As technology continues to advance at a rapid rate, hackers are also evolving their techniques to access confidential and personal information. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercrime is up an alarming 600%. This activity continues to negatively affect businesses of all sizes and individuals with detrimental effects. 

Whether you’re an individual or a business leader, it’s vital to effectively protect your data. And what better time than the start of the year to conduct a personal cybersecurity check-up?  

Here are six tips for improving your personal cybersecurity as you start off the new year: 

1. Strengthen your passwords 

As you already know, strong passwords are critical to online security and keeping hackers out of your data. More sites and platforms are enforcing stricter password requirements, and for good reason. Although it may feel like a hassle each time you have to think of a new password, it truly is in your best interest to add an extra layer of protection for all of your accounts. 

When creating passwords, choose something that is easy to remember. Take advantage of sites that offer hints but be sure to never leave a password hint out in the open. Don’t forget to vary your passwords and avoid using the same password twice. For those accounts that do not require a regular reset, a good rule of thumb is to change your password quarterly. 

2. Utilize a password manager 

Related to the previous tip, you can organize and safely store your passwords is by using a password manager. A password manager is a software or program that keeps all your passwords in one place, protected by a master password. Using this kind of tool will simplify your life as you will only need to remember your master password, which will allow you to access all your passwords. 

There are many excellent password managers to consider. Many offer free versions. LastPass, Dashlane and 1Password are all good programs to consider. Most programs also integrate with file storage tools like Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive, allowing you to save the password database on your cloud drive for easy access anywhere.  

3. Set up multi-factor authentication 

The bare minimum access requirements to online accounts require a login and password. But now, most systems require an added layer of security, like multi-factor authentication (MFA). This method requires the user to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to online accounts and applications. This typically occurs by sending you an authentication text message, email or phone call while logging in. 

MFA prevents hackers who have obtained your login and password from gaining access, because the authentication will go to a personal device, allowing only you to log in. To strengthen your personal cybersecurity, make sure you establish MFA on all your accounts that offer the feature. 

4. Use anti-virus protection and firewall 

Anti-virus protection software is the most effective solution to block malware and prevent malicious attacks from entering your systems and devices. Use anti-virus software from trusted vendors on your personal computer, and only run one AV tool on your device at a time.   

An effective firewall is essential for defending your data against malicious attacks. By screening out hackers, viruses and other malicious activity, a firewall helps determine what traffic is allowed to enter your device. Both Windows and Mac operating systems come with their respective firewalls but check your personal computer’s settings to ensure your firewall and system are up to date. 

5. Be cautious of hyperlinks 

Cybercriminals often seek to compromise data through phishing emails. Because 92% of malware is delivered by email, exercising caution when receiving links through emails is crucial. Hackers have gotten particularly good at crafting emails that appear to be legitimate, and they know once you click on a malicious link, you are one step closer to granting them access to secured information. Common examples include emails appearing to be banking statements, flight reservations and password recovery prompts—to name a few. 

When you encounter a link in an email, pause and think for a moment. Examine the email thoroughly–is the sender address legitimate, or does it seem off? Being careful not to click on the link, hover your cursor over the link text to see the true source. If anything looks suspicious or off, don’t click on it. Your safest bet is to visit the provider’s site directly as opposed to using an email link. 

6. Protect your PII (personal identifiable information) 

Personal Identifiable Information (PII) is any information that can be used by a cybercriminal to identify or locate an individual. PII includes information such as name, address, date and place of birth, social security number as well as medical, educational, financial and employment information.  

Start the year off right by checking that your PII is protected and secure. Ensure your social security card is stored in a secure location (not in your wallet). Think twice about what you post on social media and review your privacy settings regularly to keep your profile information out of the public eye. Remember, nothing is 100% private on the internet, so don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to see shared.  

The importance of securing and protecting your personal information cannot be emphasized enough. The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately exacerbated the problem of cybercrime, but there are steps we can take to minimize the risk. 

We hope these tips are helpful and we encourage you to share this blog with your employees to help them stay protected. Stay tuned to MJ Insight for another blog coming next month that will focus on helping your organization improve its cybersecurity.