Keep it safe, keep it clean – but sometimes – keep it off

The fact that the entire month of October has been designated Cyber Security Awareness Month speaks volumes to its importance – other causes are often only granted a day or a week of observance, if they are lucky. Due to its size and daunting nature, cyber security and the issues surrounding it has been given an entire month.

Of course, cyber security is something that needs to be employed constantly, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Despite its criticality, however, cyber security doesn’t have to be scary.  By taking a few simple precautions, maintaining a clear head and utilizing some good old-fashioned common sense, you can go a long way towards keeping yourself and your identity safe from cyber criminals. 

Here are our top five tips on protecting your online identity:

1. Secure your devices.  It is surprising how many people don’t use password protection or some kind of PIN on their devices.  This is a crucial first step barrier, whether it is your phone, tablet or PC.  Make sure your screen locks quickly when you are inactive, and that a password, PIN or – if it has the technology – a fingerprint scan is needed to turn the device on again.  It should go without saying: choose your passwords carefully. They should be easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess.

2. Your personal information is like your money.  Value it, protect it and only give it to people you trust.  It’s not just your bank details we are talking about - you also need to protect your full name, address and date of birth, not allowing them to be too freely available.  When you are signing up for a new app on your smartphone, take a moment to find out exactly what data that app is going to collect about you – does the fantasy football app really need to access your location or your browser history, for example? Your data is important and valuable – keep it safe. 

3. Keep it clean and current.  Whatever device you are using, keeping it clean and keeping it up to date is important.  You can keep it clean by deleting old apps and clearing out the memory from time to time.  We quite often download an app for a special occasion or activity – maybe a holiday or an event we are attending. Deleting the apps we no longer use not only frees up device memory and may improve the speed of our devices, it also stops those apps from continuing to report on your activity.  While making sure you delete the old apps, do make sure you install the latest updates of the apps you are using, especially those for the operating system and for any security software you are running - they often include security updates.

4. Does that need to be on?  When you are out and about, some stores and other locations will track your movements using the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal from your phone.  Unless you are actually using those connections yourself, do they need to be on?  Switching off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you are not using them will not only stop people from tracking you, it will also save you some battery power and give you longer time between charges.  Regarding Wi-Fi, be careful about the services you connect with and what you do on them.  Public hotspots and offers of “free Wi-Fi” can be very convenient, but they can also be rather insecure and maybe not the best connection to use if you want to log into your bank account. 

5. Be sensible, be secure.  Whenever you are about to undertake any financial transaction, ask yourself these questions: is it secure, and do I really know who I am dealing with?  On web addresses, look for ones that begin “https://” or “shttp://”. In both cases that “s” stands for “secure” and means the site takes extra care to protect your information.  Sites that do not have the “s” are less secure.  Also, watch out for those text messages, emails and voice recordings from “friends” who need money urgently, or from web sites demanding payments or that you confirm your details.  Be certain about the outcome before you send any money – never simply click on a link you have been sent to re-register.

Keeping safe in the online world is much the same as keeping safe in the real world.  Deal with people you trust, and look after your data and your device as much as you do your cash and your wallet.  Verizon Eneterprises' 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report has a great deal of useful information to help you stay protected.