It’s one of those “it’ll never happen to me” things. Sure, we’ve all got a friend whose cousin had their identity stolen online, but cybercrime is so uncommon, isn’t it?
Not according to an Office for National Statistics survey. There were 3.7 million victims of fraud and computer misuse in the year ending September 2017, meaning you are 35 times more likely to encounter it than robbery. The good news is there are very simple things you can do to tighten up your online security right now, according to the government’s Cyber Aware campaign, which has been set up to help the public and small businesses better protect themselves from cybercrime.
Don’t say ‘remind me later’ to updates
It’s tempting to flick away a software or app update reminder, telling yourself you’ll do it tomorrow, but updates are crucial to help protect devices from viruses and hackers. They’re designed to fix weaknesses in software and apps that hackers could potentially take advantage of. Set up your devices so updates are done automatically or, even better, at night when you’re sleeping.
Pa55word! is not gonna cut it any more
Cyber Aware says passwords are prime territory for hackers – so it’s high time you gave up using your dog’s name. Make sure you use strong, separate passwords for your most important accounts like your email, so that if hackers do manage to steal your password for, say, your fitness app, they can’t use it to access your banking app. Try using three random words which you can supplement with numbers and symbols, for example, 4wartschickenbath32£.
You should also use two-factor authentication, when available, to protect your email account, a handy tool to give it an extra layer of security. New research from Experian and Cyber Aware reveals that over half of all those surveyed aged 18-25 reuse their email password for other accounts – putting their cybersecurity and identity at risk. As a result, they’re urging Brits to help protect their email accounts from hackers with a strong and separate email password through the just-launched #OneReset campaign.
Set up screen locks
Did we say dead simple? Yes, this is about as easy as it gets in making your online security watertight. All devices should go to lock mode when you’re not using them. Pins, patterns or passwords to unlock them shouldn’t be easy to guess, like 1, 2, 3, 4 or an L shape (we’ve been through this, you’re better than that).
Back up, back up, back up
The one golden rule of smart online behaviour is to back up your data regularly. If your device is infected by a virus, malware or is hacked, you may not be able to access your data as it could be damaged, deleted or held to ransom. Use an external hard drive or the cloud to save copies of your photos and documents, but make sure the external hard drive is not permanently connected to the device – either physically or over a wifi connection – as it could become infected too.
Not all wifi is created equal
We all love a bit of free wifi, but be careful about using public hotspots to transfer sensitive information like credit card details. Hackers can set up networks, enabling them to intercept information you’re sending online. So it’s best to do your online banking and shopping on a trusted network.
‘Jailbreaking’ is a no-no
Here’s one for the more tech-savvy. “Jailbreaking” or “rooting” your smartphone means disabling software restrictions set up by the manufacturer so you can download apps and tools which aren’t available through official app stores. Doing so leaves your phone vulnerable to malware and invalidates the warranty of the device. You will also stop receiving software updates, which, if you’ve been paying attention, is bad news.
Spot the imposters
Cybercriminals can set up fake websites that look very similar to the real thing, in an effort to get you to share sensitive information such as your bank details. There might even be a padlock or “https” in the address bar but check thoroughly for misspelled names, and logos and design features that don’t quite look right. Wherever possible, type the address of the website directly into the browser yourself, or find the website using a search engine. If you notice something is up, get out quickly.
Resist the urge to open suspicious links or attachments
Haven’t heard from your cousin John in eons and he’s now sent an email with a link to win a free iPhone? Back away. Even if something arrives in your inbox supposedly from someone you know or a company you trust, it could be fake. Never respond to suspicious or unexpected emails, as this will let the sender know your email address is active. Flag it as spam and send it to trash where it belongs.
For advice on simple ways to be more secure online, visit the Cyber Aware website