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Six things you’re doing wrong when it comes to backups

No matter how agile your business is, or how good your employees are, one backupsaccidental tap of the “delete” key on your customer database, or one ransomware infection could cripple (or worse, end) your business.

There has to be a way to avoid this, right?

There is! It’s called backups.

I know, I know, I can hear the groans. Backups? We already do those!

You might be backing up already, but I bet you’re doing it wrong.

See, most people and businesses know they need backups, but don’t back up at the right frequency or do one and then put doing more off entirely. 

Or they think that their yearly backup is sufficient to get them back on their feet and never test it until ransomware has taken out all their computers, only to realize that their backup is too old or doesn’t work.

So, how could you be doing backups wrong?

 

Only doing full backups

When most people think about backups, they think about full backups. 

These backups are where you include everything on every computer, device, and online storage you have. It would be best if you also created full backups of the configuration of IoT devices, online account settings, and files.

A full backup is what you would use to restore each computer, device, or account from scratch.

While full backups are the best to recover when things go south, with data changing so rapidly and the amount of time and effort it takes to do full backups, they’re not always feasible to do regularly.

That’s where incremental backups come in. 

Incremental backups only backup changes since the last full backup. They’re beneficial because they’re much quicker (so you can do them more often) and usually smaller. 

If you use backup software, you shouldn’t have to worry about the full and incremental backups (of course, confirm with your documentation!). Your software will usually do a full backup every so often, and then use incremental backups to keep updating that full backup. 

However, if you’re one of those that backups files by hand, be sure to start doing both full and incremental backups!

 

Not backing up frequently enough

Of course, you should backup as often as you can since the more you update your backups, the less information you’ll lose in the event of an issue. Though, doing that is not always realistic. 

That’s where using a combination of full and incremental backups at different frequencies can help.

The idea is to take full backups at regular intervals and then at shorter intervals take incremental backups to adjust for changes.

The most common recommendation is to complete full backups every month, and incremental backups every week. 

Ultimately though, you should choose a backup frequency that works for your business and will give you the best head-start if you need to rely on that backup.

Some things to consider when choosing a backup schedule:

  • The data on each computer or device, its importance, and how frequently it changes.
  • The chances of something happening to your computer or device.
  • The amount of data you could lose and still be able to operate effectively.

The more critical the data is to your business, and the less data you could afford to lose and still be able to operate, the more frequently you should backup.

For example, if you have a computer that only provides read-only access to historical records that never change, and each backup would be identical, then full backups each month probably aren’t the best use of your time.

However, if you use one laptop for your entire business and you’re prone to forgetting it at coffee shops, then at least daily incremental backups are a good idea.

 

Not creating offsite backups

In today’s world of access to the Internet everywhere and always-available online services, it’s easy to forget that the real world is fallible.

Fires, floods, natural disasters, break-ins, and thefts can and do happen.

Believe it or not, storing a backup in an offsite location could be your saving grace in one of these situations. It won’t help you avoid any of these issues, but the moment your office suffers a fire, or all your computers stolen, you’ll be glad you have another copy of your data elsewhere. 

 

Not creating offline backups

Just a few years ago, creating backups and storing them on a network-connected storage drive was sufficient. 

However, with ransomware steadily increasing (XX% in 2019!), things have changed.

These days, if you were to leave your backup on a network-connected computer, and your network becomes infected with ransomware, that ransomware could end up encrypting your backup. 

If that happens, you’d be unable to restore your computer using that backup. You’d be in the same situation as if you didn’t backup at all.

Talk about a waste of time!

The best way to protect against this is to keep a copy of your backups offline. Not just on a computer or device that is powered off, either. But on a device (such as a portable hard-drive) that is unplugged from power and your network.

That way, there is a reduced chance of the backups accidentally being encrypted in a ransomware infection because someone turned on or plugged in the backup drive.

 

Not testing backups

Of those that do backups, few test those backups.

When I say testing backups, I don’t mean testing that your backups are completing successfully, but testing that the backups you’ve made are going to work to restore your computer. 

That way, when you need them, you know they’re going to work, and you can quickly restore and get back to business.

Don’t wait to test your backups when you need to restore!

 

Not encrypting backups

One final thing you’re probably doing wrong with your backups is encryption. If your backups include any confidential or sensitive information, it’s essential to encrypt them before they’re stored. 

The main reason here is loss or theft. If the hard drive containing your backups is stolen or lost, there is a reduced chance of your confidential or sensitive information getting into the wrong hands.

 

Conclusion

Now while most the backups here are dependent on your risk level, many of them are essential regardless.

Are you doing backups correctly? Leave a comment here and let me know if you are going to be adding anything to what you do for backups!

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Solve the top cybersecurity risk by doing this one thing

Do you know what the top cybersecurity risk for many organizations is?top cybersecurity risk

If you said patching, vulnerability management, or email, you’d be wrong.

The top cybersecurity risk for many organizations is the human factor. 

Yet, for many organizations, working on the human factor and embedding cybersecurity into your people’s decision-making process is always left for “another day.”

 

Why should you build a culture of cybersecurity?

 

In cybersecurity, we’re used to being reactive. Cleaning up a malware infection, regaining control of an account that an employee gave away the credentials for, the list goes on.

A culture of cybersecurity is all about being proactive. Just like we’re used to doing in our safety culture.

What if employees were empowered to think cyber-secure before they act, never compromise cybersecurity for quick results, and apply cyber-secure practices in every task completed?

Would this proactive approach give you better confidence that your business is cyber-secure?

If you’re still on the fence, consider this:

Proofpoint, a cybersecurity and compliance company, found in its 2019 Human Factor report that 99% of the cyber attacks they analyzed required human interaction to execute.

That means that of the attacks they analyzed, only 1% didn’t require someone in the organization to take some action. Imagine if we could stop just some of these actions. Would that reduce our risk?

By encouraging employees to report unsafe cybersecurity practices, we can also reduce the risk of internal threats as well. In 2018, the numbers were climbing when it comes to internal threats, too: 54% more organizations recorded a growth of insider threats in 2018 (ENISA Threat Landscape Report 2018).

 

We’re not talking about just writing a policy and having the CEO promote it at the quarterly town hall. 

 

We’re talking about working to ensure everyone includes cybersecurity in every decision they make.

That includes everyone from the CEO, down to the front-line workers.

Encourage the cyber secure and cyber-safe behaviors you see and take action to implement corrective actions for the cyber-unsafe practices you also see.

 

Leadership modeling cybersecurity solidifies buy-in.

 

One common misconception is that cybersecurity is just for the “workers.” Unfortunately, everyone in an organization plays a collective role in the organizations’ cybersecurity.

Any effective culture stems from employee buy-in. However, to achieve that buy-in, employees need to feel that the desired outcome is believed and practiced by leaders in the organization.

Leaders are the ones who set tone in an organization. They model what is acceptable and valued in an organization. In other words, you need to practice what you preach. If leaders require employees to practice good cybersecurity behaviors, then leaders should as well.

Understanding this from the executive level will remove the barriers in promoting and enforcing the culture change and demonstrate that doing work in a cyber-secure manner is a priority from the top down.

 

Why should I start from the top? Why can’t I delegate building a culture of cybersecurity?

 

Many organizations delegate the task of cybersecurity to a team within IT. From there, that team will implement the “task” of increasing the organization’s awareness of cybersecurity through usually one yearly awareness training exercise.

The issue with this approach is that cybersecurity made into a compliance task. A task to quickly complete the yearly training module, and then it’s back to the old habits.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that cybersecurity is a process of continuous improvement, just like other organizational issues such as safety. Why not continuously monitor and promote good cybersecurity behaviors year-round, and reinforce those that are going to protect your employees and your company?

Not only that, but cybersecurity needs to be taken into account in all decisions, and coaching right from the top down. Having the executive level down to the front-line workers participating ensures no gaps are leaving you vulnerable.

 

How can I begin creating a culture of cybersecurity in my business?

 
Develop a system to encourage positive cybersecurity behaviors and correct negative behaviors

It can be built effectively by using the same approach as done with safety. Encourage the cyber secure and cyber-safe behaviors you see and discuss the practices and corrective actions that are not.

 

Include cybersecurity in performance reviews

Document how active employees are at practicing good cybersecurity behaviors in their daily work within their performance reviews and include KPIs to measure.

Different than the usual generic compliance training, this allows the employee and their leader to identify specific gaps and find training specific to those topics.

 

Provide mandatory cybersecurity training for new hires.

Not everyone that comes into your organization is going to have top-notch cybersecurity skills. Including cybersecurity in new-hire training can help ensure all employees start at a baseline. It is also the first place where you can educate on how to report suspicious behavior or incidents, and get help.

 

Implement cyber-safety moments

Do you have safety moments at the beginning of your meetings? Encourage the addition of cyber-safety moments.

What’s critical here is to provide a copious amount of cyber-safety moments for your employees to use. The more comfortable you make it for people, the higher the probability it will catch on. 

Plus, they’ll still be learning even if they didn’t come up with the cyber-safety moment.

What are some cyber-safety moments you could write?

  • Basic hygiene (Examples are: passwords, emails)
  • Examples of publicly-reported breaches or near-misses in your industry, or related industries
  • Success stories in avoiding breaches or cyber incidents due to the action of employees in your business reporting suspicious activities or practicing cyber-safe behaviors
 
Mentor top-level management, and business leaders 

As we’ve mentioned above, culture change starts with everyone living and breathing it, from the top down.

Educate management and leaders on good cybersecurity behaviors. Actively mentor them on implementing these behaviors in their daily work and mentoring their direct reports to do the same.

 

Summing it up

 

If you’re looking to start combating the top cybersecurity risk of the human factor in your organization, developing a culture of cybersecurity is one way to work towards it.

Have you developed a culture of cybersecurity in your business?

 

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Do You Have a Cybersecurity New Year’s Resolution?

new year resolution

The new year is here. You’ve already started working toward your New Year resolution for this year. Did you include a cybersecurity resolution?

If not, why not? 

If nothing else, what we’ve seen from the past few years is that with the increasing amount of information about ourselves that we share online, and with the rate cybercrime is increasing, it’s only becoming more critical that we protect ourselves. 

Regardless of who you are, what you do, or how much you use the Internet and connected devices, cybersecurity shouldn’t be an afterthought. 

So why not use a New Year’s resolution to make some headway on your cybersecurity?

Why add cybersecurity as a New Year’s resolution?

No doubt, you already knew that creating New Year’s resolutions could be useful. One reason for this is because the new year feels like a fresh start and a clean slate.  

We already have the sense that the new year is an opportunity to enact whatever change or self-improvement we desire.

If you’re not so sure a New Year resolution is useful, consider this study conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton.

They found that at six months into the new year, 46% of the people they studied who made a New Year’s resolution were continuously successful compared to only 4% of those who did not.

They found that those who made a New Year resolution were ten times more likely to achieve the changes they set out to make compared to those who wanted to change but didn’t create a one.

Another reason is that a New Year’s resolution also affords us the time to plan and easily track on any calendar. Are you halfway to your goal in June? Not sure how long you have left – Total the months or days left in the year!

What to Choose for a New Year’s Resolution

Especially if you’re only starting to work on your cybersecurity this year, choosing a resolution can seem daunting. Where the heck do you start?

One good starting point is to look at an area of your cybersecurity that you haven’t focused on much. Choose one thing from that area to focus on that you know will help improve your cybersecurity.

Another good starting point is to complete a cybersecurity assessment or have a look at one you’ve done previously. Choose one of the higher-rated items to focus on for your resolution this year.

4 New Year Resolution Ideas

A cybersecurity resolution can be but doesn’t need to be lofty. If you’re still stuck, think about starting with something simple like the new year resolution ideas below:

  • Make a complex password for every new password created this year; Change all your passwords to be different at every site and keeping them that way. Have a hard time remembering passwords? Check out: Two Simple Tips to Remembering Passwords
  • Review the configuration of all existing and new devices bought during the year (the wireless router included!) to ensure the security settings are set as secure as possible.
  • Read and review each of the Terms of Service and Privacy policies for all of all cloud and online services you use to understand how they affect your security and your privacy.
  • Review every social media post to make sure none reveal anything they shouldn’t.

It’s important to remember that when choosing a resolution, it should be realistic, specific, and something that you know you can achieve. Even if it’s lofty, it should still meet these criteria.

A New Year Resolution Needs a Plan

Of course, a New Year resolution by itself isn’t going to get us anywhere. They require work to achieve success, and a great way to achieve success is to plan!

Once you’ve decided on what your New Year’s resolution is going to be, the next step is to set up some goals.

When we set up our resolutions each year, we like to break them down into multiple SMART goals, each of which we intend to meet throughout the year.

Setting SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound

Specific

The goal has a particular outcome in mind and isn’t something general. 

For example, if you’re going to change your passwords to be different at every website, then your goal could be specific by saying that you’re going to change 4 per month.

Measurable

You can write down concrete criteria to measure your progress towards the goal.

For example, you can note the running total of how many passwords you’ve changed, or note down 12 groups of 4 and cross them off as you work on them each month.

Attainable

Being attainable means that the goal is one that you are reasonably confident that you can achieve. It also helps if the goal is something you have control over. If not, the goal could become much harder to attain or become unreachable entirely by factors out of your control.

It can also help if the goal is something you have control over.

For example, stating that you’re going to change all your passwords in 1 month when you know you won’t have the time or the task itself seems daunting might leave you frustrated and without the motivation to continue. On the other hand, stating that you’ll change four might make the goal much more obtainable.

Realistic

The goal is something you are not only able to work towards but one that matters to you and that you are willing to put effort towards until it’s complete.

For example, you aren’t too concerned about the strength of your passwords, changing four each month might slowly slide down the to-do list until it eventually sits at the bottom for the rest of the year.

Time-Bound

The goal needs to be bound to a timeline. Setting a timeframe to your goal not only creates a sense of urgency around reaching the target, but also provides a marker to march toward and aspire to achieve.

For example, if you’re changing all your passwords, not only will all the changes be completed by a specific date, but commit to changing a number by the 15th of each month.

How Many Goals Do I Need?

The number of goals you want to set is entirely up to you. 

We like to break down our resolutions into several smaller goals that we can achieve during the year. It gives us measurable results at shorter intervals and helps us keep the motivation by seeing the small achievements along the way.

Let’s make this the year you do something about your cybersecurity

Make a security resolution, set some goals, and follow-through. The return on your investment of effort may not be as immediate as you’d like. However, when you do see that return and avoid becoming compromised in a cyber-attack, you’ll be glad you took the time to put in the effort. 

Have you made New Year’s resolutions to improve your cybersecurity this year?

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Free Email Course – Jumpstart Your Cyber Security

The new year is all about making changes to have a better year ahead.

If you’re looking to start the year off by starting to get the year off right by learning how to improve cybersecurity, then we have something that might help!

We are proud to announce the launch of our new free email course, Jumpstart Your Cyber Security!

We’ve been busy putting the finishing touches on it and are excited to launch it to help anyone jumpstart their cybersecurity!

In the course you’ll learn:

  • How to improve your passwords while making them easier to remember
  • An easy way to avoid one of the barriers to creating and using strong passwords
  • One way to make your password logins even stronger
  • How to click with confidence and know when an email is out to get you

Sound great? Exactly what you need? Perfect!

To signup and begin receiving the email course, click on the following link and enter your email address!

Click Here to Register for the Jumpstart Your Cyber Security email course!

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3 Mindset Shifts to Improve Your Cybersecurity

I’m sure it’s not surprising that cybersecurity isn’t a destination, but a process of continuous improvement that’s always evolving.

If cybersecurity is constantly evolving, then how could we possibly learn how to keep ourselves cyber secure?

By using a mindset shift

Shifting away from looking at cybersecurity as a task to be completed, or a problem to be solved and towards a continuous process of analyzing whatever situation we find ourselves in along the way and making the best cybersecurity choices.

Does that seem crazy?

Mindset shifts to improve your cybersecurity? Doesn’t make much sense, right?

Think about your personal safety in the real world. Do you put a lock on your front door and call yourself safe? Or do you analyze if its safe to cross the street, make that left turn in your car, or jump off that cliff into the lake below?

Some of this analyzing might be second nature or subconscious, sure. But you’re still analyzing each situation and making a call based on the safety risks you find.

The goal is to begin doing the same for cybersecurity and shift our mindset to thinking this way.

There are three mind shifts we need to make. What exactly are they? Lets look at them below:

 

Mind Shift #1: Stop thinking of cybersecurity as tools and methods

Most of the traditional cybersecurity advice includes what tools and methods you should be employing right now. Tools such as Antivirus or Multi-Factor Authentication and methods such as how to identify phishing emails are all important.

While these are good right now, at the end of the day they’re all solutions designed to reduce certain cyber risks. They’ll also change as technology or your situation changes.

How do you know how many tools and methods you need, and which ones are applicable to your situation? How do you know how much security is acceptable?

The first mind shift is to understand that cybersecurity tools and methods are solutions to reduce certain risks, such as flu shots are solutions to reduce your chances of getting the flu, or seat belts are a solution to reduce your chances of getting seriously hurt in a car accident.

 

Mind Shift #2: Start thinking of cybersecurity the same way we think of safety

You wouldn’t leave your home with the front door unlocked, leave your tax returns or personal documents in a public place or cross the street without looking to ensure its safe to do so. So why would you do that on the Internet?

Just as we evaluate each situation we find ourselves in to ensure we’re safe in the real world, we need to shift our perception of cybersecurity from the idea that we can’t “see” the risks, so we don’t need to worry about them to the idea that even though we can’t “see” any cyber risks, there are still some there and we need to be able to identify them for ourselves.

 

Mind Shift #3: Not everyone has the same risk or cybersecurity needs

While everyone has the potential to be a victim of cybercrime, the more we share, communicate and integrate our lives and businesses with the internet the more we open up ourselves to the risk of being caught up in cybercrime.

While for most of us the risk is manageable, there are many factors which can increase your risk level and make you a more appealing target to cybercriminals. Some of those factors include:

      • Wealth
      • Business Status
      • Publicity, Fame or large social media followings
      • Frequent travel
      • Internet-connected  Technologies or Internet of Things (IoT)
      • Business or domestic employees

The traditional cybersecurity advice intends to cast the widest net as possible and secure the most people possible. The goal of the third mind shift is for you to understand what your personal situation is, and what in your life might be exposing you to cybersecurity risk. Then you can employ the tools and to reduce the risk most applicable to you.

Of course, the list above isn’t exhaustive. It’s meant to get you thinking and considering all aspects of what could impact your cybersecurity, both online and offline.

So, how can we shift our mindset? Stay tuned for our next post!

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6 Factors That Can Increase Your Cybersecurity Risk

The Internet has become a mainstay in our lives in recent years. With that trend, it should be no surprose that there are some factors that can increase your cybersecurity risk.

While everyone has the potential to be a victim of cybercrime, not everyone has the same chances. The more we share, communicate and integrate our lives and businesses with the internet, the more we increase our chances.

While for most of us the risk is manageable, there are many factors that can increase your cybersecurity risk level and make you a more appealing target.

#1 Your Wealth

It should be no surprise that cyber attackers are interested in those with lots of wealth. While there are other motivations, one motivation of cyber attackers is financial gain. Those with obvious wealth are prime targets because it signals that there is a high chance of a good payday.

#2 Your business status

Companies usually have significant resources to dedicate to protecting themselves. 

Cyber attackers are keying into this. Instead of attacking companies directly, they are turning their focus to key individuals within those companies. Key individuals are those which have the access, authority or influence to help carry out the cyber attackers’ intentions.

These roles may be in the target company itself, such as executives, finance or accounting, IT, vendor relations, etc.

They could also be at other companies related to the target, such as trusted partners which could be used as a gateway.

#3 Publicity or Fame

If you are a public or famous individual, there are the people who love you and those that don’t love you as much. 

Especially if you create photos or videos for social media, revealing too much information even only a couple of times can give a cyber attacker enough to put the pieces together.

This goes further than your location as well. Confidential and personal information could be hiding in the background of photos or videos.

#4 Frequent Travel

Nowadays we’re so connected, almost any coffee shop, restaurant, and hotel now offers free WiFi. However, cyber attackers are wise to our need to stay connected.

There is the possibility they could be monitoring the WiFi and stealing the information going across it. They could be sitting behind you reading your screen over your shoulder. They could even be stealing your devices out of your hotel room while you’re out enjoying the pool.

#5 Lots of Tech

Lots of unsecured internet-connected or IoT (Internet of Things) tech can be a haven for cyber attackers. They can use them to create botnets, as a foothold in your network, or as they were intended (such as a camera) to monitor your movements.

#6 Employees

Even though employees may not have the same access, authority or influence as an some in an organization or household, they can still be a target. A cyber attacker can use them to access your network. They could use them to access those that do have access, authority or influence, or to achieve the cyber attackers’ goals by other means.

Regardless of whether they’re business or domestic employees, a cyber attacker can use them to obtain information and access to you or your network.

Whatever you do online could impact your finances, reputation, career, business and even personal safety. Protecting yourself and being mindful of the factors which can increase your cybersecurity risk can help you reduce the chances of getting caught up in cybercrime.

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Here’s Why You Need to Level-Up Your Cybersecurity This Year

Remember the days when a household would have one computer, and that was only if you were fortunate enough to have one?!

The days when we didn’t do much on a computer other than sending emails with funny cat pictures, and motivational sayings? When leveling-up your cybersecurity wasn’t much of a concern?

Today the average household has not only one, but a growing number of connected devices. A survey in 2016 by Business Insider estimated that by 2020, there would be more than 4 devices for every person on earth! (Source)

Not only is the number of devices growing quickly, but they’re growing smarter as well. As they become smarter, do more tasks for us and become a more integral part of our lives, the bigger the consequences could be to you and your business if they were to be hacked, stolen or under the control of an attacker in some way. 

You’re probably thinking:

 “Yeah, so what. I don’t have any sensitive information. Attackers would want to go after a company, not me. I don’t need to level-up my cybersecurity.”

And, partly that is right. Companies would seem like a much more lucrative target.

The problem is…

While we are becoming more tech-savvy, so are cyber attackers. They’ve recognized that while large companies have become better at protecting themselves, individuals haven’t had the same opportunity. 

Cyber attackers are increasingly targeting individuals because it is easier, more profitable, and requires less investment. The chances of their attack failing are also much lower than going up against the defenses of a company.

Ok, but what if you think you don’t have any sensitive information? Should I still level-up my cybersecurity?

 

#1 Not all sensitive information is obvious

With convenience comes a lot of sensitive information, though not all of it is obvious. 

Not all of this information is what information give to a device or store on a device (such as your email or passwords). But what these devices collect as well (such as your location, or usage patterns).

 

#2 Attackers aren’t just after your information anymore

While they will take any sensitive information they can get from you to resell later, your information isn’t the only thing attackers are after. 

They may want you to do something for them. Such as initiating a fraudulent payment transfer or purchase gift cards and send them the numbers on the card.

They may not want anything from you at all, but instead, use your access and influence for another goal. If you are a trusted partner or executive of a business, they may use your influence to get that business to re-route payments to the attackers’ bank account. They could also use your accounts to publicly humiliate or damage your reputation.

They could even just use your devices as a jumping-off point in part of a larger attack.

 

#3 Being cyber-aware is becoming an advantage

Employers are becoming more concerned with their employees’ susceptibility to cyber-attacks. Some even review social media as part of the hiring process. 

It is also only a matter of time before customers start to prefer companies who are cyber secure or cyber aware.

Being cyber secure yourself will ensure that your online presence doesn’t reveal more than you’d like. It’ll also enable you to translate that cybersecurity to your job or business and do your part in keeping what you do for a living cyber secure.

 

#4 Setting and forgetting doesn’t work – technology and attacks are constantly changing

Being cyber secure isn’t just changing your passwords once, or buying antivirus and forgetting about it. 

Whatever tools and tactics we use to keep ourselves cyber secure today won’t be the same in another decade, nor will cyber attackers be using the same tactics against us either.  It is about being able to adapt and evolve your cybersecurity as situations and technologies change and evolve. 

 

#5 No cybersecurity is perfect, stuff will fail

Of course, no cybersecurity is perfect. Good cybersecurity practices will help you create a plan for what to do when everything fails. When your passwords are stolen or information is breached and help decrease the stress when this happens because you have a plan to respond.

It’s no surprise that cyber attackers are becoming more tech-savvy and are increasingly targeting individuals. Protecting yourself and being mindful of your cybersecurity can help you reduce the chances that whatever you do online could impact your finances, reputation, career, business, and even personal safety.

Are you planning to level-up your cybersecurity this year?

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Don’t Let Your Connected Devices Ruin Your Holidays

Ah, December.

It’s the time of year when we go out and buy our friends, family and even ourselves (You know you’ve done it!!) brand new computers, phones, and *insert gizmo here*.

Connected devices, wearables, drones, and so many other tech gadgets are all making the holidays much more fun.

However if not configured or set up correctly, these devices could put your personal security and privacy at risk.  They could even expose important personal and financial information.

Default credentials

Many of these devices are shipped with default usernames and passwords. This means that the default username and password combination is well-known by the manufacturer, and support people. It may even be written in documentation posted on the Internet.

Yikes. Because of this, it is important to change the default password and even the username, if you can.

If the device will allow you to use a passphrase, then even better! This will prevent anyone from being able to access your device if someone gets on your home network, or if it accidentally gets connected right to the internet.

If your device also connects to the cloud or an online component (i.e. you log into the manufacturers’ website to use it) its a good idea to change this password as well!

Default configurations

Normally the default configurations these devices are shipped in, are ready for you to use immediately. This means that any barrier to the shortest setup-and-go has been turned off.

Often most security features may be turned off, or be optional. It’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with all the features of your new device – security and otherwise. Acquainting yourself will help in understanding what the implications to your personal security and privacy are when each one is turned on and off. Then make the decision on which ones to turn on.

Some devices will also include administration portals or some advanced network administration tools. If you don’t have any intent to use these, turn them off. This will ensure an attacker can’t use them.

Connected directly to the Internet

Most connected devices out there aren’t mean to be connected directly to the Internet.

It’s easy to assume that when you plug the cable into your Internet router or connect the device to your home WiFi that it is only accessible to your home network.

Have you ever actually checked?

It’s important to understand what the internet needs are for your device and make sure that your router and network is configured properly. Any extra port forwarding or other settings are removed if not required.

If your device is accidentally left accessible on the Internet it could be easily accessed or hacked. This could expose important personal and financial information, be used as a gateway to access or hack other devices or computers in your home, or be used as a staging ground to hack others.

Two things that can also be overlooked here. First, ensure you’re using a strong passphrase or password on your wireless network. A weak one will only put your connected devices (and everything else on your network) at risk.

Second, do not put your devices on a guest or public WiFi network. Where devices are concerned, these networks can be just as bad as the internet.

Cloud connectivity

Devices now often include some type of cloud connection capabilities within them. This capability could be for extra features, or at times is required to use the device.

When you have a device that includes cloud connectivity, it’s important to understand what information is being sent to the cloud. This is to ensure you know what it’s being used for and how it’s being protected.

If your device is collecting personal, location or other sensitive information and it isn’t protected well, there is a risk it could be lost in a breach.

Start by reading any manuals that came with the device, the manufacturer’s website and Terms of Service and Privacy Policy documents, to start.

Ensure other computers and phones are secure

Do you connect to your device via an app on your phone, or from your computer?

If an attacker can compromise your other computers, they can take advantage of them to then attack your connected devices.

Update your connected devices

Check if the manufacturer of your device releases software or firmware updates. If they do, update the software and firmware as often as possible.

Software and firmware are only as good as the humans who create them. It’s easy for humans to accidentally introduce errors and security holes while writing software. Because of this, when manufacturers find these errors, they normally create an update to fix the issue. Updating the software allows you to get these fixes and plug any holes that an attacker could use.

It also will ensure you have the latest set of security features. Sometimes additional features can be released after you’ve purchased the device.

Wrapping it up

Connected devices are becoming much more popular. Not only are they fun, but they can make life much easier. However, they need to be used smartly. If they also collect personal or sensitive information or are left unsecured, they could be putting your online security and privacy at risk.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

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How to: Online Shopping With Confidence

These days, online shopping is becoming more often than not the go-to method for shopping for virtually anything.

Not only is it convenient that you can shop right from the comfort of your couch, but you can look up the best options around the world for whatever you’re interested in, just to make sure you’re getting the best price.

Of course, you also get to skip the crowds and long lines if you’re shopping during the holiday season.

Even though shopping online is getting much more common-place, it’s important not to get too comfortable.

There is a lot more personal and financial information involved when you’re shopping as opposed to when you’re only browsing the news, for example.

So, what should you do when shopping to ensure you’re doing it safely?

Don’t shop on public WiFi

I know it’s tempting to get a bit of shopping done while you have a few minutes of free WiFi while you’re sipping on your morning coffee at the coffee shop, however, this could put you at risk.

It’s easy for others to snoop on your traffic, capture your credit card number and even your passwords. Even if you think you’re using a secure connection.

Don’t shop on insecure websites

Any time you’re entering a credit card number or any other sensitive information, it’s always good to ensure you’re sending it over a secure connection. That way, anyone who is snooping on you can’t actually see the information you’re sending.

How do you do that? By first checking in the address bar (that’s the box you enter the website address you want to go to) that https:// comes before the address of the site you’re visiting.

Second check if there is a green lock to the left of the address bar or near the bottom of your browser (the actual placement depends on your browser).

Thirdly – and this is an important step – ensure that the whole website URL after the https:// is exactly what you are expecting, and it isn’t misspelled. It’s become much easier for people to register dubious domain names that look like the original but are in fact fake website and have them be legitimately secure.

Keep an eye out for scams

if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

There are always a large number of scam sites out there, and they seem to always intensify around major shopping holidays around the world.

Don’t “save your info for later”

If the website you are shopping on gives you the option to save your credit card number or other personal information for later, it might be best to decline.

Why? Because this means the website has your information on file. If they happen to be breached for whatever reason, there is a good chance your credit card number or other information could be compromised as well.

This can become quite an inconvenient. Especially if you don’t find out about the breach for a while.

Watch your email

During all of the big shopping seasons, spammers like to take advantage and send malicious emails and texts that appear to be coming from somewhere you may have made a purchase in order to steal your information or infect your machine.

Be smart and if there is any doubt about the email or text, don’t trust it and go directly to the real website instead.

Also, if the email you received is from a website you normally buy things from, consider whether this is a normal email you’d expect from them. If not, it might be a scam.

For more tips on detecting phishing, click here

Stick to the familiar spots

Just like other industries, the online retailing industry isn’t immune to phishing websites being set up to lure you into providing your personal information. Stick to shopping on websites you know are reputable and can trust.

This trust also goes farther than just being confident that they’ll deliver you the product you purchased.
Check their terms of service and privacy policy to see if they are also selling or aggregating your personal information after your purchase.

If you want to branch out, check them out

If you must use a new shopping website before you make a purchase or hand over any information be sure to check out the website and company.

Find ratings and reviews that you know you can trust. Do other people like them? Are there any reputable reviews who did receive what they ordered? How was their experience?

Do they have terms of service, privacy and return policies? Check if these raise any red flags.

All in all, online shopping can save you tons of time and even provide more selection and variety. However, there are those out there who would like nothing more than to take advantage of your comfort with shopping online to con you into handing over your hard earned money or your personal information.

That shouldn’t cause any stress, though. With a little due diligence and by being careful with how and where you shop, you can shop with the confidence that not only did you get a great deal, but you did it while protecting your information and your wallet.

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Second Factor Tokens are a Pain. So Why Use them?

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a friend.

 

Their bank had just told them they had to add their phone number to their bank account.

 

This was in order for the bank to send them a text message with a code to their phone to input along with their password, every time they logged in to the bank via the web or a mobile device.

 

What are Second Factor Tokens?

You may have seen this before. Second Factor tokens can also be called a one-time-password, 2-Step Verification, or Two Factor Authentication (2FA).

 

Second-factor tokens are a part of Multifactor authentication – a way of confirming you are who you say you are when you log in. It requires you to provide two (or more) pieces of evidence (commonly called factors) to prove it is really you. The two pieces of evidence have to be two of these three: something that you know, something that you have in your possession and something that you are.

 

If you haven’t guessed it yet, your password normally qualifies as something that you know and is your first factor. Second-factor tokens provide evidence for something in your possession and are normally your second factor.

 

These tokens can range from physical devices you have to plug into your computer or place near your computer, to numerical codes (obtained from an app or physical device resembling a key fob) that you enter after your username and password.

 

There are even some newer solutions don’t even give you a code at all.. they just prompt you to approve or deny a request to login via an app on your phone.

 

They don’t exactly make things easier

Not surprisingly, they were not very happy about this change.

 

Multifactor Authentication means an extra step and more things you need to keep track of and worry about when logging in.

 

They almost seemed as if they were telling me about this, expecting me to take their side.

 

To say “of course how could the bank do that horrible thing?!”

 

But do you know what I did?

 

I said, “that’s great!”

 

They were so shocked!

 

While I had to agree with them that the codes are annoying, the thing is, they are very effective.

 

For those who don’t use these one-time codes often, or if they’re completely new,

 

  • they can be very annoying and frustrating, as they’re one more thing you have to deal with
  • If they send the code to your phone, and you don’t have your phone, it presents another problem
  • If you’re not technologically savvy, it’s one more piece of technology to deal with.

 

So what exactly is the purpose of using them?

If they’re so annoying, then what is the purpose of using them? How are they different than the security questions we already use? Why can’t we just continue using the security questions?

 

In short, because passwords alone just aren’t good enough anymore on their own and with the amount of information we share on social media, security questions are just too easy to guess.

 

Not everyone uses long and complex passwords, and even if you’re someone who does there is still the possibility of your password being compromised in a breach.

 

A second-factor token helps in that if your password is compromised, knowing your password alone isn’t enough information for an attacker to login to your account. They still need the code you have, or for you to tap the “approve” button on your app.

 

So while this whole second-factor authentication thing might seem like a nuisance, its actually meant to help you secure your logins better.

 

Second Factor tokens still aren’t completely foolproof.

Although, like other things,second-factor tokens aren’t a silver bullet. For example, if you receive a code via a text message, someone could impersonate you to your cell phone provider. Doing this, they can obtain a new SIM card that has your phone number tied to it. Then a request is made for the code and because they now control your phone number, it’d be sent directly to them instead of you.

 

Of course, your information on the service is only as secure as the security the service has in place. Even if your password is top-notch and you use second-factor tokens, your information can still be compromised if the service itself is compromised.

 

Still, these types of codes do provide much more security for your login than a password alone.

 

Speaking of passwords…

While second-factor tokens do help, it doesn’t mean you can become lazy with your passwords. Long, complex and strong passwords are still important!

 

If you’re struggling with creating long and strong passwords and remembering them, we have a few tips for that: Two Simple Tips to Remembering Passwords

 

How do I get a second-factor token?

Unfortunately, second-factor tokens aren’t something you can just get for yourself. Multifactor authentication and second-factor tokens have to be supported and by whatever service you’re logging into and does take a bit of setup.

 

However, more services these days do support some type of two-factor authentication. The website at twofactorauth.org maintains a list of many services which support multi-factor authentication and second-factor tokens.

 

To find out if your service does support second-factor tokens, try looking in their help documentation. If all else fails, reach out to the company and ask! They may also be able to provide some instructions for how to set it up, too.

 

Long story short…

While second-factor tokens may seem like a nuisance, they are actually meant to help. They can help username and password become stronger and more resilient to hacks and data breaches.

 

However, while they do add to the password you already use, they should be used as a compliment. Not as a replacement to your password.

 

Do you have second-factor tokens setup for all your logins?

 

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