Cybersecurity expert Geoff White shares his top 5 tips on how to keep safe online, based on his book Crime Dot Com (Reaktion Books, 10th August) https://www.waterstones.com/book/crime-dot-com/geoff-white/9781789142853
As coronavirus swept the world, there were dire predictions of a similar pandemic of cybercrime, especially as many of us were working from home and potentially more vulnerable to the hackers.
The good news is that, according to experts, there hasn’t been a widespread boom in hacking during the outbreak. But the bad news is that this may not last: hackers are quick to adapt, and are already sniffing out new ways to exploit our new working patterns.
The really good news is that you don’t have to be a tech genius to protect yourself from most low-level cybercrime. The following five tips will help make you and your family a harder target for the hackers.
1. Watch your inbox
In more than 20 years of cybercrime development, the hackers’ main tactic hasn’t changed a bit: they target email addresses. You need to think of your inbox like a front door to a busy street – anyone can drop in anything, at any time. Luckily, those dodgy emails can’t harm you unless you do something with them – usually by clicking on a link or opening an attachment.
So, take five seconds before acting on that “urgent” email which seems to come from Amazon, FedEx, the tax office, and so on. Is it real? If in doubt, don’t click!
2. Sort your passwords
Is it time for a spring (or perhaps summer) clean-up of your passwords? Here’s a useful tip: think of a line from your favourite song or book. Take the first letter of each word. Bingo: you’ve got a random password. Put some memorable numbers at the beginning (not at the end, because that’s what the hackers are expecting). Then you can customise it for each service you use: add FB for Facebook, for example, or IG for Instagram.
3. Make a back-up
Memory sticks are now fairly cheap, so pick one up, plug it in, and make a back-up (Windows and Mac computers have easy-to-use instructions for how to do this). Once it’s done, unplug the stick and keep it somewhere safe. Don’t keep it permanently plugged in, because if your computer gets infected with a virus, your back-up will be gone too! These so-called “offline back-ups” are what big businesses do, so take a leaf out of their book and if the worst happens, you can get back on your digital feet quickly.
4. Separate out work life and home life
Ideally, you should use a different laptop and phone for your personal life and your work. If that’s not possible, then try to get into the habit of closing down your personal stuff (email, online banking, social media, etc) when you’re working, and vice versa. That way, if the hackers manage to break in, they’ll only be able to mess with some parts of your digital existence, not the whole lot.
5. Chat to your kids In the same way we teach youngsters about “stranger danger” in the street
We need to let them know about online harms too. There’s no need to terrify the life out of them, just remind them every now and again how easy it is for people online to pretend to be someone they’re not. And it’s important to tell them they can always confide in you, because one of the key tactics of online abusers is to manoeuvre children into feeling too ashamed to tell anyone what’s happening, thereby isolating them from help.