Simple Steps to Online Safety

By Zack Wojton DLA CERT

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Think of it, life without being online.  No worries of online safety or having your identity stolen by digital bandits. The reality is we live in the digital age and it seems that every week there is a data breach involving millions of accounts.  This should make you wonder - are you doing all you can to be safe online? What about your children’s online safety? Kids today have a knack for utilizing digital devices and media platforms.  Is their information safe?  In the next few paragraphs we’re going to discuss simple steps for online safety, as well as educate kids about online safety.

Here are some essential tips to being safe online:

  • You are the first line of defense: Technology alone cannot protect you from all things evil online.  Attackers have always known the easiest way to get information they desire is to simply ask for it.  They pretend to be a long lost Aunt in an email you received, a computer technician on the telephone or a message regarding a package you’re expecting.  So how do you protect yourself from these well-crafted communications? Simple really, be suspicious.  Prior to clicking that message or answering questions over the phone take a second and ask yourself “Does this seem legitimate?” By utilizing common sense you can thwart most attacks.  You’re the greatest defense against attackers both at home and work.
  • Delete abandoned accounts: That Yahoo or Hotmail address you had 12 years ago to enter online sweepstakes or receive coupons that you have not used in 10 years, delete it.  These abandoned accounts often have passwords that do not reflect today’s security standards, which are often easy for an attacker to crack.  Also, these abandoned accounts often have more personal data in one spot than you think, data ranging from old banking information, credit card numbers, as well as family and friends information as well.  Do yourself a favor and delete old accounts.
  • Passwords: I know you’ve heard this before, use different complex passwords for each account you have.  Think about it, would you give a stranger one key to your car, house and safety deposit box? I didn’t think so. You have multiple keys, so have multiple complex passwords.  Plus, remembering stuff is good for long-term brain health.  Just in case you’re wondering, a six-character password takes an attacker around 10 minutes to hack. Adding more characters adds exponential time to crack, 12-character complex passwords take over seven centuries to crack (according to “test a new password” https://www.betterbuys.com/estimating-password-cracking-times/).
  • Updating: New vulnerabilities in computers, web-browsers, and yes, thermostats are found daily.  Installing update packages to your devices in a timely fashion is the best way to aid securing known vulnerabilities on your personal machines.  Rule of thumb is if a device connects to the internet, update it.  Utilize operating system and software auto update features to aid in this task.
  • Backups: Ransomware is on the rise and the easiest way to protect yourself from paying the attackers who may or may NOT allow you to retrieve your own data is to have a backup of your data.  Backups are just a good idea anyway, even if attackers didn’t exist.  Once again utilize automated backup software to safely and securely create backups as often as you see fit.  If you need it, back it up.
  • Check if your information has been stolen (pwned):  Ever wonder if your information has been stolen? Ever think you’re a safe internet surfer and your identity is like Fort Knox?  Ever buy anything online with a credit card? Then you may want to check out https://haveibeenpwned.com , which allows you to easily check if you have an account that has been compromised in a data breach. 
  • Pass on the education:  Kids today are connected; connected in schools, libraries, mobile devices, and social media to name a few.  One simple thing to reinforce is “Don’t talk to strangers.” This rule also applies within the digital landscape. Some great resources for preparing the next generation for online safety are: