January 28, 2017

Staying Secure on the Internet

In today’s increasingly networked world, safely navigating the internet is a topic of increasing importance. Recently, attendees of our “Cybersecurity Essentials 2017” program heard a variety of excellent tips from Michael J. McCully, Information Systems Security Officer at NOAA. The main takeaway? A little bit of effort goes a long way in staying safe on the internet.

First, back up your valuable data. If your computer is ever compromised or infected with a virus, it is very likely you will not be able to access your files. Consider keeping one copy of your important files on your computer, another on a flash drive (or external hard drive), and another “in the cloud”. Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are examples of popular cloud services.

Second, always use unique passwords. This is a tough one, as many of us have dozens of online accounts. Consider using a password manager (such as LastPass) that helps create complex passwords and remembers them for you. Or use the first letter of the words in a memorable phrase that is unique to you (not a nursery rhyme of keyboard pattern!).

If possible, enable “two-factor” authentication on your most important accounts, such as online banking and your primary email account. Each time you log into that account, you’ll receive a one-time numeric code (usually via text or email) that you’ll enter to gain access to your account. This small extra step drastically improves your safety online.

Third, never accept unsolicited offers, and never forget common sense while using the internet. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Never give out personal information to a completely unknown website. If you shop on the internet, consider using PayPal for payment, which can help keep credit card information secure. Additionally, many credit card companies will issue a special, one-time credit card number for a specific dollar amount, which further protects you from potential credit card fraud.

Pop-up windows, online sweepstakes, special programs to download for store coupons- all of these are potential ways for hackers to gain access to your computer and your personal information. Keep a close eye on your email for “phishing” scams, where hackers try to gain access to bank accounts and credit card information. These emails can look extremely official, with legitimate bank logos and email addresses. Remember your bank (or other business) will never email you asking for a social security number, account number, and/or passwords- they already know this information! If you see something you think may be legitimate but are not quite sure, don’t forget, you can always call and ask questions. Still not convinced? If possible, visit the business in person.

Keeping your information secure online involves a combination of common sense and a willingness to take advantage of available security options. Backing up your data, keeping your passwords secure, and maintaining a healthy degree of skepticism are three vital steps to ensure a safe and secure internet experience.

Dan Owens 
Adult Services Librarian

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