The security challenges that threaten cyberspace are growing, and ordinary citizens and large corporations alike are being encouraged to guard against cybercrime. The Charles County Sheriff’s Office is offering guidance about how to protect sensitive and critical data when engaging in computer activity.
“Some of us are not tech-savvy but no one who uses a computer or smartphone is immune to the threats of cybercrime,” said Sheriff Rex W. Coffey. “We have to proactively protect our information and take precautions against hackers. Fortunately there are some easy steps we can all take, even if we are not computer experts.”
Computer hacking may seem like sophisticated work but according to security experts, users often unwittingly provide hackers with unauthorized access to sensitive data relatively easily, sometimes by clicking on a link in a seemingly innocuous email and other times by transmitting financial or other personal information over public Wi-Fi. These schemes have affected individuals, corporations and organizations on a global scale. The CCSO’s tips can help Charles County citizens protect their information.
General Internet Safety Tips
- Install reputable anti-virus software.
- Do not open emails from unknown sources and do not click on links in emails from unknown sources. These links often allow hackers to gain access to your personal and financial information.
- Scrutinize an email sender’s email address. Sometimes hackers will create email accounts posing as a business or other entity. Ask yourself if you ever provided this business with your contact information. Compare the email address to the company or organization’s website URL and look for discrepancies. Finally, look for spelling errors, incomplete sentences and other errors that are not characteristic of reputable companies and organizations.
- Disable any feature that allows you to automatically download attachments. Use your anti-virus software to ensure attachments are virus free.
- When creating accounts on websites to either make purchases or participate in discussions, especially accounts that require personal or financial information, use passwords that are hard to guess but easy to remember. Use a combination of letters, numbers and other characters, when possible.
- If you have trouble creating a unique but memorable password, consider using an initialism by taking the first letters of the words in a line from a favorite song, poem, movie, etc. The password “Rrw4atr” is an initialism Shakespeare’s “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo” and, even better, it incorporates a number, “w4 for wherefore.”
- Do not store your passwords on your phone or computer or on a sticky note near your computer.
- Pay attention to website URLs. Only use websites with “https” if you are transmitting secure data and look for variations in the spelling of a business or organization name.
- Limit the amount of personal data you provide on social media sites, Internet forums, chat sites, video game sites, etc. Ask yourself, “Is this information I want a stranger to know?” Also enable the appropriate security settings on your account.
- Always install the most recent updates for your computers and mobile devices. These updates sometimes include security features that work in the background but do not alter the appearance of your device.
- Be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true and other misleading information.
Mobile Safety Tips
- Protect smartphones with a passcode that is unique and hard to guess. These passcodes are often numerical but remember that some hackers can find your birthday or anniversary online. Consider using the last four digits of an old phone number or use numbers that spell out a word on a telephonic keypad, the way that “4663” can be used to spell “home.”
- Lock your device when it is not in use.
- Never leave your device unattended.
- If your smartphone has a “Find My Phone” feature, enable it. Also enable the feature that allows you to wipe your information remotely.
- Disable features that automatically connect your device to public Wi-Fi.
- Never make purchases over public Wi-Fi. Some hackers activate Wi-Fi hotspots and when someone connects and then enters personal and financial information to make a purchase through a browser or application, the hacker gains access to the information, too.
- Be cautious of links received via text message and email. Mobile devices are not immune to hacking.
- Turn off Bluetooth accessibility when the feature is not in use.
- Backup important information on your device, either to your desktop or to a trusted cloud service.
- Discuss computer security with your children if they use the Internet or mobile devices.
- Enable parental controls on your devices.
- Be aware of your child’s computer activity.
- Ensure your computers and systems are protected by antivirus software.
- Control employee access to the Internet through the use of firewalls and filters.
- Encourage employees to report potential security breaches immediately.
- Educate employees regularly about the importance of cybersecurity and the consequences of cyber attacks.
[blockquote]“As one last piece of advice, I would ask that those who are tech-savvy take the time to help their parents, grandparents and friends who might not be as knowledgeable of computers, mobile devices and the need for cybersecurity. I know there are some young people who will be more than willing to help and others who see it as a hassle. As much as the latter might be true for them, I encourage them to acknowledge how vulnerable their loved ones are and how important it is to help protect and educate them.” – Sheriff Rex W. Coffey[/blockquote]
Finally, citizens should consider their unique cybersecurity needs and adjust their policies and security systems accordingly. Additional information and resources related to cybersecurity are available online. Visit dhs.gov, sba.gov, us-cert.gov or the National CyberSecurity Alliance at staysafeonline.org.