October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month! As cyberattacks become more frequent and identity theft threats loom over every credit card purchase, it’s more important than ever to practice safe habits online. Here are nine cybersecurity tips to keep your personal information and your devices safe in an era of cybercrime.

1. Know your definitions.

  • Spam: A word used to describe any type of unsolicited and unwanted communication that comes in the form of emails, text messages, social media messages or comments, or phone calls.
  • Phishing: Any communication attempt that is intended to trick the reader into either giving up personal information, like passwords and credit card information, or installing malware on their computer. Phishing attacks typically mimic legitimate communications.
  • Malware: Short for “malicious software,” malware refers to any program that is intended to cause harm to others, for example, by stealing, deleting, or altering data; gathering information about the computer’s usage; or changing the way the computer functions. Malware is often introduced to a computer system through an infected link or email attachment.
  • Spyware: A form of malware that secretly tracks data about computer usage and habits.
  • Ransomware: A form of malware that alters a computer or program to prevent users from accessing their own data. Once a user attempts to access their data, the ransomware publishes a demand for payment before the data will be released.
  • Virus: A form of malware that is designed to spread from one computer to another. Viruses may alter the way a “host” program operates or contribute to data destruction or corruption.
  • Worm: A form of malware that can replicate without human interaction and does not require a “host” program to compromise a computer or network. Worms typically slow down data processing by consuming bandwidth.

2. Use a firewall and antimalware or antivirus software.

There are various products that you can use to protect your computer from malware while you are using the internet, some free and some paid. Firewalls protect your computer by monitoring the transfer of data between your network and external locations (e.g., a website, a public wireless connection). Antimalware and antivirus software scan incoming data for malicious software and remove it once detected. Most new devices come with some sort of security system already installed (e.g., Windows Defender or macOS Security), but you can always install additional protection. Keep your firewall and antimalware or antivirus software up to date to prevent external threats and keep your devices and personal information safe.

3. Look for the lock symbol.

When you browse the internet, you may notice that there is either a small lock symbol or the word “secure” written next to the URL. You may also see websites that use “https” before the remainder of the URL instead of “http.” These are indications that your connection to the website is encrypted and any information that you provide the site will also be encrypted – in other words, it’s harder to hack.

When it comes to making online purchases, only do so from encrypted sites. The same goes for any time you input personal information, like your Social Security number, your full name, or your address. The site’s encryption will protect your banking and personal information from hackers and help you maintain a safe online presence. Without encryption, your information is being transferred to the website unprotected, leaving it vulnerable to attack and leaving you vulnerable to identity theft.

4. Be smart about your passwords.

  • The best passwords are complex and incorporate a variety of letters, numbers, and symbols in random order. The worst are those that use personal information (e.g., your name or address), are just a consecutive sequence of letters or numbers (e.g., abcdef or 12345), or are easily guessable words (e.g., password or qwerty). The longer and more random the password, the harder it will be to hack. Use different passwords for all of your accounts.
  • Many apps and devices allow you to enter a pin number to log in instead of a password. If this is the case, don’t use the same pin number as you use for banking and don’t use numbers in a consecutive sequence. If the device or app allows a six-digit pin instead of a four-digit pin, even better. Again, you should use different pin numbers for different apps and devices.
  • If a site or app offers multi-factor authentication, take advantage of it. After entering your username and password, you will be prompted to verify your identity in another way before you are granted access to your account. This typically involves entering a code that is texted or emailed to you. This adds an additional layer of security to your account. Navy Mutual Members are required to use multi-factor authentication when logging onto our Customer Portal.
  • Biometrics are also gaining popularity as a method of account security. Instead of entering a password, you use your fingerprint or face to log in to your device or account – this is hard for a hacker to replicate and offers a high level of security, especially if your device is lost or stolen. Biometrics in combination with another form of account security offer the most protection.

5. Consider a password manager.

A password manager is a secure application that not only houses all of your account passwords in one location, but also generates long, random passwords that are difficult for a hacker to crack. It saves you the effort of having to create and remember dozens of unique passwords – instead you just need to remember the master password for the password manager.

6. Lock your gadgets.

It’s not just your personal accounts that need to be secured. Your phone, tablet, smartwatch, and computer are also vulnerable when they are unlocked and out of your watchful eye. Think about the accounts that you have access to on your phone or computer when the device is unlocked. If your device doesn’t have an automatic lock feature and it gets stolen, you have just provided the thief with access to your emails, texts, social media accounts, and more. Make it a habit to lock your devices when you are going to be away from your desk or know that your device will be unmonitored.

7. Keep personal information personal.

In the era of social media, it can be hard to keep personal information personal. Facebook asks for your birthday and phone number, public Instagram accounts can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection, and TikTok has the potential to show the public license plates, home addresses, and other potentially identifying information inadvertently. Prevent identity theft by keeping your social media accounts private.

8. Be wary of links and attachments.

If you receive something unexpected, don’t open it. Links and attachments are prime carriers for phishing attacks and malware downloads. Email services often have built-in virus detection, but it may not prevent all threats from reaching your inbox. If you receive an unexpected email with a link or attachment, do your due diligence. Do you know the sender? Is the email address legitimate? If you cannot answer “yes” to both of those questions, it’s best to report or flag the email as harmful.

9. Back up your files on a regular basis.

If you do end up the victim of malware – or are unlucky enough to spill coffee on your phone or computer – it’s important that you have your important files backed up in a secure location. This may mean that they are stored on the cloud, saved to an external hard drive or flash drive, or saved to a network drive outside of your device. Make it a habit to back up your files at regular intervals; this simple task has the potential to save you both time and effort!

Navy Mutual values your privacy. When logging in to our Customer Portal, users are required to utilize multi-factor authentication – a process we implemented to provide additional account security. We are always available to answer any questions you may have – you can schedule an appointment to discuss your life insurance or annuity needs here, or call 800-628-6011.