How to Make Your Home a Haven for Online Safety
Now that we’re halfway into October, you’ve likely devoured a pumpkin spiced latte or two (it’s tradition, right?), watched your fair share of “spooky” Halloween specials with the family (“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” anyone?), and asked the kiddos numerous times, “What do you want to dress up as for trick-or-treating again?” (only to hear the 11-millionth costume idea).
‘Tis the season of fall!
Today, I’m here to tell you there’s something else we should be jumping into besides a pile of leaves and a bucket of candy: National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.
If you think this sounds like a holiday only the Geek Squad or folks in your IT department should be celebrating, think again — and more importantly read on — because, as noted below, cyber safety starts in the home.
What is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month?
According to the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) – observed every October – was created as a collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure every American has the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online.”
The month is divided into four weekly themes but let’s stick with the “home stuff” today.
Week 1: Oct. 1–5 | Make Your Home a Haven for Online Safety
National Cyber Security Alliance notes on their website:
“Every day, parents and caregivers teach kids basic safety practices ‒ like looking both ways before crossing the street and holding an adult’s hand in a crowded place. Easy-to-learn life lessons for online safety and privacy begin with parents leading the way. Learning good cybersecurity practices can also help set a strong foundation for a career in the industry. With family members using the internet to engage in social media, adjust the home thermostat or shop for the latest connected toy, it is vital to make certain that the entire household ‒ including children – learn to use the internet safely and responsibly and that networks and mobile devices are secure. Week 1 will underscore basic cybersecurity essentials the entire family can deploy to protect their homes against cyber threats.”
The National Cyber Security Alliance is kind enough to give us many resources including a handy-dandy Cyber Safety Starts in the Home infographic (scroll down to view it) which provides us with clear tips to “help make our homes safe digital havens by protecting networks, devices and online lives.”
Love these suggestions and wanted to share my two cent on them as well:
Keep a clean machine
Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats. Remember, mobile phones and tablets need updating too!
Two cents: These things can often be set to update automatically. For example, if you have an iPhone, go to Settings > General > Software Update > Automatic Updates and turn “ON” those automatic updates. Ta-da!
To find out how to do it for your security software, web browser or operating system, Google it and you’ll find tons of info.
Lock down your login
Usernames and passwords are not enough to protect key accounts like email, bank and social media. Improve account security by enabling strong authentication tools such as biometrics or unique one-time codes.
Two cents: Let’s start with biometrics which was a new term for me. To get technical, and according to Techopedia, “Biometric authentication is a user identity verification process that involves biological input, or the scanning or analysis of some part of the body.” To speak in everyday terms, it’s stuff like fingerprint scanners and facial recognition on your smartphone. They’re tough to “hack,” and you don’t have to remember any password.
Next, let’s talk unique one-time codes. These are those 2-step verification processes which require you to enter a unique one-time code when signing to ensure you are well, you! Google Authenticator is one I use for my iPhone, but there are others just as good that provide an additional layer of security upon signing in.
Now, let’s talk passwords. If you find yourself continually clicking “forgot username or password” or worse, use the same password for EVERYTHING, get yourself a password manager. My favorite? 1Password because, as they say, “you only ever need to memorize... one password. All your other passwords and important information are protected behind your Master Password, which only you know.” It works on all your devices and keeps everything neatly in one place like: logins, secure notes, credit cards, identities, passwords, documents, passports, and social security numbers.
Share with care
Think before posting about yourself and others online. Consider what a post reveals, who might see it and how it could be perceived now and in the future.
Two cents: When it comes to sharing or posting about your children or family, ask yourself these 3 questions before you push that “post” button next time:
“Why am I posting this - how will my child or family benefit from it or am I the only one that it serves?”
“Is there anyone I don’t want to see or know about this post — including strangers?”
If your answer is “yes” DO NOT post it. Even the best privacy settings can fail us.
“How might my child or family feel about this post tomorrow, next year, or in 10 years?”
Back it up
Protect your valuable work, music, photos and other digital information by making an electronic copy and storing it safely.
Two cents: Get an external hard drive. Back up to the cloud. Whatever you prefer, make sure you don’t lose precious things like your family pictures and videos of first steps … as well as those not-so-cute but still essential files like family budgets, recently updated resumes and whatever else you might need. If you don’t, when things crash (and they do) you’ll spend a boatload of money trying to recover it.
Personal information is like money. Value it. Protect it.
Information about you, such as your purchase history or location, has value – just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps and websites.
Two cents: From phishing emails and fake websites to bogus disaster relief charities and that infamous Nigerian family who wants to wire you some money, there’s no end to the number of scams out there. Think before you click on links or submit information. Lifewire shares quite a few of these in, “The Top 10 Internet and Email Scams” which is a good read. “Phishing Emails and Fake Web Pages” stuck out for me because it’s super easy to check. They say the following (get the rest here):
Avoiding Phishing Scams
Be wary of clicking links in emails. Check a link's legitimacy by checking that the URL address of the link is sending you to a secure site—you'll know this because the link address will begin with https:// (note the "s" after http). Phishing fakes will often just have http:// (no “s”).
Also, look at the domain of the URL address. Is it sending you to a legitimate domain owned by the institution? A lot of times the URL is not to the institution's official site domain.
If still in doubt, make a phone call to the financial institution to verify if the email is real. In the meantime, if an email seems suspicious to you, do not trust it. Click nothing on it. Being skeptical could save you a lot of money, time, and hassle.
Secure your wi-fi router
Set a strong passphrase (at least 12 characters long) for your Wi-Fi network. Focus on positive sentences or phrases that you like to think about and are easy to remember (for example, “I love country music.”). Name your network in a way that doesn’t let people know it’s your house.
Two cents: Look on your wireless router. See that little sticker with the SSID and key/passphrase? If that’s still your security key, you need to change it. That’s the default and is meant to be updated.
Sigh. I’m not going to lie. As I dutifully checked off everything on this infographic, I realized we hadn’t done this yet in our own home (shame-shame). So, I did it this afternoon. As tedious as it is to re-enter all of the wi-fi passwords on things like phones, computers, TVs and every other “connected” device, changing your password is worth it. If it’s not, your network could be hijacked (tech-speak for things like invaders getting to your files, using your connection to do bad stuff, etc.). If you need even more convincing, Lifewire shares more in, “Why You Should Change the Default Password on a Wi-Fi Router:”
To get started, Google how to change your wireless password followed by your wireless router’s brand/name. That should get you pointed in the right direction.
My ramblings are over. Check out the infographic below, share it far and wide and make your home a safe digital haven.
Oh, and … Happy National Cybersecurity Awareness Month!