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Be More Cyber-Secure

As more people have smart devices in their homes, on their wrists and in their pockets, our vulnerability to cyberattacks multiplies. At the same time, large-scale criminal networks with sophisticated technology are on the rise in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. It seems every day that stories about individuals, corporations and governments being hacked grace the front pages.

Criminals go where the money is easiest, but that’s good news for individuals willing to do a few simple things to improve their personal cybersecurity. With relatively little effort, you can make yourself a less attractive target.

Accept inconvenience: Look for services that offer two-factor authentication: the requirement that to log into your password-protected content from one device, you must complete a step through another device, such as enter a code delivered via text.

Keep your devices locked—especially your phone. Make sure your phone screen has a passcode or swipe pattern so that if you accidentally misplace it, you don’t lose your identity along with your device.

Use a password manager. “It is now beyond human capacity to remember all of the passwords we need to be secure,” said Ragsdale, noting that some individuals have up to 100 password-protected accounts, which leads to poor practices such as reusing passwords and not changing them often enough. The solution? Pay for a password manager. Most services cost between $3 and $40 per year and generate secure passwords for unlimited accounts. To access your password list, you’ll have to jump through a few hoops—like two-factor authentication—but it beats the alternative: a homemade Excel spreadsheet.

Beware of “smart” technology in your home. To limit your susceptibility to cyberattack, change all of the automatically-generated passwords associated with your home’s technology. This includes appliances with voice activation, webcams, and programs that control your home’s heating and cooling systems.

Use modern software and update it regularly. “Tech companies stop creating updates for your software as it ages, making it more vulnerable,” Ragsdale said. Similarly, for any piece of software you own, don’t neglect installing automatic updates—most are security patches.

Watch out for spear phishing. More than 269 billion emails are sent worldwide daily; the average office worker can receive as many as 121 in a 24-hour period. “As email volume increases, so do spear phishing attempts,” Ragsdale said. “This is when a scammer includes a piece of information about you in an email to make it look more legitimate.” Don’t click links or download documents from emails that are unexpected, look suspicious or come from an unfamiliar source. When in doubt, consult an information technology professional, and don’t open the email until you have thoroughly researched the sender.

Daniel Ragsdale, director of the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center and professor of practice in computer science and engineering, explains how you can protect yourself in an age of increased hacking and identity theft.