Sushi, Stand Mixers, and Cyber Security
Happy New Year, Cyclones, and welcome back to Iowa State! A new year brings with it a fresh start; it’s a chance for continuing improvement.
One area of our lives we can always improve upon is our cyber security. A few small, easy steps can help you better protect yourself against cybercriminals whose only New Year’s resolution is to become better at stealing your data.
Pick Impenetrable Passwords
If we learned anything in 2016 from the likes of Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Tumblr, it’s that passwords are vulnerable, so start the year off by changing yours. Make sure your new password is long and complex enough to thwart cyber-criminals, but easy enough for you to remember. Maybe try using a sentence as your password or even biometrics, like a fingerprint, if your personal device supports it.
If you can’t keep all your passwords straight (and yes, it’s very hard for all of us), then maybe 2017 is the year for you to invest in a password manager. There are numerous password manager programs available that will allow you to create and store long, complex, and unique passwords for all your accounts. The best part is, you only have to remember one password: the one that grants you access to the password manager.
Connect with Caution
Passwords aren’t the only line of defense. An ounce of prevention when connecting your devices to any network is worth a pound of cure.
Be wary of unsecured wireless networks. Whether it’s at a coffee shop, a friend’s apartment, or the mall, open-access Wi-Fi is the gas station sushi of networks – connecting to it could make your computer violently ill. You have no idea who may be on “Indiscriminate-coffee-shop Wi-Fi – Free” or what their intentions may be. Furthermore, your network traffic is unencrypted, meaning a nefarious third-party could see everything you do online, including that password you just entered.
Instead, connect to an encrypted network if possible. These networks scramble your data, making it impossible to read by anyone who may be sniffing around on the network for sensitive information. When on the Iowa State campus, or in the residence halls, connect to the secured 'eduroam' network by using your full ISU email address and your Net-ID password. When out-and-about, consider using your phone’s hotspot capability to stay secure. Just remember, browsing on a mobile hotspot may use an enormous amount of data.
Activate an Antivirus Software
Sometimes you just need a good watchdog on your side to keep you safe. In the world of cyber security, that watchdog is antivirus software. You should protect all devices, from phones to desktops, laptops to tablets, with some sort of antivirus program. This software scans your device for known viruses and malware, and will both alert you and remove any viruses detected on your device. A list of various antivirus software can be found at StopThinkConnect.org’s Keep a Clean Machine page under the Detection heading.
Erase Excess Data
Lastly, consider deleting old files this January. Unused documents and applications take up valuable space on your devices, so ditch them if you are finished with or do not use them. If you have documents you think you may need down the road, save them to a flash or external hard drive for safe keeping. Clean out the cache of your browser(s) as well. That will remove all those old cookies that keep causing that one ad for a new stand mixer from coming up regardless of which site you visit. Be sure you know your social media, email, and any other passwords you have set to be remembered though, as clearing your cache will delete these from your browser.
Creating complex passwords, connecting to secured networks, installing antivirus software, and deleting unused files are just four ways to be safer in cyberspace this year. There are numerous other safeguards you can practice, including using virtual private networks (VPN) and creating automated system backups, and these simple steps will make a world of difference, even if you do not physically notice it.
Stay safe, Cyclones.