Now that the holidays are officially over, most of us are kicking off the new year by working on our resolutions for 2022. Regardless of our resolutions—meeting our SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals or getting in touch with our inner creativity—increasing our cyber smarts is an area that we can all focus on.
During the holidays, you may have been gifted new electronics, shopped predominantly online, or enjoyed a vacation. As you transition back to your normal routine, it is important to maintain vigilance and protect your data, digital identity, and devices. Cyber criminals will continue to target online users in hopes of receiving a large cache of personal information. Ensure you are as safe and secure as possible by following a few simple post-holiday clean-up tips:
- Review your accounts. Now that the holiday shopping purchases and returns are complete, it is time to review your credit card and bank statements. If there is a discrepancy, report it immediately to your bank or credit card issuer. Also, if you order from an online merchant that you won’t use again, be sure to remove all personal information, close your account, and delete the app. Regardless of the time of the year, as a best practice, if you are planning to use an online vendor once, it is more prudent to check out as a guest rather than opening an account.
- Ensure that your computer and your phone have the most up-to-date software. You finally received that new mobile phone on your wish list, but before downloading all your must-have apps, it is crucial to ensure your device is running on the latest software. Many people assume that a new phone will automatically be up to date, with the last software release. Software updates are released to help improve your security and patch vulnerabilities. Taking a few minutes out of your day to run software updates will ensure your devices are protected.
- Confirm that apps you plan to use are legitimate. Once you’ve updated your new devices, you are now free to browse your device’s app store and catch up on the new year sales. Only download apps from your respective app store (Apple App store, Google Play, Android Market) and pay attention to the permissions the app is asking for. It’s also a good practice to read the reviews of an app before downloading it so you are up to date with potentially suspicious activity. Remember only to use trusted retailers—giving your credit or debit card information to the wrong person can result in financial and identity theft.
- Use a password manager to manage your passwords. Whether you have subscribed to a bundle of new streaming services or were gifted an e-book subscription service, these are all new accounts—which means more passwords to create and remember. Using a password manager, such as LastPass, is highly effective and can help minimize the risk of hackers accessing your accounts. Password managers generate and save long, unique passwords for your accounts, so there’s no need for you to remember them.
- Change default passwords. Whether you received a new smart device for your home or bought your child a new tablet, make sure to do your due diligence. Many devices are programmed with a default username and password, which may be weak and/or shared with other similar devices. These devices are often vulnerable because the default credentials may be readily available on the internet—or even be physically visible on devices still on the shelves. Hackers can often easily access, or even guess, these names and passwords, so it is important to change them. Your new passwords should not contain personal information, such as your address and they should be long and unique. Store the new usernames and passwords in your password manager.
- Practice caution when sharing online. Some of us may not have been able to see our loved ones during the holidays and turned to social media to connect instead. As we continue to navigate through the global pandemic, social media platforms will remain a part of our everyday lives as they help us stay connected with others. However, sharing too much could allow a hacker to socially engineer you by using that available information to guess your password or to write a targeted phishing email. Check your privacy and security settings to ensure that your social media accounts are not public, and periodically review your friends lists to confirm who has access to your private posts.
- Avoid malicious websites. Phishing scams will continue to rise in the new year, and it is crucial to remain aware. Don’t click on links in emails from unknown senders or on advertisements from unfamiliar sites. A virus or malware might download onto your computer or phone and steal your information. Remember to only shop on sites that have “https” in the URL.
Whether or not you made the resolution to stay secure in the digital world, it is never too late to add it to your list. We all play an important part in our cybersecurity defenses at home and at work. This year be sure to do your part and #becybersmart.