Tomorrow: International “Safe Computer Day” • What does it mean?

These are 10 digital security mistakes you are making and how to avoid them. These are mistakes you make and put yourself at great risk of falling victim to a successful attack.

How much of your personal time do you spend online? The answer may be much more than you think. A recent study estimated that Britons spend an average of five hours each day glued to their screens, not including work time. And that 16-24 year olds spend more than 2,500 hours a year (!) on Instagram alone.

In fact, we are all moving more and more of our lives to the Internet and the cloud. We shop, stream video content, manage our bank accounts, keep in touch with friends and family, share photos, track our fitness and even talk to our doctor through today’s innovative and user-friendly apps. We do this from a variety of devices – from the home computer to tablets, smartphones and wearable gadgets.

illustration | Photo: Ansplash.

All of this has implications for our security. As the number of passwords, devices and accounts increases, our ability to track all these digital assets decreases. Some of us operate in the way of password cycling, which only makes the situation worse. Others may completely ignore security warnings and move on regardless.

time for action

The information security company ESET explains that while we fear cyber threats, one of the threatening issues is human error. Mistakes of this type are responsible for approximately 82% of information breaches that occur in organizations. The same complacency and lack of security knowledge can also spill over into our personal lives and put our data and devices at risk. This year alone, 24 billion stolen username and password combinations were found distributed on the dark web.

We need to get better at managing security risks, and that starts with understanding and mitigating the most common effects of our mistakes.

The top security mistakes to avoid and how, according to ESET:

1. Clicking on links and opening attachments in messages. These errors, also known as phishing, can go through email, text, social media and even WhatsApp. The attackers will usually pose as a legitimate sender such as a bank and demand an urgent response from the recipient. This will usually lead to a covert download of malware, or the user will be tricked into giving Sensitive personal and possibly financial information. Always be skeptical about messages you receive out of the blue and do not click on links or open attachments. If you have any doubts, you can contact the sender independently and check the authenticity of the message’s content.

illustration | Photo: Ansplash.

2. Skipping updates. Computer and device updates are essential to maintaining system security. This is because they are the manufacturer’s way of providing the most up-to-date software possible. Sometimes they come out to fix a specific vulnerability that hackers are exploiting in real time to gain access to devices and accounts. We suggest running automatic updates for all software, browsers and operating systems.

3. Connecting random USB drives. Removable media is no longer as popular as it was a few years ago. After all, most of us now use cloud storage to move data from one place to another. However, a USB connection can still transfer malware to our computer if it is connected to it.

4. Using weak and recycled passwords. This is one of the most common security mistakes users make. Weak passwords are short, and easy for hackers to guess or crack. They will use them to hijack the account they managed to log into, and will also try to use them to log into other websites and services where you may be using the same login details. Passwords should be long, strong and unique. Use a password manager to keep them secure and easy to retrieve.

illustration | Photo: Ansplash.

5. Two-step verification is not used. More and more organizations are forcing their teams to use multi-factor or two-factor authentication (2FA). It is used to add an extra layer of security on top of passwords because it includes a second “factor” like an SMS code or face scan, which hackers will have a hard time stealing or duplicating. But many of us fail to apply it to our personal systems. Enable two-step verification for all online accounts.

6. Backup failure. Regular backups are another routine but essential security step that many of us neglect. This can cause problems if hackers manage to access all of our data and encrypt it, demanding a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. Backing up regularly, with one copy offline, can protect you from this kind of blackmail, and any accidental data loss.

7. Distraction. One of the main problems with our digital world being a click away on our mobile devices is that many of us can get distracted when out and about. This can lead to mistakes. It only takes one misplaced click on a link in a phishing email to get you into big trouble. When you’re looking at the screen, give it your full attention. Don’t click on any link or message if you’re not sure where it came from.

8. Use of work tools for personal use. The new era of remote and hybrid working means that many of us now spend more time connecting remotely to work while at home. Unfortunately, this makes it more tempting to use the enterprise device for personal tasks like shopping, downloading, gaming, or streaming content. This could put your employer, and possibly your job, at risk if malware gets onto the device and hackers can access corporate networks and applications. Separate work and leisure by using the corporate computer for work purposes only.

illustration | Photo: Ansplash.

9. Complacency. One of the biggest challenges in security is that users may think everything is fine, until it’s too late. We trust the companies we do business with and the technology providers whose products we use every day. But this can lead to a false sense of security. Take some time to review your devices’ security settings and read articles to become better informed about the main risks—and how to manage them.

10. Failure to use security software on all devices. Many of us appreciate the value of reliable security software. But how many have installed one of these on all devices? This often leaves smartphones and tablets vulnerable to malware that hides on websites, phishing messages and mobile apps.

Our digital lives are more and more important to us. We must protect them by giving digital security the time and attention it deserves. Find a provider you trust and make sure all computers and devices are protected.

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