One of the biggest hurdles to better security is the commonly held perception that it takes a lot of time to implement security best practices. It seems that every day, cybercriminals are finding new ways to compromise identities and commit fraud, and the average consumer can feel helpless to take the simple, but necessary steps to protect themselves.
Despite the rapidly evolving state of cybercrime, it is still true that the average consumer can take small yet high-impact steps to keep their digital identities secure. Here are some tried and true security measures, which won't take more than five minutes, and can help you up your security. Consider this a spring-cleaning for your Internet profiles:
- Turn on two-factor authentication on your online email and financial accounts: If you're not familiar, two-factor authentication means adding a second step to your normal login procedure. Where normally logging in only requires a username and password, enabling two-factor authentication will require another credential, such as a PIN or a biometric scan, before gaining access. By making the login process harder through incorporating this additional step, your account becomes more difficult (and less tempting) for cyber criminals to access. It's an extra step for you, but for these high value accounts, the added level of security is worth the time.
- Create strong passwords for your financial and email accounts: After examining millions of breached passwords from 2015, SplashData determined that the worst passwords from 2015 were "123456" and "password." Both passwords have topped SplashData's list for the past five years. Take a few minutes to ensure none of your passwords made the ranks and if they did, change them now. For the strongest passwords, make sure they are at least 12 characters long, and are a cryptic combination of letters and numbers. Also, take care to avoid using easy-to-guess passwords, like your name, birthday, or pet's name.
- Say yes to automatic software updates: Many users consider notifications about new software updates to be a nuisance. What you may not know is that software updates usually address security vulnerabilities. Keeping your system updated with the newest patches is vital to stay protected from malicious activity. The next time you see an update notification, click yes or make it easy on yourself and set your system to automatically update.
- Remove your birth year from your Facebook page: Many do not realize that their date of birth is a valuable piece of personally identifiable information (PII), or information which can be used to distinguish your identity. With your PII, hackers can commit fraudulent activities, including guessing the answers to your account security questions or making purchases using your account. By removing your birth year from your public profile, you add another layer of protection against fraud.
- While you're on Facebook, check your privacy settings: While most posts are harmless, social media over-sharing can put you at risk for identity theft by providing clues to your current location and PII. Check your privacy settings across all platforms, and make sure to update them every few months.
These simple, yet vital security practices can help protect your personal information. I encourage everyone to stay informed about emerging trends in cyber security and best practices for consumers. While it is true that cybercriminals continue to hone their abilities and attacks are becoming more sophisticated, consumers must realize that keeping their digital identity secure is still largely in their hands.