Computer Security Day: Protecting Your Personal Information

11-29-2016-computer-security-day

Observed annually on November 30th, today is Computer Security Day and a great reminder to all of us about the importance of protecting our computing devices – from computers to laptops to tablets to mobile phones and more. This becomes even more critical as we’re in the middle of one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year. With Cyber Monday just behind us, reports are still coming in regarding the repercussions of online scams and cyber hacks. However, according to the FBI phony deals and online fraud was estimated to net $1 billion this year.

Anxiety About Online Security Doesn’t Translate Into Action

With cyber attacks making mainstream news headlines nearly every day, it is not surprising that 75% of American adults are concerned about their security, privacy, malware and websites tracking them, according to a new consumer survey commissioned by our client, Arbor Networks.  Unfortunately, that anxiety doesn’t seem to be translating into Americans taking proactive steps to protect their computers and personal information – and what’s most surprising is that millennials are the worst offenders.

  • 30% of American adults don’t have virus protection for their computer and/or tablet; only 53% have automatic updates enabled
  • 32% use the same password for most online sites that require one
  • 55% of Americans will typically click on a link in an email from someone they know, even if they weren’t expecting anything.
  • 64% always consider their information to be safe if they’re on a major retail or social networking website (like Facebook or Amazon). Among millennials, it’s 71%.
  • 36% don’t think twice about sharing their personal info (such as addresses, locations, birthdays, kids’ and parents’ names and vacation plans) on social media channels. Among Millennials, it’s 50%.
  • 55% say they wouldn’t know what to do if they were hacked. Among Millennials, it’s 66%.

Computer Security Best Practices 

While the survey statistics are shocking, there are simple online security best practices that can help protect the average consumer from the majority of cyber threats:

  1. Update your systems – running the latest security patches and updates will help protect your system from malicious software
  2. Run basic security controls – install virus/malware protection and run automatic updates
  3. Choose secure passwords – see below for recommendations on what makes a strong password
  4. Be a little suspicious – don’t open emails or click on links that look fishy, most likely they are
  5. Keep a backup – back up your computer data to an external hard drive or the cloud
  6. Protect all devices – apply best practices for all devices, not just your PC

Smart Password Protection

Proper password protection is rarely practiced by most people, and yet it is one of the easiest ways to protect your personal information online. So what makes a strong password? Below are password best practices from Gary Sockrider, principal security technologist at Arbor Networks.

“When it comes to passwords there’s an old expression that helps set the tone. Treat your passwords like your underwear; never share them and change them often. Follow these basic guidelines to make your passwords more secure:

  • Your password should be something you can remember without writing it down
  • Password length is one of the most important criteria: a minimum of 10 characters, but the longer the better; using a pass-phrase helps with both of the above
  • Use at least 3 different character types (uppercase, lowercase, digits, symbols)
  • Each website should have its own unique password
  • Avoid dictionary words or any personal information that is easy to guess like your hometown, spouse, birthday, employer, etc.
  • Do not use your username or any and variation of it such as “Us3rN4mE”
  • An example of a good password is as follows: NvRw4sh0d#*tR3km00vys!

Finally, if you have to manage a large number of passwords, a password manager can be a life saver. These programs can generate secure random passwords on the fly and store them in an encrypted file. The primary danger is that if your password to unlock the encrypted file is compromised, then all of your passwords are potentially compromised.

As you continue your holiday shopping this year, now is the perfect time to double check that ALL of your computing devices are updated and running virus or malware protection. Review and update your passwords to something you can easily remember using the recommendations above. And finally, be suspicious of email links and scams that look too good to be true. Best of luck with your holiday shopping, stay safe, and enjoy this season of family, friends and giving!