…such as picking proper passwords, turning on two-factor authentication, downloading the latest security updates, making backups of your most important files, and revisiting your privacy settings in case you’re oversharing by mistake?
So, let’s go through those five tweaks one-by-one – they’re easier than you think, and much less hassle than you might fear.
1. PICK PROPER PASSWORDS
Yes, we say this every year and we’ve been doing so for years. But we still see plenty of people – at work and at home – taking needless shortcuts with passwords, using “secrets” that any crook could easily guess, such as 12345678 or the name of the cat. (By the way, nameofcat99 isn’t any better – the crooks can figure that one out, too.)
If you’re struggling to come up with decent passwords (and to remember them) then you aren’t alone; consider getting yourself a password manager that can help you pick passwords properly.
2. TURN ON TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION (2FA)
2FA usually takes the form of those 6-digit codes that get texted to your phone or generated by a special app. As well as your username and password, which are the same every time you log in, you also have to put in the one-time code, which is different every time.
We know that many people don’t like 2FA, and we know why – it’s a bit of a hassle, and if you’re logging in from your laptop it means you’d better not leave your phone at home or you could be locked out.
But 2FA is a lot of extra hassle for the crooks because they can’t just grab your password from a data breach any more and then go wandering into your account at will.
3. GET THOSE PATCHES
Most software patches these days aren’t just cosmetic – they typically close security holes that could let crooks sneak in without you even realizing. So if you don’t patch, you’re much more likely to encounter a crook, because lots of attacks will succeed against you when they’ll fail against everyone who has patched.
So why leave yourself in the at-risk group if you don’t need to?
Remember, however, it’s not just your laptop that needs patches these days – you also need to keep your eye out for updates for your apps, your phone, your home router, and any of those cool “connected devices” you might have, such as internet doorbells, webcams, and home assistants.
4. MAKE YOUR BACKUPS
Backups aren’t just for protection against ransomware, where the crooks scramble your files and squeeze you for money to unscramble them again.
Backups are there to help get you going again no matter what – whether it’s a lost or stolen laptop, the phone left in a taxi, tablet computer dropped into Sydney Harbour (it happens!), fire, flood, or plain-and-simple user error.
Remember: the only backup you will regret is the one you didn’t make.
5. REVISIT YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS
Your operating system, your phone, many of the apps you use, and almost all of the online services such as Facebook and Twitter, have a range of privacy and security settings that help you to control how widely your personal data gets shared and indexed.
Unfortunately, every app and website does it differently, and it’s a bit of a science project to comb through the privacy menus in every one of them to make sure you’re as safe as you’d like.
But we urge you to take the time to do so – the only thing worse than realizing you accidentally overshared your phone number or other personal information is to realize that you could have turned on an option that would have kept you safe.
Have a safer day
If all the tips above sound too much for one day, here are five words that you can say to yourself whenever you are online, to help you have a Safer Internet Day:
“Be aware before you share.”