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Tech tips

Cyberattacks are increasing, do these 5 steps now

You’re stuck at home. You’re worried about your family, your job, the economy, your savings, your bills, your supplies and, of course, yourself. Sadly, there’s a new issue to add to your list.

No one is really talking about another frightening virus outcome except in the most inner security circles. Here it is: Cybercriminals are gearing up. So far we’ve seen a surge in phishing attacks, malicious websites and phone scams.

Now, imagine if a state or hacking group wanted to launch a coordinated cyberattack. It’s a lot easier now than it was, say, a month ago. People across the country are hooking up new gear, signing on to work networks, swapping files and installing apps and programs. And many folks don’t know a thing about security or basic settings.

Your digital security is more important than ever. Here are five things you must do to protect yourself.

1. Beef up your network security

Your router is a gateway to the internet, which also means it’s the best way for hackers to get into your network. Protecting your router and securing your home Wi-Fi system is key to keeping out cybercriminals.

What are the essential steps? You need strong passwords and you need to enable the right encryption settings. Firmware updates are also essential; otherwise, hackers can easily guess your default passwords and break into your system.

Set your protections on your router’s admin page. To find the right page, you need the router’s IP address and admin password. This information is on your router’s user guide. If you don’t have it anymore, there are websites that can help you find it. Tap or click here for a list of default passwords for 548 router brands.

Open up your web browser, type your router’s IP address and hit Enter. This will open up the router’s admin page. Find the section called Advanced or Management to find firmware updates. Download any updates you see here.

On the same page, look for a User or Admin settings menu. This is where you can change the default password. Make sure it’s hard for anyone to guess but easy for you to remember. The best passwords are ones that you can’t remember easily, though. We’ll show you how to store those passwords in a password manager in a minute.

To check your encryption settings, go back to the router’s admin menu. Click on the Wireless or Security menu then choose WPA3 as your encryption setting for maximum security.

For older routers, select an encryption setting that starts with WPA2. If you have older gadgets connected to your Wi-Fi network, you might have to select WPA2-PSK AES + WPA-PSK TKIP for them to work. This is a hybrid setting that keeps your connection secure and is also compatible with older, less secure devices.

Whatever settings you choose, never click Open, which means there is no security at all. The same goes for WEP, which is an outdated encryption standard that’s easy to crack.

2. Keep your IoT gadgets separate from your actual network

Internet of Things devices like smart lightbulbs make our lives easier, but many of them are security nightmares. Between weak encryption settings and default passwords, any internet-enabled device on your main network can make you a sitting duck for cyberattacks.

To protect your main network, create a separate guest network for all of you smart home gadgets and IoT devices. This gives them access to the internet they need to function without putting your computer, and all your important files, at risk.

To get started, open your router’s admin page and look for a section labeled Guest Network or Guest Networks. Enable your Guest Network and make sure SSID Broadcast is also turned on.

Set this network up with WPA3 or WPA2 encryption, like we showed you above. Ignore any options that say, “Allow guests to see each other and access my local network.” This allows users and devices on your Guest Network to access your main connection, which can make your system vulnerable.

Save all your changes before exiting.

Now that you have a secondary guest Wi-Fi network set up, you can connect all your IoT devices to it. Next, it’s time to update your computer.

3. Don’t neglect the basics

Are you confident your phone, computer and any other device you use to access important files are secure? All it takes is one snoop, or an enterprising cybercriminal, to put your data at risk.

Your devices are most vulnerable when software is out of date and security features aren’t fully enabled. Stop putting it off and take a few minutes to lock down your Windows PC or Mac computer.

To put a password on your Windows PC, follow these steps:

  • Click the Start menu and select the gear icon for Settings.
  • Click Accounts, followed by Sign-in Options on the left-hand sidebar.
  • Click Password and select Change to create a strong new password to secure your PC.

If you’re using a Mac:

  • Click the Apple icon in the upper left-hand corner, then System Preferences.
  • Next, click Users & Groups.
  • Click Change Password to enter a new one.
  • You can also enter a hint so you don’t stump yourself, but don’t make it easy for others to guess.

Next, make sure your operating system is up to date. To see if you need any updates or patches on your Windows PC, open Settings, then Update & Security. If an update is available, download it and restart your computer to complete the install.

On Macs, click the Apple icon and select About this Mac. Click Software Update to open the MacOS App Store. Install any updates and restart your computer to finalize it.

Now it’s time to store the passwords you created while securing your router and creating the guest network.

4. Protect your important accounts

Passwords are one of the most important lines of defense against hackers. Each password you create needs to be a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. It can be hard to remember them, and don’t even think about writing them down. We recommend letting an encrypted password manager do the hard work for you.

And before you ask, simply saving your passwords to your internet browser won’t cut it. Those are way too easy for hackers to crack.

If you’re interested in a password manager, a solid option is our sponsor, Roboform. It automatically creates, saves and encrypts complex passwords for you. Tap or click here for more information about Roboform.

Once your complex passwords are ready to go, log into your most frequently-used accounts and swap out your weak passwords. Don’t duplicate them across sites or services — this is a dangerous practice that can result in a cybercriminal accessing all of your accounts.

Next, enable two-factor authentication wherever you can. 2FA adds an additional layer of security by sending your phone confirmation codes for every login. This adds a major obstacle for any would-be hacker. It’s well worth the few seconds it adds to the login process.

Every account has different steps to set up 2FA. Since Gmail is one of the most commonly used, we’ll show you how to set it up there.

Google has a specific page where you can activate 2FA. Open the link, sign in with your Gmail account and tap Get Started. You might be asked to sign in again after this step. Add your country from the drop-down menu and enter your phone number in the field that appears.

Next, choose whether you want to receive a text message or phone call. Tap Next and wait for your text or call. Enter the code you receive and tap NextOnce Google has verified your code, tap Turn On to enable the service on your account.

Remember to set up 2FA on any account that allows it. Twitter, Dropbox, Nest and so many other sites and services allow you to use this security feature. Many banking websites and financial services offer 2FA as well. Tap or click here to learn how to set up 2FA for even more platforms.

5. Back. Up. Everything!

Always have a backup plan — literally. Your best defense against cyberattacks and ransomware is a secure cloud backup.

These backups aren’t stored on your hard drive, so even if your physical device is locked down by malware, you’ll still have access to all your important information.

There are some free options. If you use Google’s G Suite for work, get in the habit of storing your documents in the cloud instead of locally. You also get 15GB of free storage with any regular Gmail account. This limit applies to your Gmail and Google Photos accounts, too, so watch those large attachments.

Dropbox offers 2GB free, and Amazon Prime members get 5GB free with a subscription.

If you need more space and just don’t want to deal with manual backups, it’s worth shelling out a few bucks a month. Our sponsor IDrive is a fast, secure cloud backup solution. It can easily back up your PC, Mac and mobile devices into one account. All your backups are encrypted for maximum security and you get 5TB of storage.

Save a whopping 90% when you sign up at IDrive.com and use promo code Kim at checkout. That’s less than $7 for your first year!

It’s a scary time, both for our families and the world. Use these tips to take some of that stress off your plate. With better passwords, secure devices and a powerful backup, you’ll be prepared for just about anything a hacker can throw at you.

With so many juicy work-from-home targets to pick from, they’re not going to bother trying to get past your defenses. If only protecting against real-life viruses were as easy as protecting against digital ones.

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