October 18, 2017

Simple Steps to Keep Your Online Information Secure

Cybersecurity is an important subject this blog has covered through a number of posts. Most recently, I published a post summarizing my experience of attending a mobile security forum Microsoft hosted on Oct. 11, 2017 in Bellevue, Wash. I posed the following question in my post dated Oct. 17, 2017: What methods are you using to secure your data?

In answering the question above for myself, I send the following email message on the first day of each quarter to my colleagues at all of the businesses where I am a member of the executive team or serve on the board of directors:

Dear Colleagues:

In order to keep our company's online information secure, it is strongly recommended that you:
  1. Keep your operating system updated by repairing the security holes that hackers love to exploit with the newest critical updates for your personal computer AND mobile devices. Make sure you are using the most updated version of your web browser. Also, make sure you are using the latest version of the apps downloaded or pre-installed on your mobile device (whether or not you actively use the app);
  2. Use proactive software protection. Anti-malware software is a basic requirement for initial protection on all computers as viruses and spyware can creep into your computer and easily degrade performance and corrupt or even destroy data;
  3. Use a firewall. Firewalls assist in blocking dangerous programs, viruses or spyware before they infiltrate your system. Various software companies offer firewall protection, but hardware-based firewalls, like those frequently built into network routers, provide a better level of security;
  4. Use a strong password, which is your first line of defense to keep your financial data safe. Complexity is best, so aim for double digits – an eight-character password can potentially be hacked in hours; 14 characters are infinitely less likely to be cracked. The best passwords use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, and do not use words, names or birthdays. And never write them down.
  5. Use multi-factor authorization (MFA) to protect you and your data by making it more difficult for someone else to sign in to your account. (MFA is also known as two-step authentication.) MFA uses two different forms of identity: (1) your password and (2) a contact method such as an authenticator app, phone number or email address. Even if someone else finds your password, they will be stopped if they do not have access to your other devices or accounts. I encourage the use of MFA for all the services you use for personal purposes (e.g., Facebook, Gmail, LinkedIn, and Twitter);
  6. Remain cautious of suspicious emails and text messages from unknown sources. Do not open emails with attachments if you do not know the sender. Similarly, do not click on links sent via text, WhatsApp or WeChat messages if you do not know the sender; and
  7. Steer clear of websites of ill repute. These are havens for malicious and annoying intruders like spyware. When surfing online, look carefully at URLs (web addresses) and make sure they match your expectation. Especially sites that should be secure – secure sites start with https.
While companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are investing millions of dollars in securing their cloud computing platforms, users must also take certain precautions to secure their devices. Accordingly, I cannot overemphasize the importance of using multi-factor authentication. Should a hacker learn your password, I take comfort knowing that a second method of identification verification is required to access my accounts.

I often hear it is when, not if, your system will be hacked. If so, why make is easy for the hackers when a few simple steps may prevent your confidential or sensitive information from being stolen?

Do you use additional methods not listed above to keep your online information secure?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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