In September of 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the computer systems of a major U.S. hospital chain, Universal Health Services, representing over 400 locations, came under a ransomware attack. Over the course of a weekend, all computers went down and staff was rendered digitally powerless and forced to function manually via pen and paper, including updating patient information and handwritten prescriptions. This example, among many others, serves as a reminder that no one organization or person is safe from a potential cyber-attack. Oftentimes the best defense is being well-prepared for the inevitable.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to make yourself 100% hack-proof, but here are some ways that you can make it difficult for hackers to access your information:
- Avoid using free public Wifi
When you are connected to public Wifi, hackers can access any data sent or received over the network, from emails and messages to calls and banking information.Pro tip: According to Norton, the best way to know your information is safe while using public Wi-Fi is to use a virtual private network (VPN).
- Do not use the same password for all your accounts
Try to create a different username and password for every account you have. This will protect your other accounts if one is hacked.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many corporate employees began working from home. This meant most meetings had to occur online. Platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom saw exponential spikes in their user bases. Of course, hackers wasted no time in exploiting this new trend. Many new Zoom users created their new accounts using old passwords. The cyber risk assessment experts at Cyble recently discovered a hacker selling stolen Zoom credentials at dirt-cheap prices, and in some cases giving them away for free. Cyble purchased more than 530,000 on an underground hacking forum for next to nothing. If one of the affected Zoom users utilized the same information for accounts on other social platforms, they would risk having information stolen from those accounts as well.
- Do not link your accounts together
Although it may seem much easier to simply log into websites using your Google or Facebook account, this poses a security risk for the user for the same reasons mentioned in point # 2. If the main account is hacked, then all other accounts which were logged into using it are also compromised, and hackers would have access and control of information on those sites as well.
- Regularly update your device's operating system
Running outdated software is an open invitation for any kind of malware attack. In addition to new features, software companies push new updates to patch errors that have been identified by developers, allowing attackers to access and steal data. The more outdated your software, the more open portals for malware attackers to get into your system.Suggestion: The best way to ensure that your software is current is to enable automatic updates on your system.
- Do not expect antivirus software to provide complete protection
Most people make the mistake of downloading antivirus software and being completely at ease with knowing that the software will do its job by protecting them from all online threats. Unfortunately, antivirus software may be a good line of defense, but it is not without its faults.
So, should you invest in antivirus software? Check with your OS provider first. For example, Windows 10 comes preloaded with its Defender Antivirus program at no extra cost. Even the best antivirus programs may be ineffective at stopping some cyber-attacks from occurring. As is noted in a Windows Central post, "the 'best' malware -- if you can really even call it that -- will quietly sneak onto your PC without you knowing. It'll maybe lie dormant, hidden from view, but all the while, it will also do something you don't want it to." That being said, users should form their defense by remaining cautious when opening any suspicious sites and emails.
- Make sure that all your business associates are secure
Not only is it important to protect your own devices, but it is also essential to ensure that all your business associates do so as well. Both small and large businesses are threatened by hackers. You must be certain that anyone who has your personal information will be able to safeguard and protect it from being stolen. You must also be certain that your business associates will not misuse your information or disclose it to anyone outside of the legally permitted scope.
- Know what information is available about you online
Social media users might occasionally share things about themselves that they believe is of no importance. However, what they fail to realize is that this makes it easy for hackers to access their accounts. Security questions like "What is the name of your secondary school?" are rendered useless when users readily share that very information on social media and provide hackers with a gateway into their accounts.