Most Americans (87%) see cybercrime as a larger threat than global warming or COVID. But most people are still making basic cybersecurity mistakes in everyday lives. Here are the five most common cybersecurity pitfalls – and how to fix them. Don’t update your software asap – both your operating system and your mobile devices. Re-use strong passwords – and don’t re-use them on multiple sites, according to a survey by Google. Use 2FA to confirm your identity on a separate physical device, whether through app or security text message.
Founder @ NowSourcing. Contributor @ Hackernoon, Advisor @GoogleSmallBiz, Podcaster, infographics
More people are becoming aware of the crucial importance of cybersecurity every day.
It’s hard not to, with widely publicized high-profile hacks such as the Colonial Pipeline breach, which caused fears of gas shortages along the entire East Coast. Cyberattacks, it seems, are an omnipresent threat.
A recent survey by identity theft protection company Aura even revealed that most Americans (87%) see cybercrime as a larger threat than global warming or COVID.
However, most of us are still making basic cybersecurity mistakes in our everyday lives.
It’s easy to believe that cybercrime is something that affects major companies and public figures, but not private individuals or small businesses.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, costing them $200,000 on average.
And as for private individuals, 7-10% of the US population fall victim to identity fraud every year – much of it online.
Stepping up our digital security is therefore crucial. A big part of this is rooting out the common mistakes that we tend to make every day.
Here are the five most common cybersecurity pitfalls – and how to fix them.
1 – Procrastinating on Software Updates
To begin with, update your software asap – both your operating system and your apps. This goes for your computer as well as any mobile devices.
Procrastinating on updates is incredibly tempting. After all, in most cases, nothing is obviously broken. And when your Mac asks you to update in the middle of a Netflix binge, hitting “Try again tomorrow” can be a knee-jerk reaction.
However, failing to install software updates opens up numerous avenues for hackers.
Most cybercriminals don’t go through the trouble of hunting for new vulnerabilities, and then writing thousands of lines of code to pry open your defenses.
Instead, they exploit well-known weak points, which development teams have already fixed through patches.
However, to actually benefit from these fixes, you do have to install the required updates.
The easiest way to fix this common cybersecurity mistake is to set yourself a regular time window for installing regular system and app updates.
Interrupting what you’re doing whenever a new update becomes available can seriously harm your productivity. However, blocking off half an hour per week to check on and install updates is absolutely worth it in terms of cybersecurity.
2 – Not Using Two-Factor Authentication
Like updates, two-factor authentication (2FA) – and, more recently, multi-factor authentication – can be a pain in everyday life. And thus something that we tend to skip wherever possible.
However, confirming your identity on a separate physical device, whether through an app or a security text message, is an invaluable barrier against hackers.
In most cases, it means that cybercriminals won’t be able to remotely access your accounts, unless they’ve also managed to steal or commandeer one of your devices. While this is possible, it’s a far more tricky operation than simply cracking an account.
Enabling 2FA, and investing the vexing extra 20 seconds to log into your account, is critical to cybersecurity. This is especially true for gateway accounts such as Google or Facebook, which allow you to log into other websites as well.
The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack illustrates how important 2FA actually is. The entire breach was only possible because a single employee hadn’t enabled it.
3 – Re-Using Passwords or not Changing them Regularly
Use strong passwords – and don’t re-use them on multiple sites. If you’ve ever read an article on cybersecurity, you’ve probably heard this mantra.
Yet 65% of people still use the same password for multiple accounts, according to a survey by Google.
And even in 2020, with cybercrime rampant during the pandemic, the most common passwords were laughably simple. An analysis of over 275,000,000 passwords revealed that the most widely used are still “123456”, “123456789” and – you guessed it – “password”. Other top contenders were “qwerty”, “abc123”, “picture1”, and “iloveyou”.
Even if you have higher password standards, chances are that you haven’t changed sensitive passwords lately, or performed a password audit.
The easiest way to address this issue is to take a thorough look at all your passwords – and change them where necessary.
In 2021, the average person has over 100 passwords. Understandably, these can be hard to keep track of.
Instead of reusing passwords, though, you can get a password manager. It will keep track of all your passwords, alert you to weak and re-used ones, and suggest new, secure options when you create a new account.
All you’ll have to do is remember a single master password to access it.
4 – Using Public WiFi Without a VPN
Next on the list of common mistakes is using public WiFi without protecting your connection.
Whether it’s at the airport or your favorite coffee shop, free WiFi is ubiquitous in 2021.
It’s also a hotspot for cybercriminals.
To make sure that the hacker with the frappuccino one table over doesn’t get a hold of your online banking information, there are several things you can do.
To start with, make sure you’re connecting to the right network. Many criminals will set up public hotspots with names such as “Starbucks Free Wifi”. Once you access this network, it’s a highway to your personal information. That’s why it’s important to verify the exact spelling of the WiFi you want to use.
Other general rules are to avoid logging into sensitive accounts, making sure that the websites you access have an SSL certificate (begin in https), and disabling your WiFi if you’re not using it.
However, the safest thing you can do is to invest in a VPN – a private virtual network. This will encrypt all traffic on your devices, and makes sure that hackers come up blank.
5 – Failing to Protect Your Home Network
If you think you’re safe when browsing at home, think again.
Your home WiFi network can be a huge vulnerable spot in terms of cybersecurity – if you leave everything on its default settings, that is.
Neglecting to change the admin credentials on your router, or to enable good encryption, opens up multiple ways for cyber criminals to attack.
To protect yourself, there are several steps you can take.
Change the name of your network, as well as the admin password on your router. You should also regularly change your WiFi password. Above all, be careful about who you share it with.
Like with your other devices, you should also regularly update your router’s firmware. In addition, you should enable WPA3 encryption and your firewall.
In 2021, cybersecurity is something that should be part of our everyday lives. Because cybercrime already is.
Whether through complacency or the mistaken belief that we’re not attractive targets for hackers, many of us neglect to follow even basic steps to protect ourselves online.
It’s time to do better – by making cybersecurity practices part of our routine.
Basic password hygiene, 2FA, regular software updates, as well as home and public WiFi safety are practices that take up only minutes of our time on a daily basis.
But they are a huge step towards making hackers’ lives harder – and ensuring that our own data stays safe and secure.
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