Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to improve our physical health and well-being. We vow to go to the gym, lose weight, or quit smoking. But what about resolutions that will improve our cyber health and keep us safe from online danger? Here are some resolutions that are easy to make and keep for a cyber safe 2023.
1. Don’t click in emails
Your first resolution, and the one that will keep you the safest this year, should be to never click on a link or email attachment, ever! Think of email as a text-only method of communication because nothing else about it is safe. It was never meant for transferring files, and links are probably not what they appear to be. Remember that email is the number one method that the adversary uses to get you to do their bidding. Unless you absolutely know that the email comes from someone you trust, don’t click! And even if it does come from someone you trust, be cautious if the link appears unusual or out of character for them. It could be an adversary pretending to be someone you know. Think about every click as possible doom.
2. Get several credit cards
There are many credit cards without annual fees that will be more than happy to extend you credit. I recommend having at least 3 or 4 different cards that you use for different purposes. Ask for a low credit line on each – I’m certainly not recommending that you run up big bills on multiple cards! But having a separate card for different types of transactions reduces your risk and the effort needed if one card gets compromised. For example, have separate cards for online bill paying, online purchases, dining and entertainment, and travel.
Never use a debit card except at the ATM – you have far less fraud and theft protection from your bank than you do from the credit card companies. Finally, enable real time text message alerts on your cards so that you know every time your card is used and don’t find out at the end of the month when you see unusual charges.
3. Buy another computer
With the price of computers dropping rapidly, (some as low as $250 or lower on sale) you can’t afford NOT to have a separate “high risk” computer for your online activities such as email, web browsing, and shopping. On your “low risk” computer you can minimize online activity to encrypted transactions such as with your bank or credit card company. Unfortunately, it’s likely that you’ll get compromised in the near future and it could take a long time, if ever, to recover your personal and financial files. That effort and heartache will cost a lot more than the $250 for the second computer.
4 . Never use public WiFi without a VPN
Every time you log on to an unprotected public network, everyone else on that network can see your computer or device. It’s like running naked through the mall shouting “Look at me!” — you will most certainly get noticed. Cover up! There is a simple type of application called a VPN, which stands for virtual private network. It sounds fancy, but what it really does is create a private tunnel to the Internet that your device can use without being seen. Every time you want to connect to the Internet in public, you fire up your VPN and you become invisible. It does not, however, protect you if you want to run naked through the mall – that’s your own issue.
5. Use Strong Passwords or a Password Vault
I’ve always recommended switching to pass phrases (see my earlier post on this) where you create a strong password from a phrase that you’ll remember but that no one can guess. This is great if you only have a few passwords to remember, because you don’t want to use the same pass phrase for multiple sites. But some people have hundreds of passwords for home and work, making it impossible to create unique phrases for each one and remember which is which. In these cases, consider using a password vault that will generate strong passwords for each site you use. You only need to remember the master password/pass phrase to unlock the vault, and then it will fill in your unique passwords as you visit different sites. Remember to lock your vault after each session, or have it time out after a couple of minutes.
Even if you adopt only one or two of these resolutions, you’ll be taking a big step toward being cyber safe in 2023.