3 Simple Ways to Lock Down

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Cyber security threats can take different forms, but three of the most common and impactful are malware, viruses, and ransomware. It’s important to understand how these threats operate and the harm they can cause in order to protect yourself and your organization.

Malware refers to any kind of harmful software designed to infect, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. This can include viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware, and other unwanted software.

Viruses are a specific type of malware that spread by inserting malicious code into programs and files. When the infected file is shared or executed, the virus spreads and looks for other files or systems to infect.

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts important files and data on a system and demands a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key. Ransomware often spreads through phishing emails or compromised websites.

Being watchful and protecting against these major cyber threats is the first step toward better security. Understanding how they work helps you to recognize warning signs and prevent successful attacks. Implementing comprehensive security measures tailored to these specific risks is key to defense.

Use Strong Passwords

One of the most important things to make your online accounts more secure is to use strong passwords. A strong password is long, complicated, and different for each account you have.

Here are some tips for creating strong passwords:

  • Make your passwords at least 12-14 characters long. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack.
  • Include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Using a variety of character types makes passwords more complex.
  • Avoid common words, phrases, or personal information that could be guessed.
  • Don’t use the same password across multiple accounts. If one account is compromised, you don’t want all your other accounts to be accessible.
  • Consider using a password manager to generate and store unique passwords. This allows you to use long, complex passwords without having to remember them all.
  • Change your passwords periodically, especially if you believe an account may have been compromised. This limits the damage if someone gains unauthorized access.
  • Never share your passwords with anyone, and be cautious of phishing attempts trying to trick you into revealing passwords.

By creating strong, unique passwords for each of your important online accounts, you can make it much harder for cyber criminals to access your data and accounts. Strong passwords are one of the simplest yet most effective ways to improve your cyber security.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security on top of a password. With two-factor authentication, you need to provide two forms of ID to log in. This makes it much harder for cybercriminals to access your accounts, even if they steal your password.

The most common way to enable two-factor authentication is by using an authenticator app on your smartphone. When you log in, you’ll be asked for a random 6-digit code from the app as well as your password. Since this code changes every 30 seconds, it’s useless to cybercriminals.

Other forms of two-factor authentication include getting a code texted to your phone or using a physical security key. These options are just as secure as using an authenticator app, although slightly less convenient.

The slight inconvenience of two-factor authentication is well worth the enhanced security it provides. It’s important to turn it on for important accounts like email, banking, social media, and any accounts with sensitive information. Just be careful not to lose access to your smartphone or authenticator app, or you could get locked out of your accounts.

Keep Software Up-to-Date

Keeping your software up-to-date is super important for reducing cyber security risks. Software companies regularly release security updates that fix known vulnerabilities, which could be used by attackers. When a new vulnerability is found, hackers will quickly create attacks, so it’s essential to update promptly. Many data breaches have happened because organizations didn’t update their software on time.

Enable automatic updates whenever you can, including on your operating systems, browsers, apps, and any other software. Make sure the auto-update features are set up correctly and can’t be turned off by regular users.

You should also have a patch management system to keep track of updates on all devices and install any missing patches on a regular basis. It’s important to prioritize installing patches that fix critical or high-severity vulnerabilities as soon as they’re available.

Keeping up with system updates requires ongoing effort, but it’s one of the most important and effective ways to close security gaps before cyber criminals can get into your network.

Install Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware

Installing anti-virus and anti-malware software is crucial for detecting and removing threats from your devices and network.

  • Use a reputable anti-virus program that provides real-time scanning and protection. Look for one that detects viruses, malware, spyware, ransomware, and other threats.
  • In addition to anti-virus, also use anti-malware software that focuses on detecting and removing sophisticated malware that traditional anti-virus may miss. Malwarebytes and Zemana AntiMalware are good options.
  • Set both your anti-virus and anti-malware software to update automatically and run scans on a regular basis. Schedule weekly full scans of your entire system.
  • Quarantine or remove any threats detected. Don’t ignore warnings from your security software.
  • Ensure all devices on your network are protected, including computers, laptops, tablets, phones, IoT devices, servers, etc.
  • For extra security, run scans with a secondary on-demand scanner like VirusTotal to double check for overlooked threats.
  • Combine anti-virus and anti-malware with other layers of cybersecurity for comprehensive protection. Don’t rely on it as a single solution.

Back Up Your Data

Backing up your data regularly is very important to reduce the impact of a cyberattack. With a recent backup, you can restore your systems and data if they are harmed. Here are some best practices for backups:

  • Back up data from all of your critical systems, including databases, file servers, email servers, etc. Don’t forget to include mobile devices if they contain important business data.
  • Perform backups daily to capture changes since the last backup. For extra protection, monthly or weekly backup snapshots can also be retained.
  • Store backup copies offsite or in the cloud so they can’t be accessed if your primary systems are compromised. Many backup solutions integrate directly with cloud storage providers.
  • Test restoring from backups periodically to verify they are working correctly. The last thing you want is to find out your backup was not properly capturing data when you need it most.
  • Encrypt backup data to prevent it from being accessed by unauthorized parties.
  • Consider immutable or append-only backups that prevent data from being deleted or overwritten for a set retention period. This protects against ransomware or an attacker trying to cover their tracks.

Having recent backups is important. It can help your business recover quickly from an attack. Make sure to assess your backup needs and create good backup rules for reliable recovery.

Watch Out for Phishing Attacks

One of the most common ways cybercriminals try to break into security is through phishing attacks. Phishing is when hackers send fake emails or texts pretending to be a trustworthy source to get users to share important information or download harmful software.

Phishing messages are becoming more advanced and harder to recognize. They often appear to be from a real company, even faking the sender’s email address. The content is meant to urgently scare or excite you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment without thinking first.

It’s important to be watchful and avoid clicking on any links or attachments in unexpected messages, even if it looks like it’s from a company you’re familiar with. Common phishing techniques include:

  • Messages warning of a security threat or unauthorized logins to your account, directing you to a fake page to “secure your account.”
  • Offers of too-good-to-be-true opportunities like prizes, gift cards, or investment returns.
  • Requests for personal information like passwords or bank account details.
  • Attachments labeled as invoices, order confirmations, or tracking information.

If something seems suspicious, don’t click. Instead, visit the official website of the company that supposedly sent the message to check for notifications there. Report any phishing attempts, and ensure that employees know how to recognize and avoid risky messages. Being alert can stop a phishing scam and prevent a major security breach.

Secure Your Wi-Fi Network

Your Wi-Fi network can be a big risk if it’s not properly secured. Here are some tips for keeping your wireless network safe.

  • Use WPA2 encryption – Make sure your wireless router supports WPA2 encryption. WPA2 is the strongest wireless encryption available today. Older WEP encryption can be easily cracked.
  • Use a strong password – Your wireless network password should be long and complex. Aim for at least 15 characters using upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid common words or phrases.
  • Change the default admin password – Routers come with a default admin password for configuring settings. Make sure to change this password to something unique and strong.
  • Disable WPS – The Wi-Fi Protected Setup feature makes it easy to add devices to your network. However, it also makes it easier for hackers to crack your password. Disable WPS if your router has this option.
  • Use MAC address filtering – You can set up a whitelist of allowed devices by their MAC addresses. This will prevent unauthorized devices from connecting.
  • Turn off SSID broadcast – By default, routers broadcast the network name (SSID). Disable this feature so your network is partially hidden.
  • Update router firmware – Check for and install the latest firmware updates for your router. Updates often include important security patches.
  • Place router in central location – Position your router centrally in your home or office for a stronger signal. Weak wi-fi signals are more vulnerable.

Properly securing your Wi-Fi network is important for protecting your devices and information from cyber attacks. Make sure to set up your router’s security settings to keep everything safe.

Be Cautious on Public Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks in places like coffee shops, airports, and hotels are convenient but not very secure. When you use these networks, your online activity and sensitive information can be seen by others connected to the same network, potentially putting your usernames, passwords, emails, and other transmitted info at risk. It’s important to take precautions when using public Wi-Fi to stay safe.

  • Avoid accessing or entering any sensitive info like passwords, credit cards, account numbers, etc. Assume everything you do on public Wi-Fi can be viewed by others.
  • Never do online banking or shopping using your credit/debit cards over public Wi-Fi. The network could be compromised.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing any sites or apps with personal info. A VPN will encrypt your web traffic to keep it secure and private.
  • Turn off file/printer sharing settings on your devices. This prevents access to your computer or connected storage drives.
  • Keep your firewall enabled and connected devices updated. This provides additional protection against malware and hacking.

The convenience of using public Wi-Fi has risks. Be careful about the websites you visit and the information you send to keep your data safe. Wait to do sensitive things online until you are on a trusted private network.

Educate Employees

Cybersecurity training for employees is really important for lowering the risk for a company. A lot of data breaches and cyber attacks happen because employees make mistakes and don’t know enough about the risks. Putting effort into teaching employees about cybersecurity often can really help reduce the dangers.

There are a few important topics that need to be included in cybersecurity training:

  • Phishing attack identification – Teach employees how to spot phishing emails and malicious links. Train them to look for telltale signs like spelling errors, unknown senders, and suspicious URLs.
  • Safe internet usage – Provide guidelines for safely browsing the web, using social media, and handling downloads. Advise against accessing sensitive info on public WiFi.
  • Strong password policies – Inform employees on creating complex, unique passwords. Encourage password managers to store credentials securely.
  • Data and device security – Instruct employees to only access sensitive data on properly secured devices. Establish rules around external media, WiFi connections, and sharing corporate info.
  • Reporting threats – Employees must be taught how to identify potential cybersecurity incidents and who to notify in the organization if they spot any suspicious activity.
  • Privacy and data protections – Educate the workforce on maintaining data privacy and following regulations around customer data, intellectual property, etc.

Regular simulated phishing tests, cybersecurity newsletters, lunch-and-learns, and online cybersecurity courses can help reinforce these lessons and keep employees vigilant against evolving cyber threats. Investing in a well-trained workforce is one of the most effective ways to mitigate risks.