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Article provided by Dr Jessica Barker, Co-CEO of Cygenta and Author of Confident Cyber Security

Technology has meant more to many of us in the last few months than we might have imagined at the start of 2020.

A joke has been doing the rounds in technology circles: your organisation’s digital transformation wasn’t driven by the CEO, but by COVID-19.

Of course, lockdown hasn’t just had an impact on how we interact with technology in our working lives. Many of us have also been using technology in our personal lives more than ever, with family gatherings, birthday parties and even weddings taking place online over video conferencing software.

Unfortunately, where most of us see crisis, cyber criminals see opportunity. In April, google reported that they were blocking 18m coronavirus scam emails every day and the UK National Cyber Security Centre shared that the UK government detected more UK government branded scams relating to COVID-19 than any other subject.

As the co-CEO of a cyber security company, I love helping people feel empowered with the knowledge that they can take some straight-forward steps to enhance their online security, which is why I am so excited that my book Confident Cyber Security will be published in September.

I’m going to share some of my top tips for protecting yourself online:

  1. Passwords are your keys

Using simple passwords, and reusing them, makes it easy for people (or computer programmes) to break into your online accounts. We all have too many accounts to remember random, unique passwords for each one, so the best solutions are either to use a password manager or to write passwords down. Writing passwords down sounds like the opposite of what a security professional would say, but what’s more likely, that someone will break into your accounts online using weak passwords or that someone will break into your house and steal your complicated, written down passwords? Not only is the latter less likely, you’re also way more likely to know if it happens compared. There are two important caveats with this advice: I only recommend it for home use (not the workplace) and only if you trust everybody you live with.

  1. Don’t stop at passwords

Two-factor authentication (or multi-factor authentication) adds an extra layer of security to your accounts so that, even if the password is compromised, it’s much harder for people to break into the account. When you try to access the account from a device that you don’t usually use, the website requires you enter a unique one-time code, that is sent to your mobile by SMS, as well as your password. For a more sophisticated form of 2FA, you can use authentication apps and tokens.

  1. Be careful what you click

Many cyber attacks don’t actually involve much hacking at all. A lot of them, like the recent Twitter incident, use social engineering, where targets are manipulated by cyber criminals into giving over money, information or access to accounts. If you receive a communication that you’re not expecting (whether by email, phone call, Whatsapp or anything else) that is asking you to do something and makes you feel emotional (for example rushed, worried or ashamed) this could be social engineering. When you receive a communication that you weren’t expecting and it’s prompting you to do something, check with the person or company that it is legitimate (not by replying to the message, but check by another method).

  1. Be savvy with social media

Cyber criminals use information we share on social media to craft more successful social engineering attacks. This is not to say we should not enjoy the benefits of social media, but rather that we should be aware of how it is used maliciously. Review privacy and security settings to make sure that information is as private as you want. In protecting our social media accounts, we also protect those we are connected to, as compromised accounts are often used by criminals to spread spam and links to scam sites. With this in mind, we should be aware that we can’t always trust the links that our contacts share on social media.

  1. Back up your data

Ransomware does what the name suggests: it holds your data to ransom. Even if you pay the ransom, there is of course no guarantee that you will get the data back. Like all cyber crime, it’s important to be aware that this doesn’t just affect big companies: individuals and small organisations are often victims, too. That is why it’s important to regularly back up your data, for example using external hard-drives, and to disconnect it and store it safely when you’re not actively using it.

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