You’re probably pretty careful about locking the doors to your house and shutting accessible windows when you’re not there. You never ever give any of your personal information to callers you don’t know, and you’ve taught your kids the rules about talking to strangers. You’ve certainly got smoke detectors and maybe security cameras and an alarm system. You pay attention to safety postings on the Nextdoor app and may even be a member of Neighborhood Watch.
Congratulations on being super careful about your family’s security in real life.
But what about their virtual life? Are you just as careful about that?
Cybercrime can lead to both physical and economic damage before you even know what’s happening. If you don’t have reliable antivirus software on all the electronic devices your family uses, you’ve left a big hole in everyone’s safety.
While security software is essential, even that’s not enough protection against scammers and other cybercriminals. Everyone from the grownups to the littlest kids needs to know the precautions to take when they’re using their phones, their laptops, and all their other electronic gadgets that connect to the Internet.
Here are the rules everyone in the family should follow:
Use Strong Passwords
It seems unbelievable, but for the past five years in a row, the most common passwords people are still selecting are “123456” and, amazingly, the word “password” itself. Next in popularity are “123456789” and “12345678.” How lazy can you be? Passwords like those are the first things even a first-time hacker would try if he wanted to break into someone’s banking or email account. (You can see the rest of the top 25 here. But don’t even think of using any of them.)
To be strong, a password should employ a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special symbols and shouldn’t rely on words that are spelled the way they are in the dictionary. Security experts suggest starting with a phrase that you can remember, and then mixing it up with numbers and symbols here and there.
Keep Personal Information To Yourself
It’s easier than you might imagine for someone to find out a great deal about you from what you post online on various sites. You may have mentioned your street address somewhere and your vacation plans someplace else, but it doesn’t take much detective work for someone bent on criminal activity to put the pieces together. Be cautious about giving out detailed personal information even on presumably verified social media sites and networking sites like LinkedIn.
It’s kind of awful to think that you have to keep your guard up all the time, but information you put out there remains on the Internet forever, and if it’s not something you’d tell a stranger in person, then don’t tell it to the world online. This is something you have to impress upon the younger members of the family in particular, since they’re more likely to think that someone who “friends” them really has friendship in mind.
Be Careful About Email
Most computer viruses and other malware invasions are caused by downloading attachments or clicking on links that are sent by unknown sources or appear in pop-up windows or other unsolicited communications. Never download anything or activate a link you receive from anyone but a trusted source. And now that phishing has become so frequent and devious, it’s smart to verify downloads and links wherever they’ve come from. Before acting on them, check the originating URL and “reply to” address for inconsistencies and irregular spellings, and if you’ve got any reason to suspect the legitimacy of the correspondence even from your bank, for example, contact the source directly to check it out.
Use Secure Wi-Fi Only
Free public Wi-Fi networks are convenient, but transmissions can be easily intercepted. Unless you’re at home or know that you’re using a legitimate hotspot, don’t connect to sites that store your credit card or banking information. Disable your smartphone’s default Wi-Fi access and use your phone’s network rather than public Wi-Fi. If you can use a virtual private network (VPN), so much the better.
Try as you might, you know that you can’t protect your family from everything out there. But the better they are prepared for the cyber world, the safer they’ll be living and playing in it.