Tips on Cyber Security

Eight Cyber Security Practices to Stay Safe Online

The widespread availability of computers and connections to the Internet provides everyone with 24/7 access to information, credit and financial services, and shopping. The Internet is also an incredible tool for educators and students to communicate and learn.

Unfortunately, some individuals exploit the Internet through criminal behavior and other harmful acts and there is no single cyber security practice or technological solution that will keep your information safe. By combining cyber security best practices with technology, you can minimize your risk online.

Tip #1: Protect your personal information. It's valuable.

Why? To an identity thief, it can provide instant access to your financial accounts, your credit record, and your other personal assets.

If you think no one would be interested in your personal information, think again. The reality is that anyone can be a victim of identity theft. In fact, according to a Federal Trade Commission survey, there are almost 10 million victims every year.

  • If you're asked for your personal information — your name, email or home address, phone number, account numbers, or Social Security number learn how it's going to be used, and how it will be protected, before you share it.
  • Don't open unsolicited or unknown email messages. If you do get an email or pop-up message asking for personal information, don't reply or click on the link in the message. If you believe there may be a need for such information by a company with whom you have an account or placed an order, contact that company directly in a way you know to be genuine. Never send your personal information via email because email is not a secure transmission method.
  • Read website privacy policies. They should explain what personal information the website collects, how the information is used, and whether it is provided to third parties and what security measures the company takes to protect your information. If you don't see a privacy policy — or if you can't understand it — consider doing business elsewhere.

Tip #2: Know who you're dealing with online.

And know what you're getting into. There are dishonest people in the bricks and mortar world and on the Internet. But online, you can't judge an operator's trustworthiness with a gut-affirming look in the eye. It's remarkably simple for online scammers to impersonate a legitimate business, so you need to know whom you're dealing with. If you're shopping online, check out the seller before you buy. A legitimate business or individual seller should give you a physical address and a working telephone number at which they can be contacted in case you have problems.

Tip #3: Use anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software to help keep your computer safe and secure.

Dealing with anti-virus and firewall protection may sound about as exciting as flossing your teeth, but it's just as important as a preventive measure. Having intense dental treatment is never fun; neither is dealing with the effects of a preventable computer virus.

Anti-Virus Software

Anti-virus software protects your computer from viruses that can destroy your data, slow your computer's performance, cause a crash, or even allow spammers to send email through your account.

To be effective, your anti-virus software should update routinely with antidotes to the latest "bugs" circulating through the Internet. Most commercial anti-virus software includes a feature to download updates automatically when you are on the Internet.

Firewalls

Firewalls help keep hackers from using your computer to send out your personal information without your permission. While anti-virus software scans incoming email and files, a firewall is like a guard, watching for outside attempts to access your system and blocking communications from and to sources you don't permit.

Some operating systems and hardware devices come with a built-in firewall that may be shipped in the "off" mode. Make sure you turn it on. For your firewall to be effective, it needs to be set up properly and updated regularly. Check your online "Help" feature for specific instructions.

Anti-Spyware Software

Anti-spyware software helps protect your computer from malicious spyware that monitors your online activities and collects personal information while you surf the web. It works by periodically scanning your computer for spyware programs, and then giving you the opportunity to remove any harmful surveillance software found on your computer.

Tip #4: Be sure to set up your operating system and Web browser software properly, and update them regularly.

Hackers also take advantage of unsecured Web browsers (like Internet Explorer or Netscape) and operating system software (like Windows or Linux). Lessen your risk by changing the settings in your browser or operating system and increasing your online security. Check the "Tools" or "Options" menus for built-in security features. If you need help understanding your choices, use your "Help" function.

Your operating system also may offer free software patches that close holes in the system that hackers could exploit. In fact, some common operating systems can be set to automatically retrieve and install patches for you. Updating can be as simple as one click. Your email software may help you avoid viruses by giving you the ability to filter certain types of spam. It's up to you to activate the filter. In addition, consider using operating systems that allow automatic updates.

Tip #5: Use strong passwords or strong authentication technology to help protect your personal information.

Keep your passwords in a secure place, and out of plain view. Don't share your passwords on the Internet, over email, or on the phone. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should never ask for your password.

In addition, without your knowledge, hackers may try to figure out your passwords to gain access to your computer. You can make it tougher for them by:

  • Using passwords that have at least eight characters and include numerals and symbols.
  • Avoiding common words: some hackers use programs that can try every word in the dictionary.
  • Not using your personal information, your login name, or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords.
  • Changing your passwords regularly (at minimum, every 90 days).
  • Using a different password for each online account you access (or at least a variety of passwords with difficulty based on the value of the information contained in each.

One way to create a strong password is to think of a memorable phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password, converting some letters into numbers that resemble letters. For example, "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck" would become HmWc@wC.

Tip #6: Back up important files.

No system is completely secure. If you have important files stored on your computer, copy them onto a removable disc, and store them in a secure place in a different building than your computer. If a different location isn't practical, consider encryption software. Encryption software scrambles a message or a file in a way that can be reversed only with a specific password. Also, make sure you keep your original software start-up disks handy and accessible for use in the event of a system crash.

Tip #7: Learn what to do if something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, there is no particular way to identify that your computer has been infected with malicious code. Some infections may completely destroy files and shut down your computer, while others may only subtly affect your computer's normal operations. Be aware of any unusual or unexpected behaviors.

Hacking or Computer Virus

If your computer gets hacked or infected by a virus:

  • immediately unplug the phone or cable line from your machine. Then scan your entire computer with fully updated anti-virus software, and update your firewall.
  • take steps to minimize the chances of another incident
  • alert the appropriate authorities by contacting:
    • Your ISP and the hacker's ISP (if you can tell what it is). By alerting the ISP to the problem on its system, you can help it prevent similar problems in the future.
    • The FBI at www.ifccfbi.gov. To fight computer criminals, they need to hear from you.
Internet Fraud

If a scammer takes advantage of you through an Internet auction, when you're shopping online, or in any other way, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, at ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Deceptive Spam

If you get deceptive spam, including email phishing for your information, forward it to spam@uce.gov. Be sure to include the full Internet header of the email.

Divulged Personal Information

If you believe you have mistakenly given your information to a fraudster, file a complaint at ftc.gov, and then visit the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from a potential theft of your identity.

Tip #8: Protect your children online.

Children present unique security risks when they use a computer — not only do you have to keep them safe, but you have to protect their data on your computer. By taking some simple steps, you can dramatically reduce the threats.

  • Keep your computer in a central and open location in your home and be aware of other computers your child may be using.
  • Discuss and set guidelines/rules for computer use with your children. Post these rules by the computer as a reminder.
  • Use the Internet with your children. Familiarize yourself with your children's online activities and maintain a dialogue with your child about what applications they are using.
  • Implement parental control tools that are provided by some ISPs and available for purchase as separate software packages. Remember - No program is a substitute for parental supervision.
  • Consider software that allows you to monitor your children's email and web traffic.
  • Consider partitioning your computer into separate accounts - Most operating systems (including Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux) give you the option of creating a different user account for each user. If you're worried that your child may accidentally access, modify, and/or delete your files, you can give him/her a separate account and decrease the amount of access and number of privileges he/she has.
  • Know who your children's online friends are and supervise their chat areas.
  • Teach your children never to give out personal information to people they meet online such as in chat rooms or bulletin boards.
  • Know who to contact if you believe your child is in danger. Visit www.getnetwise.org for detailed information.

Even though children may have better technical skills, don't be intimidated by their knowledge. Children still need advice, guidance, and protection. Keep the lines of communication open and let your child know that you can be approached with any questions they may have about behaviors or problems encountered on the computer.