October is cybersecurity awareness month, and we’d like to offer the following eight tips everyone can use to help keep your personal information secure. You have a lifetime of data tied to email addresses, social media accounts, and just generally stored on your devices, making this a goldmine to an attacker.

  1. Unique password management: Password vaults

The average person frequents more than a hundred different sites that require passwords. Unique passwords are important in the event there is a breach in one of those sites. If your password is compromised, an attacker can scan other websites with your credentials to gain access, unless each password is unique. But, how can you manage that many unique passwords? One of the absolute best methods for managing your passwords is by using a password vault.

Password vaults like LastPass and KeePass take one master password and then do all of your website password management for you.  They can even generate complex passwords for you that you don’t have to remember and make them difficult to guess.

  1. Multi-factor authentication: Verification

Another great tool to use is multi-factor authentication.  You may have seen this when logging into a banking website with your password and then receiving a PIN code to their verified mobile device in order to continue logging in.  Many websites offer this functionality.  To protect yourself and your logins, simply turn on multi-factor authentication in the website’s account settings.

  1. PINS on smart devices: Lock it up

Mobile devices rule our lives now.  From posting on social media to ordering food and depositing checks, we can’t live without them. We also have a tendency of misplacing them.  This is when having a PIN set on your phone or tablet becomes vital.  This way, if anyone finds it, they have no way of getting in and infiltrating your life.  They can’t scroll through all of those photos you took or order anything from your marketplace accounts, post to your social media or steal your contacts. Many mobile devices now even have integrated fingerprint or facial recognition to make accessing your device even easier while keeping it secure.  Lock it up!

  1. Think before you click: Phishing

We have all gotten those emails that ask us to click some link to buy discount pills or check out some new shopping website that is going to change our lives.  The links bring us somewhere we don’t want to go or download something we didn’t want. These attacks have even evolved over time to look like a legitimate email from a service or website that we may actually use. It can be hard to spot the fakes, but the devil can be in the details. Many times the sender is from an odd domain (the part behind the @ symbol) that isn’t from the company being represented. To check this, you can hover your mouse over links in emails to reveal the true link.  If it doesn’t match, it is likely not legitimate.  If in doubt, you can always browse by yourself to the company’s website and perform whatever task or request was in the email. You can even call the company to verify the email was sent and report it to the company if it is not legitimate.

  1. Credit Monitoring: Identity Theft

Many identity theft attacks are based around stealing something from you, so it is important to stay on top of your financial accounts. Make sure to check your credit score frequently and possibly even subscribe to a credit monitoring service like Credit Karma or Identity Force to notify you of any change.  The sooner you spot any suspicious activity, the sooner you can stop an identity thief!

  1. Back up your data regularly: Ransomware

Ransomware attacks occur when a piece of software invades your computer, encrypts data on your hard drive, and holds it “hostage” until a ransom is paid.  As ransomware attacks have become rampant, backups can be a crucial safeguard against being taken hostage. This way if you get hit, you don’t have to pay any ransom to unencrypt your data. You can restore your data and be back up and running soon. Companies like Backblaze and Mozy offer personal plans for $5 and $6 a month.

  1. Malicious Software: Anti-Malware

You need to have an up-to-date anti-malware on all of your devices. It can help spot (and fix) any suspicious activity that is going on and is a major line of defense between you and the bad guys. Windows Defender is built into Windows and is on by default in Windows 8 and 10. There are even really great free options like Avira, Avast, and AVG that can do things like check Google search results for a safer browsing experience.

  1. Exploits: Updates

Older software has had a longer exposure time to be thoroughly tested by hackers. Software companies create patches to fix these flaws and issue them in updates. Now, with Windows 10, updates are practically mandatory which helps offload the legwork for staying up-to-date, but other software may not be.  It is good practice to check for updates often.

Most of the suggestions we’ve offered are free or relatively inexpensive.  Now that you know how to help protect your information online, take some time this month to implement these tips.