6 Cyber Security Best Practices Everyone Should Be Aware Of

computer screen with warning symbols

Chances are you’re familiar with basic security steps to keep yourself and your belongings safe: Always lock your car at night and don’t leave valuables where people can see them. Keep your home locked and well lit. Be aware of your surroundings when walking or running alone. The list goes on…

But these days, it seems like half your life is lived online. Between automatic bill paying, online banking and even virtual doctors’ appointments, you have plenty of valuable information available in the digital world. Are you taking the same precautions online that you do in real life?

Cyber security is important, but many people also don’t know where to start. If you’re looking for easy-to-follow cyber security best practices, we’ve got you covered. We asked information security pros to share their best advice for keeping data safe and secure.

6 Cyber security best practices nearly anyone can adhere to

Cyber attacks occur at an alarming rate—and while many of these attacks are aimed at high-profile targets, don’t make the mistake of assuming you won’t be at risk. Cyber attacks can affect anyone with Internet access. These days, that includes nearly everyone.

Put these expert cyber security best practices to work to keep you and your sensitive information safe from would-be hackers.

1. Don’t get lazy with passwords

Most people know it’s important to choose strong passwords—but you seem to need a password for everything! While it may be tempting to cut corners when it comes to passwords, that’s exactly what cyber criminals are hoping to take advantage of.

“Weak or stolen passwords are the cause of many of today’s breaches and security incidents,” says Kendall Blaylock, director of cyber intelligence for HORNE Cyber. “We suggest utilizing a password manager to generate and store your passwords—there are free ones available everywhere.”

Many of those password managers will have the option to auto-fill new passwords with random strings of numbers, letters and symbols. But if you’d rather create a password you have a chance of remembering, there’s another option. “Instead of setting a cryptic password that you have to write down somewhere to remember, use a short sentence,” says Rema Deo, managing director at 24By7Security, who suggests something like “Mymomtaughtmetosave2yearsago!” as an example. “A long password, though it might be easy to memorize, will still take years to be guessed by a password-cracking algorithm.”

2. Make your online shopping secure

Online shopping is a convenience that many people use on a regular basis. But when we get too comfortable with online shopping, we may forget to take basic precautions. “Some sites are backed by cyber criminals with the sole intent of collecting personal and financial information from victims,” Blaylock says.

“To avoid malicious sites, we suggest only making online purchases from retailers that you trust and that are verified,” Blaylock says. The easiest way to do this is to look for “https” and a padlock icon at the top of your browser. This indicates that the site is running an SSL certificate and is secure for online purchases.

You can keep your credit card even more secure by using an online wallet system or app, like Venmo® or Apple Pay®. You give your payment information to your wallet app, then use the app to make purchases on other websites. “Rather than displaying your credit card information, digital wallets populate a one-time code for each transaction,” Blaylock says.

3. Be cautious with email

You probably think you’re too smart to fall for the infamous Nigerian prince scam, but phishing scams are getting more sophisticated and harder to detect with each passing day. These email scams are designed to trick users into giving up personal information or clicking on unsafe links. Though many are caught by email providers’ spam filters, you need to be alert for any that slip through to your inbox.

“Be cautious of emails that request personal information or account confirmations,” Blaylock says. Many phishing scams will pretend to be from a legitimate company you do business with, such as Netflix. But if they tell you they need your password to verify your account, or you need to send them your credit card number because your payment has failed, that’s a massive red flag.

“As a rule of thumb, do not share your personal or financial information via email with anyone and avoid suspicious links,” Blaylock says. Legitimate businesses won’t ask these types of questions via email. If you’re concerned about the validity of an email, contact the company directly by calling their customer service line. Taking a small step to verify a suspicious email can potentially save you a lot of time and hassle.

4. Always install updates

We’re all guilty of hitting the “remind me later” a few too many times when prompted to install a software update or holding off on downloading the latest update for your phone’s apps. Computer updates can interrupt a busy workday, and many people put them off on purpose until the glitches have been worked out. But that’s not the best policy when it comes to cyber security.

“Some users tend to worry that new updates to software will ‘break’ things,” says Justin Channell, of Sucuri. “But when those updates also fix vulnerabilities or security issues, you are leaving yourself open to potential attacks.”

Hackers can take advantage of security gaps in outdated software. Set your devices to update automatically or to prompt you as soon as a new update is available. Don’t forget to update the apps on your mobile devices, too, since these can be an easy way for hackers to access your device.

5. Enable multifactor authentication

Typically you gain access to your accounts by typing your username and password. If a cyber criminal gains access to your password, your entire account is vulnerable. But not if you’ve enabled multifactor authentication (MFA).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines MFA as a “security enhancement that allows you to present two pieces of evidence—your credentials—when logging in to an account. Your credentials fall into any of these three categories: something you know (like a password or PIN), something you have (like a smart card), or something you are (like your fingerprint).”

With this additional authentication required to log in, hackers who get ahold of your password can still be blocked from accessing your account. “It takes a bit more time, but will keep you more secure,” Channell says.

6. Beware of public Wi-Fi

Free public Wi-Fi is commonplace, from your favorite coffee shop to the waiting room at the car repair shop. Although it’s easy to hop online in these settings, cyber security experts warn that you shouldn’t use public Wi-Fi without a little extra protection.

“Being on the same network at Starbucks to check your email seems totally innocuous at first, but all the files on your computer are now potentially exposed to anyone who is on the same network,” says Dominic Holt, CTO at Valerian Technology. The solution? A virtual private network (VPN).

“A VPN will encrypt all the traffic between your computer and the network, making it impossible for anyone to intercept your data. Essentially you are using the local internet connection but on a different network,” Holt says. There are a variety of paid and free options available, so there’s no reason not to use this extra layer of security before logging onto a public Wi-Fi network.

Take action, stay secure

Following through on these cyber security best practices are the first steps to protecting yourself from hackers! Now that you have the info you need to keep yourself secure, have you ever considered a career dedicated to preventing and mitigating cybercrime.

Who knows? You may just be a natural fit. Our article, “8 Signs You’re Wired for Working in a Cyber Security Career,” can help you find out.

About the author

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

female writer

Related Content

Related Content

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen University to support its educational programs. Rasmussen University may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen University does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

logo-accreditation-acen logo-accreditation-ccne chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors-masters 0 Credits90 Credits180 Credits48 CreditsStart HereHIGH SCHOOL GRADSStart HereTRANSFER STUDENTSStart HereSECOND DEGREE PURSUERSEnd HereASSOCIATE'S DEGREEStart HereMASTER'S DEGREEPURSUERSEnd HereBACHELOR'S DEGREEEnd HereMASTER'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors 0 CreditsStart HereHIGH SCHOOL GRADSStart HereTRANSFER STUDENTS90 CreditsStart HereSECOND DEGREE PURSUERSEnd HereASSOCIATE'S DEGREE180 CreditsEnd HereBACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-msn chart-credential-laddering-nursing-programs chart-credential-laddering-nursing DNPMSNRN to BSNLPN to RN BridgeAccelerated BSNProfessional Nursing ADNPractical Nursing DiplomaPre-LicensurePost-Licensure icon-colored-outline-bank icon-colored-outline-certificate icon-colored-outline-circle-dollar-sign icon-colored-outline-folder-search icon-colored-outline-hand-heart icon-colored-outline-head-blocks icon-colored-outline-head-cog icon-colored-outline-head-heart icon-colored-outline-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-outline-hospital icon-colored-outline-lifelong-learning icon-colored-outline-light-bulb-analytics icon-colored-outline-location-pin icon-colored-outline-maginify-glass icon-colored-outline-magnifying-glass icon-colored-outline-monitor-healthcare icon-colored-outline-monitor-paper-search icon-colored-outline-nurse-rays icon-colored-outline-padlock-shield icon-colored-outline-person-presenter-screen icon-colored-outline-scales icon-colored-advance icon-colored-arrows-cross-curve icon-colored-briefcase-star icon-colored-build icon-colored-bulb-analytics icon-colored-certificate icon-colored-continual-development icon-colored-duo-chatbox icon-colored-folder-mortarboard icon-colored-forward-ribbon icon-colored-gears-clock icon-colored-globe-pen icon-colored-growth icon-colored-hand-bubble icon-colored-hand-stars icon-colored-hands-gear icon-colored-head-blocks icon-colored-head-cog icon-colored-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-hospital-building icon-colored-laptop-cbe-skyscraper icon-colored-laptop-checkmark icon-colored-laptop-webpage icon-colored-location-map icon-colored-location-pin icon-colored-monitor-paper-scan icon-colored-mortarboard-dollar icon-colored-national icon-colored-people-chat-bubbles icon-colored-person-cheer-star icon-colored-person-laptop-checkboxes icon-colored-person-screen-instructor icon-colored-person-whiteboard icon-colored-phone-chatbox icon-colored-police-light icon-colored-prep icon-colored-presenter icon-colored-regional icon-colored-save-time icon-colored-shirt-hat icon-colored-skyscraper icon-colored-state icon-colored-student-centered icon-colored-support icon-colored-world-experience icon-triangle-arrow-up-plant icon-triangle-calendar-pencil icon-triangle-clock-rotating-arrows icon-triangle-display-gears icon-triangle-hand-right-speech-bubble icon-triangle-laptop-coding-brackets icon-triangle-mortarboard icon-triangle-paper-ribbon icon-triangle-person-cheer-star icon-triangle-person-juggle icon-triangle-triple-people-chat-bubble ras-logo-flame ras-logo-horizontal ras-logo-stacked icon-modality-campus icon-modality-field icon-modality-online icon-modality-residential icon-social-facebook-square-colored icon-social-facebook-square icon-social-facebook icon-social-google-plus-square icon-social-google-plus icon-social-instagram icon-social-linkedin-square-colored icon-social-linkedin-square icon-social-linkedin icon-social-pinterest-p icon-social-twitter-square icon-social-twitter icon-social-youtube-play-colored icon-social-youtube-play icon-arrow icon-bank icon-camera icon-filter icon-general-chart icon-general-connect icon-general-degree icon-general-discuss icon-general-email icon-general-find icon-general-hat icon-general-heart icon-general-laptop-building icon-general-laptop icon-general-leader icon-general-map icon-general-money icon-general-paperwork icon-general-people icon-general-phone icon-general-speak-out icon-head-heart icon-info-circle icon-mail-forward icon-mglass icon-play-solid icon-quote-mark-left icon-quote-mark-right icon-scales icon-share-square-o icon-simple-chat icon-simple-desktop icon-simple-find icon-simple-hamburger icon-simple-phone icon-spinner icon-tag icon-testimonial-quotes icon-util-checkbox-white icon-util-checkbox icon-util-checked-white icon-util-checked icon-util-chevron-down icon-util-chevron-left icon-util-chevron-right icon-util-chevron-up icon-util-circle-arrow-down icon-util-circle-dot icon-util-language-switch icon-util-loading icon-util-open-window-button icon-util-open-window-link icon-util-pdf-button icon-util-pdf-link icon-util-refresh icon-util-x rebrand-arrows