Computers are so much a part of our daily lives that we often take them for granted.
But National Cyber Security Month in October is a reminder to be alert and take steps to keep identity thieves out of your home.
“The biggest thing is awareness,’’ said Dennis Carson, manager of Enterprise Infrastructure for California University and a student in Cal U’s professional science master’s in cyber security program.
Carson and Dr. Brian Kraus, associate vice president of University Technology Services for California University, point out thieves who gain access to your computer or smart phone can view personal information, including financial and healthcare records.
Kraus explained cyber security can involve breaches, in which hackers break into a system and steal data. But identity theft can also occur when people are fooled into sharing their user ID and passwords.
Kraus and Carson shared these tips for keeping your home and valuables safe:
Protecting phones and portable devices
“Use a strong PIN, password, or passphrase to protect the contents of your smartphone.
“Be sure to keep both your smartphone operating system and your applications up-to-date.
“Do not leave your portable devices unattended. Portable devices are easy to steal.
“Remote wiping allows you to erase everything on your lost or misplaced handheld restoring it to factory settings to prevent your personal information from falling into the hands of a bad guy.
“Be cautious about how much personal information you provide on social networking sites. Post only information that you are comfortable with others seeing — and knowing — about you.
“Learn about and use the privacy settings on social networks.
“Don’t post your full name, Social Security Number, address, phone number, or bank and credit card account numbers. Be cautious about posting information that could be used to identify you or locate you offline.
“Remember that once you post information online, you can’t take it back.’’
Phishing — social engineering
“This is the art of manipulating people so they give up confidential information. Social engineering can be delivered in person, via the phone, email, or text messages. Most phishing scams seek to obtain personal information, use link shorteners or embed links that redirect users to suspicious websites in URLs that appear legitimate, or incorporate threats, fear and a sense of urgency in an attempt to manipulate the user into acting promptly.”
For email safety, approach links and attachments with caution:
“Links in email messages can often take you to fake sites that encourage you to transmit personal or financial information to scammers. Some email messages contain links that download and install viruses when clicked. Before you click a link, make sure to read the target address. If the message appears to come from your bank, but the target address isn’t your bank, do not click the link.
“Attachments might be viruses or spyware that download to your machine when you open the file. If you don’t know who the attachment is from, or if you weren’t expecting it, do not open the file.
“Even if the message appears to come from a sender that you know and trust, use the same precautions that you would with any other message. Some mass emailing viruses infect computers and spread by sending to the infected person’s contact list.
“Don’t trust offers that seem too good to be true.
“Use up-to-date anti-virus software. Anti-virus software recognizes most known viruses and protects your computer against them, so you may be able to detect and remove the virus before it can do any damage.
“Keep your computer current with the latest operating system and web browser updates and patches.’’
The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security offers this advice for cyber security:
The best passwords are “a combination of numbers, special characters, and both lowercase and capital letters.’’
Practice safe web surfing wherever you are by “checking for the ‘green lock’ or padlock icon in your browser bar — this signifies a secure connection’’ and “If you do use an unsecured public access point, practice good internet hygiene by avoiding sensitive activities (e.g., banking) that require passwords or credit cards. Your personal hot spot is often a safer alternative to free Wi-Fi.”
Apps can gather “personal information without your knowledge while also putting your identity and privacy at risk. Don’t give your apps an all-access pass.’’ The department says delete apps you don’t need or no longer use, say no to privilege requests that don’t make sense and only download apps from trusted sources.
As for social media, “Avoid posting names, phone numbers, addresses, school and work locations, and other sensitive information (whether it’s in the text or in the photo you took). Disable geotagging, which allows anyone to see where you are — and where you aren’t — at any given time.’’
And what about smarthouses, which allow remote management of different household appliances or systems through the internet?
The National Cyber Security Alliance posted an article on its Stay Safe website that explains: “A fully equipped smart home can allow you to control your lighting and blinds from your smartphone. You can receive video feeds from the security cameras installed in your home from almost anywhere in the world. Appliances like refrigerators, coffee maker and water heaters can all be remotely controlled by you.””
Enjoy the technology, but to prevent hacking, author Peter Lewis advised:
Use protected devices and appliances only. Never access your smart home network from a public or open Wi-Fi. Keep your smartphone secure. Reset the password if you believe your smartphone has been compromised or has gone missing.
Carson said, “Keeping yourself safe is a life skill for people to know how to defend themselves.’’