The unfortunate reality with cyber crime, network breaches, and identity theft is that it exists today, and is only likely to become more prevalent in the future. While the government and various technology companies spend tremendous amounts of money to protect, prosecute, and punish cyber criminals, cybercrime is still all too common. This is because the rewards to successful perpetrators of cyber crime are so great. With cyber risks as high as they have ever been, it is more important than ever to take precautions that reduce the risk of becoming a victim of cyber crime.
Here are a few key measures:
- Dual factor authentication – this used to be considered an inconvenience but is now becoming the norm. Many financial institutions offer dual factor authentication. What this means is not only does your account require a complex password, but you will also receive a text message with a code that expires after a short period of time. This can be troubling if you are trying to access accounts in more remote areas where you don’t have cell phone service, or if you don’t have your cell phone near you. Regardless, this is an extra layer of security that when available, should be added.
- Antivirus on devices– Not only should you be protecting your desktop and laptop computers, but you should be protecting your mobile phones, tablets, and any other device that uses Wi-Fi. The most common way for people to protect their device is with anti-virus software. This may be a good initial step, but cyber-crimes are a cat and mouse game. Anti-virus applications can protect against known breaches and exploits in software, but cyber criminals are always actively working on new exploits. You could fall victim to a new ploy which later gets resolved in a patch from the anti-virus providers. You can find a list of top Antivirus software here: https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/256703/the-best-antivirus-protection
- Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – What does it do? A VPN acts as an intermediary between you and the internet. VPNs redirect your internet connection to the VPN provider’s remote servers, which hides your IP address and encrypts all data you send or receive. If you use public Wi-Fi, or travel frequently, you should use a VPN. There are free and paid versions. You can find a list of VPNs here: https://www.cnet.com/best-vpn-services-directory/
- Encrypt your computer – a Windows or Macbook password can be bypassed if your device is stolen and the hard drive is removed. The process of encrypting your files makes accessing your information exponentially more difficult. Both Microsoft and Apple have resources online to walk you through how to encrypt your computer.
- Use more than 4 digits for your phone PIN – a four-digit numerical pin has 10,000 different possible combinations. This can be cracked by hackers in a matter of days by hand and a matter of minutes by computer. A six-digit pin has 1,000,000 possible combinations. This takes exponentially longer to crack. If you use an alphanumeric password than even by computer this would take over 100 years to crack. Each additional digit you use as a password exponentially increases the length of time required to crack the code. Avoid public and unfamiliar charging stations – Charging stations at the airport and other places may seem convenient, but they can also be used to gain access to the personal information on your device.
- Be skeptical – Phishing and malware are two of the most common ways your password or personal information gets obtained. Phishing attempts are emails you receive that look like they’re coming from a reputable business asking for your password or to click an embedded hyperlink, but it’s really not who you think it is. Malware is a malicious program that a website attempts to get you to install on your computer. If you obtain emails or text messages asking for your password, or asking you to click a link, these are often phishing attempts. If you click on a link and the website asks to install software on your computer then this could be malware. Be skeptical of these emails and websites.
- Do you recognize the e-mail address? Hover your mouse over the author’s email address or double click to see who actually sent the message.
- If a financial institution actually has a message for you, then you can access the message outside of clicking the link embedded in the email. Open a new browser and manually enter your credentials into the domain you know and trust. Most financial institutions have “Message Centers” that would contain any pertinent information you may need to see,
- If an e-mail, text message, or even automated phone call seems out of the ordinary then it probably is. You can always call the phone number that you know to be the correct number and ask a representative about it. While this may be inconvenient and take time, fixing an issue after it occurs will be more frustrating to deal with.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to absolutely ensure your information, accounts, and devices won’t be compromised. The best defense against cyber criminals is proactivity and making your device, passwords, and sensitive information very difficult to obtain. The more obstacles you can put in the way, the less likely you’ll fall victim to a cyber crime.