Does a video-streaming app need access to your contact list? By utilizing a zero-trust approach toward app permissions, you must verify everything your apps want to connect to before granting access, thus reducing risk and exposure.

 

Lock the screen on your device

All your devices should have a secure code to lock the screen. This includes all mobile phone and tablet devices. It is important to lock your device when you leave it unattended, preventing prying eyes from looking at open content. This also prevents others from changing system settings or using your device without permission, including your email and other secure applications. You should also enable features on your mobile devices that support remote erase or wipe, which can be used to protect your data should your device be lost or stolen.

 

Phishing – know before you click

Good phishing emails are hard to differentiate from a valid email. A good rule of thumb: if you are not expecting an email or text with a link or attachment, then you should not click on it. Moreover, any message you receive that contains content employing fear, uncertainty, or doubt to get you to act quickly or emotionally (also known as FUD) should raise suspicion and you should not click on links or attachments. You should never click a link or button in an email that is asking for your credentials. It is always safer to navigate to the official website yourself and enter your credentials there, if necessary.

 

Use a VPN on public Wi-Fi

When using a public Wi-Fi network, you should always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This will allow you to perform sensitive transactions, like online banking, in a secure manner. The VPN creates a secure virtual tunnel where all data is encrypted to maintain confidentiality. To ensure your public Wi-Fi transactions are secure, check out some of the market leaders: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and ProtonVPN.

 

Backups are important

To prevent loss of data, you should back up all your computer devices and mobile phones regularly using a cloud-based backup service or a removable drive. The external backup drive should remain disconnected from your device, unless you are actively performing a backup, to ensure you have a safe copy if your primary device is struck by a ransomware attack. If a backup drive is connected and you experience a ransomware attack, all drives connected may be encrypted and you will not have a recoverable backup without paying the ransom.

 

Make cybersecurity your resolution for 2021

There are many relevant New Year’s Resolutions, and I hope you make cybersecurity one of yours. Choose a cybersecurity resolution in 2021 to protect your personal information and devices, securing them better during the year ahead and giving you one less worry!

 

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All information presented is compiled from sources believed to be reliable and current, but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This information is distributed for education purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, product, or service, nor should it be construed as tax or legal advicePlease click here to see our blog disclosure, which immediately follows the “Applicable Law and Venue” section.