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June 2
Tips for Your Personal Cyber-Security

 

Following our article on Cyber-scams, here are some useful tips to protect yourself online:

Passwords

We all have logins and passwords to multiple sites these days. From Twitter and Facebook to Paypal and our Online Bank. But do you use the same password on every site? And just how ‘strong’ is your password? Did you know that the two most common passwords today are “password” and “123456”! If you use either of these, change them now.

Best practice for passwords involves

  • Use a different password for every site you are a member of – ‘variations’ of the same password are fine and remember that most passwords are “case sensitive” e.g. “SeCure” and “sEcUre” are different passwords.
  • Change your passwords regularly. At least 90 days, but ideally as often as 30 days. For instance, some banks force users of its online banking service to change their passwords every 28 days!
  • Make your passwords secure. This means using a combination of upper case and lower case letters, numerals and special characters (@, £, %, & etc).

One good technique for using secure passwords is to pick a word or phrase memorable to you, then replace some of the characters with numbers or specials e.g. “arnoldhthomson” could become “Arno1dt£0msoN”

Or you could use a name or a place that has meaning to you, and add special dates to the front, end, middle or any combination. So I could use the name of my first pet and my birth year to get “19Toby74”.

Phishing & Vishing

Phishing is where you receive an e-mail claiming to be from an organisation you recognise but is actually from scammers who are after your log in details. They spin you some story, for example telling you they are about to close your bank account, then ask you to click on a link in the e-mail and log in to prevent this. Some things to remember when you get such details are

  • Keep an eye out for email addresses that don’t look right. For example, our bankers, Natwest, have e-mail addresses that match their website “natwest.com”. So an e-mail from “nationalwestminister.co.uk” should raise a red flag.
  • Most organisations would never ask you for you log in details in an unsolicited e-mail.
  • If there is a link in an e-mail you’ve been sent, hover over it with your mouse and most e-mail programs will show you the destination. Look in particular for destinations that do not include “co.uk” or “.com”. A red flag should almost always be raised where the addresses include “.ru” or “.su”

Vishing means “Voice Phishing”. This is where scammers phone you up pretending to be from an organisation you recognise in an attempt to get you to give them your log in details. There is really only one thing to remember here – no reputable organisation will ever ask for your online passwords. Ever. If anyone ever does, just hang up the phone.

apple-laptop-notebook-notes-sqFirewalls and Anti-Virus Software

It’s very important to make sure that your computers and other devices have adequate firewall and anti-virus protection. Most new PCs and laptops have the operating system’s firewall turned on by default, but if you have an older PC, this is something you need to check out. Most Internet Service Providers also have a firewall built into the router they supply you with, but it’s certainly worth a call to customer support to ask if this is the case, or how to turn it on yourself if it’s not.

Anti-virus software is also a must-have. Most of the packages available today charge a yearly subscription, but it’s worth paying to protect your PCs from the damage that a virus, Trojan horse or piece of malware can do. You pay insurance premiums to protect your home and your car, why not to protect your data too?

E-mail Security

Most modern e-mail providers offer good quality spam protection, but the scammers know this and they are always looking at ways of getting around it. It often takes even the largest e-mail providers such as Google a while to catch up and filter out the new scams.

Spammers have moved on from the old days of trying to sell you dodgy products or telling you that a Baron in some far flung country needs your help with moving some money to long lost cousins. These days, spam can look almost legitimate. I’ve had e-mails that looked as if they were from genuine companies with “invoices” or “remittance advices” attached. But the files that are attached are nasty little viruses that, when opened, could do untold damage to any PC.

So be on the lookout for e-mails, particularly those with “.doc” and “.xls” files attached. These older Microsoft Office files can potentially contain little programs called “Marcos” – which can cause havoc if allowed to run. (The modern versions of these files, “.docx” and “.xlsx” have “macros” disabled by default)

And if ever in doubt about any of this, simply ask an IT expert! Be vigilant and be safe.

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  |  Mark Everitt