by Henry Kravchenko, Information Technology Expert
In early 2017 the credit tracking agency Equifax was breached, which resulted in the theft of approximately 143 Million SSNs and additional personally identifiable information (PII). The global cost of cyber crime is projected to reach $2 trillion by 2019, a threefold increase from the 2015 estimate of $500 billion. Cyber crime is real, you’ve been impacted and someone has at least one of your super duper secret passwords. Don’t believe me? Please navigate to https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and look up your email address.
I apologize for scaring you, but I need your attention. Below are 6 things you can do to mitigate the effect (you can never prevent) of cyber crime on your family.
- Use a password manager. It doesn’t matter which one. They’re mostly identical. LastPass and DashLane are popular. The point is having a unique password on each website is the single most important thing you can do to mitigate the effects of cyber crime. Why? Because, once that online shopping site you use is breached, the cyber criminal will run code which will use your e-mail and password to log into dozens of sites (your bank is one of them!) in hopes of obtaining profitable information.
- Limit, within reason, personally identifiable information for you and your kids online. You’ll never get your kids to not use Facebook, Instagram, etc, and that’s totally OK, but do they really need to post their birthday? Isn’t that one of the first questions asked by financial institutions when accessing your account? Parents have an online presence and many women will hyphen their last name after marriage, therefore the cyber criminal now has 2 pieces of personally identifiable information. I can google to get your home address. That’s three and game over. Cybercrime is not an intellectually strenuous activity. A teenager can do it. So while we’re at it, make sure it’s not your teenager that’s doing it!
- Forget your traditional “highly complex” passwords. Any computer can guess you’re using a zero for an “o”, a 1 for an “l”, a 3 for an “e”. Use long, random phrases you can remember. The longer the better. You can use https://howsecureismypassword.net/ to see how long it will take for a hacker to crack your password.
- Immediately accept every update for your devices. This includes your phone, Mac and PC as 99.99% of those updates are security related. Companies continuously find security holes, quickly fix them and post about the fixt on their website. Guess what? Cyber criminals then read those posts and write exploits in hopes you didn’t patch your device. It’s an never ending cat and mouse game which the good guys will never win. But, they don’t have to win. As long as you make yourself a hard target the criminals will quickly move on. No one cares about you personally, they’re looking for softest targets.
- Install, use and constantly update an antivirus program. This one is common sense, but too often common sense isn’t that common. Doesn’t matter which one, as long as you’re using something.
- Use two factor authentication where possible. This last one is a bit techy, and may sound paranoid, but might also be the second most important thing you can do to protect yourself, the first being the use of a password manager. What is two factor authentication? That’s when your bank texts you a pin to enter in addition to your password. This way even if the cyber thieves have your password, they would still need your phone in order to access your bank account. Same applies to your email account. If cyber criminals get your gmail password and change it, get ready for world of pain. Two factor is becoming common (https://twofactorauth.org/) and most vendors will support it. Go to the website for your bank(s), mortgage providers, insurance company, etc. and sign up for “two factor”. Sometimes they’ll suggest using an app like Google Authenticator, but like with most things it ultimately doesn’t matter which method you chose as long as you’re doing something. Pro tip: make sure you save the backup pin they’ll give you, or you know how to bypass the two factor method in case you lose your phone or else you end up with the “I locked my keys in my car” scenario.
If you follow the 6 tips above you’ll be safer than 98% of people out there and I promise you, unless you’re working for the Pentagon or have state secrets to protect, there is very little chance the cyber criminals are going after you.