Spring Cyber Cleaning Keeps Computers Secure
By Kelsey Morrow
It’s spring! Time for new beginnings, fresh starts, and spring cleaning. But this year, in addition to cleaning out the attic, why not consider cleaning up your internet presence as well. A little cyber hygiene can go a long way in terms of keeping you and your business safe online.
We all know that obvious passwords, like “Password123” are not secure, but experts say it is still one of the most common passwords in existence. If you are using generic passwords, consider making them more complex or adding things like nonsequential numbers and special characters (*,#,$,%) to make them more secure.
Use different passwords for different accounts. While it is easy to get in the habit of using the same password for all of your accounts, this plays right into hackers’ hands. When you use the same password, if one account gets hacked, you risk them all getting hacked. If you have a different password for each account, if one account gets hacked, at least it won’t lead to a total breach of security.
When accounts urge you to change your password every so often, don’t just write it off as an annoyance. No matter how strong your password is, changing it on a regular basis makes it harder for a hacker to gain access. Even if your account doesn’t prompt you automatically to change your account, set yourself reminders to do this every few months for an extra piece of mind.
For accounts that require security questions, make sure that your answers to these questions aren’t easily accessible through your social media sites. The most common security questions that people use are things like “Pet’s Name” or “Mother’s maiden name” which can be easily tracked down by looking up someone’s social media pages. Consider using more obscure questions that hackers will be less able to research.
Whether you are a business hosting a website or a casual user surfing the web, there are small steps that you can take to increase your security.
Not all websites are created equal, so before you provide any confidential information over the internet, make sure that you are doing it securely. Appearances can be deceiving and just because a website looks reputable, it doesn’t mean that it is.
“Anytime you are on a website that is asking you for personal or financial information, make sure that it is secure,” warned Jeff Asselin, head of marketing for Powerserve.
The way that you can do this, Asselin said, is by searching the URL of the website you are visiting. If the URL says “https” the website can be trusted. The “s” stands for secure, and lets you know that the site, and the information that you enter on the site, are safe. However, if the URL simply says “http” without the “s” the site is not secure and you should be wary of sharing any personal or financial information with that page.
On the business side, be sure to install software updates as often as your site allows.
“Many times, these updates are a security update,” Asselin said.
Most websites, Asselin explained, are built on open source content management solutions. The open source allows anyone access to the code in order to create custom widgets or improvements. However, just as innovators can access this code, so can hackers. These updates give you the most up-to-date security features to help prevent hacking into your website.
The final pieces of your web presence that can use some spring cleaning are your social media accounts.
“It is a good practice to periodically log out of your social media channels,” Asselin said. “This allows you to see what is being searched about you.”
If you are logged into your social media account and search it on Google, the page that it takes you to will not give you an accurate idea of publicly available information. However, if you completely log out and then search, you will be seeing what an outsider to your account would be able to view. This will allow you to decide if you are sharing too much information with the public, and gives you the ability to delete information or adjust your privacy settings appropriately.
Also, according to speakers at the recent Digital Marketing Bootcamp held by the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, completely logging out will also help you decrease the information available about you for retargeting ads. Banner ads on Facebook can now receive information from your browsing history in order to target ads directly towards your interests.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because this information will cause you to see ads for products that you are interested in. However, if you wish not to have this information available, you must log completely out of your social media accounts after using them. Opening another window in the search bar or exiting your smartphone app for another app are not enough.
The next time you log on to the internet, keep these tips in mind to practice a little cyber hygiene.