VIRGINIA BEACH — If you’re reading this online then you almost certainly own a device that could be infected with malware or a virus, or hacked — allowing your personal information to be compromised.
While many thousands of personal computers are infected or hacked each year, there are a few things users can do to keep their devices clean and their personal information safe.
“Identity theft is still a leading threat of cyber hacking,” said Cheryl Beauchamp, chairwoman of the Department of Engineering and Computer Science at Regent University. “A vulnerable system is a likely target. Hackers are after identity information that they can then use to apply for a replacement driver’s license, bank account, or credit card.”
The threat, she said, is not limited to computer devices. Initially, a thief may obtain personal information from discarded mailings, such as a pre-approved credit card application. Information, to include a name, address, and Social Security number can be obtained from a discarded document, such as a resume or an application posted on the Internet.
“Reduce the risk by thinking twice about what you share online and with whom. Make smart choices about what you share on social media and who you accept as your friends. Successful hacking is due largely to effective social engineering,” Beauchamp said.
She said there are a few basic things users can do to keep their laptops/electronic devices safe:
- Download software from reputable sites only in order to decrease the accidental download of malware.
- If the family shares a computer, create user accounts for children to ensure they do not have administrative abilities to download software from the sites they visit without your permission and oversight.
- Apply patches and operating system updates promptly. These updates/patches address known vulnerabilities of a devices system.
A few more tips
Hackers, she said, already know about existing vulnerabilities and security loopholes.
“If you are going to browse and surf the Internet, recognize (that) you will be creating a digital footprint. We secure our home from intruders, we should also secure our computers from cyber intruders,” Beauchamp said, offering the following tips:
- Don’t use the same passwords across multiple sites.
- Change your passwords often – use a password manager.
- Don’t use default passwords – use long phrases of at least 20 to 25 characters.
- Use two-factor authentication.
- Routinely monitor your children’s online activity, especially if you have a home network in order to share one printer.
- Keep sensitive information separate, if possible, do online banking on a separate computer and never over free Wi-Fi.
- Do not use free Wi-Fi, such as hotel Wi-Fi, for online banking or other activity that requires your personal information.
- Close out online banking account when done.
- Use anti-virus programs and enable the firewall.
- Utilize data encryption if storing sensitive information on your computer.
Beauchamp said mobile internet usage (cellphones) surpassed desktop usage two years ago. The same rules apply to a cellphone.
“Password protect your device, no matter how tedious it may seem,” she said. “Many, if not most, users have banking apps and credit card information enabled on their phones. Password protecting is a first line of defense if your phone is stolen.”
Phishing attacks have become much more effective, she added, and advised users not to click on links or provide sensitive information no matter how legitimate the request may look.
Most organizations will not request your personal information via a reply to their email.