2020 has been one of the worst years ever with the blast in Beirut, fires in Abu Dhabi, Earth Quakes in Turkey, destructive floods in Indonesia, US-Iran crisis, Amazon rainforest wildfires, and the most dangerous of all — COVID-19 Pandemic. It’s almost as if calamity has struck every corner of the world.
And with this, we have seen a huge rise of people being more digitally connected than ever; indulging in remote working, online shopping, and video calling to keep things afloat. One of the biggest issues of this increased reliance on the digital world is that cyberattacks have skyrocketed, taking advantage of the general fear and uncertainty that the global pandemic has instilled in the minds of people.
From phishing attacks, ransomware, to online identity thefts, cybercriminals have taken this opportunity of the coronavirus pandemic to boost their malicious activities, both in scope and frequency. The FBI has reported receiving as many as 4,000 complaints in their Cyber Division per day.
This is a 400% increase in ransomware attacks since covid-19 became a pandemic. From the perspective of criminals, this unfortunate situation is like stepping on a gold mine, and with that, it has now become more important than ever to become more vigilant about your cybersecurity.
Here are 12 steps to increase your cybersecurity and protect your data from prying eyes, viruses, and malicious entities.
- Implement Two-Factor Authentication. Even if you are not security conscious about your email address and personal accounts, it is always a good idea to implement Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) on all avenues. It typically adds an extra layer of verification like a One-Time-Password (OTP) sent to your smartphone. You have to enter that code (valid for a limited time) to log in.
- Always Use Strong Passwords. There are a few protocols to follow when creating passwords for your accounts. This includes using variations of symbols, numbers, and lower/upper case letters, never copying the same password on different accounts and generally avoiding adding any predictable details in passwords. Bear in mind, cybercriminals have a lot of experience cracking weak passwords, so you have to be clever than them. Use a Password Manager to manage all your passwords.
- Install an Anti-Malware and Antivirus. Almost all internet-enabled devices, be it your smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet are vulnerable to being hacked, affected by malware/viruses, and dangerous spyware attacks. If you want to receive protection from them, you need to invest in a reliable Antivirus, Anti-Spyware, and Anti-Malware software. For Android, these are some tools that can help your personal security.
- Update All Your Devices/Applications. After installing the operating system, different applications, and network configurations, most people either turn off “automatic updates” or forget to keep their devices up to date with the latest patches, bug fixes, and product enhancements. Don’t make this mistake and make sure you actively implement software and system security updates to avoid being exposed to malicious entities and vulnerabilities.
- Decommission All Unused Services. If you upgrade to a better device, make sure to decommission the older ones, unless needed. This goes true for other limited-duration products as well. If you are not using them, retire the applications, logins, and user credentials associated with them. This will protect you in the circumstances any product/company suffers from a security breach, exposing your data simply for being associated!
- Avoid Clicking on Suspicious URLs. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the “coronavirus fearware” to introduce COVID-19 themed phishing attacks and ransomware to lure victims. Malwarebytes discovered a clever ploy wherein implemented a variant of the AZORult malware in coronavirus maps. This allowed them to steal data of users visiting the website, hence why it is advised to always look at URL carefully before opening them.
- Use a Security/Privacy Tool like a VPN. In addition to cover all aspects of system security, you need to invest in a reliable solution for online security. This is where a VPN comes in handy, changing your IP address, shifting your location, employing encryption, and assigning you a dynamic IP for protecting your anonymity online. You have to be careful when picking a VPN because providers often make claims that are later found to be false when the VPN is subjected to a thorough review and testing. But, as any unbiased review will show, well-reputed providers like NordVPN generally live up to their promises in terms of the features and performance they have to offer.
- Avoid Connecting to Public Networks. It may seem like a great idea to connect to a public Wi-Fi network when outside. The place could be a bar, restaurant, or a pub. What’s bad about this is that these places are vulnerable to cybercriminals who either hack into these networks or create a phony one, so that you hit the “connect” button and grant them the ability to snoop on your activity. It’s always safer to use your Mobile Data on public Wi-Fi instead.
- Don’t Overshare on Social Media. Many people don’t think before posting their details online, even going as far as adding their home address. Why would you do that? Refrain from publically posting your contact details or any extremely private information on social media, unless you are running a business. Cybercriminals use OSINT (open-source intelligence) to scour social media for potentially telltale information.
- Be Alert When Shopping Online. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have issued state-wide lockdowns with citizens practicing social distancing, as to avoid the spread of the virus. This has directly resulted in people relying on eCommerce websites for getting their groceries and other essentials. If you shop online too, always check the URL. Only open websites that utilize “HTTPS”, as the connection is encrypted via TLS/SSL.
- Inspect All Banking Transactions. If you do shop online a lot, it is vital that you be vigilant about all transactions occurring. In addition to being extra cautious when giving your credit card information online, make sure to inspect all transactions every month. This way, you can quickly take notice of any malicious purchases, and get in touch with the bank instantly. If you report within time, you may even get your money back.
- Don’t Ignore Aspects of Physical Security. Last, but not least, while being so encompassed with cybersecurity, make sure to not overlook simple security risks. In addition to physical restrictions on accessing your private computers/laptops, avoid security lapses like leaving behind your entry/access cards, keeping sensitive documents in the open, leaving crucial information on Whiteboards, or written down passwords on notepads.
It is important to remember that working on your online privacy/security and making adjustments like the ones above are crucial for getting used to the new reality and the tricky cybersecurity atmosphere as of recent. As always, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Now, while these steps above may not get rid of every cyberattack imaginable, you can use them for making yourself a less visible target in the eyes of malicious actors. Therefore, if you have not started implementing them yet, it is high time you do.