Cyber Security: top tips to better protect yourself

There are some simple things you can do, as an individual, to better-protect yourself online.

Look After Your Accounts

  • Take care of your passwords. Make them strong and don’t use the same password across different websites. You might want to look into using a password manager; the UK government has provided some helpful information on that here.

For a home computer user, you can also consider writing your passwords down in a book and storing that book in a safe place. Bear in mind: what is the worst thing that can happen here? People you share the house with may find the book and use the passwords to get into your accounts. If that would be a problem for you, then don’t do it. But if this risk doesn’t pose a threat to you, then you can use complicated passwords without having to remember them or use a password manager, and just keep them in the book. Someone is more likely to break a weak password over the internet than they are to break into your house and steal your book of passwords as a way of getting into your accounts. This approach is fine for most people at home, but not for people who live with those they cannot trust and not for use in an office.

  • Don’t just rely on one password for each account. Setting up two-factor authentication adds a second layer of security to your accounts, which is important in case your password gets compromised (for example, if it is stored insecurely by the service provider and a criminal accesses it, as happened to Yahoo). It’s pretty easy to set up and use two-factor authentication and there is some really helpful guidance on setting it up for many popular sites and apps here.

Look After Your Browsing

  • Be careful what you do over the internet when using public wifi, as you don’t really know if you can trust the other people on the network. For example avoid checking your online banking or buying things over the internet when you are on your coffee shop’s wifi network. Look into using a VPN if you often use public wifi, and make sure you pick a trusted and verified VPN provider.
  • If you receive an email with links or attachments in, and you were not expecting it, pick up the phone and check with the sender that it is legitimate. Some phishing emails are hard to spot. To understand what ‘phishing’ is, wikipedia has a pretty good explanation here.

Look After Your Devices and Data

  • Buy an external hard drive and back up your data, so you won’t lose your data if you get infected with ransomware. Ransomware is often spread via phishing emails and it locks your device / data files before serving you a ‘ransom note’. There is more information on ransomware, and what to do if you get infected, here.
  • Keep your devices and software updated, as known vulnerabilities and bugs get fixed with each update.
  • Put a PIN or password on your phone / laptop / tablet and don’t leave your device unlocked and unattended.

By Dr Jessica Barker