Cybersecurity Awareness Month, held annually in October, is a chance for the Case Western Reserve University community to renew our commitment to online safety and device security habits. To that end, the National Cyber Security Alliance has established the theme for this month as “Do your part. #BeCyberSmart.” 

At a time when we are more connected than ever, being “cyber smart” is of the highest importance. Cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated with more evolved bad actors cropping up each day. The Daily has partnered with the Information Security Office to inspire you to stay safe and protected when using technology whenever and however you connect.

The threat of malware or ransomware infesting personal computers and mobile devices, or the threat of exposure of personal data leading to financial loss, can seem overwhelming. Luckily, there are several steps you can take on a daily basis to mitigate risks and stay one step ahead of malefactors. Here are a few quick tips:

Enable multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds a necessary second check to verify your identity when logging in to one of your accounts. By requiring multiple methods of authentication, your account is further protected from being compromised, even if a bad actor hijacks your password or passphrase. In this way, MFAs make it more difficult for password cracking tools to enable attackers to break into accounts. 

If you have not already done so, enroll in Duo and enable MFA on your university account. Make sure to use MFA with your personal accounts using a phone app, such as Google Authenticator (if the website supports it) or with your phone number.

Use strong passphrases

This may seem obvious, but all too often securing strong passphrases/password managers is overlooked. People spending more time online during the pandemic has also contributed to more bad actors prowling for accounts to attack. Using long, complex and unique passwords or passphrases is a good way to stop your account from being hacked. An easy practice to keep track and remember your passwords is to use a personal password manager.

Perform software updates

When a device prompts that it’s time to update the software, it may be tempting to simply click postpone, and ignore the message. However, having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system on devices is one of the best defenses against online threats. Don’t wait—update.

Do your research

Common sense is a crucial part of maintaining good online hygiene; an intuitive step to stay safe online is to do some research before downloading anything new to your device, such as applications. Before downloading any new app on your device, make sure that it’s legitimate and trustworthy by checking who created the app, what the user reviews say and if there are any articles published online about the app’s privacy and security features.

Hover before you click

It’s tempting to trust that every email sent to you is from a trusted friend or colleague, and that every text message with a link is legitimate, but scammers have clever ways of disguising malicious links to look legitimate. 

One of the best techniques in determining if an email is a phishing scam is to hover your mouse over the link to determine the full address. To implement this same technique on a smartphone or tablet, hold your finger down on the link for a couple of seconds. A window will pop up that gives the full link address, so you can see if you are being taken to a site different from the one you expect to visit.  

Check your settings

Double check your privacy and security settings regularly, and be aware who can access your data. This extends from Google docs to Zoom calls, and beyond. For meetings on Zoom, for example, create passwords so only those invited to the session can attend, and restrict who can share their screen or files with the rest of the attendees. For Google docs and other Google apps, check your sharing settings to see who has access to your files and update permissions if others no longer need access.

Follow along throughout the month

Being cyber smart and maintaining rigorous online hygiene is the best way to protect yourself and others from cyber attacks. No single tip is foolproof, but taken together they can make a real difference for taking control of your online presence. Following these tips is also easy, and free. By taking preventive measures and making a habit of practicing online safety, you can decrease your odds of being hacked exponentially—and prevent lost time and money, as well as annoyance. 

Be sure to check the information security awareness website for more tips (and games!) throughout Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and check back in The Daily next week for more information.