Times have changed. It’s no longer enough to protect your physical home, it’s also vital you stay safe from cybercrimes. It has become increasingly easier for criminals to gain access to financial accounts, email and even hack internet-connected devices in the home.
The good news is that there are a handful of steps you can take to help defend your home from cyberattacks and lock down access to your personal information.
1. Know your status. Before you can take steps to keep yourself safe from external threats, it’s important to understand your level of vulnerability. The website haveibeenpwned.com is a useful tool that searches more than 190 data breaches to see if your personal information has ever been leaked.
If you've been the victim of a data breach, immediately change the password of the vulnerable account along with the passwords of any websites or accounts that use the same credentials. For instance, if the email and password you use for Facebook was breached, and that’s the same login combination you use for your bank, your bank account could be vulnerable to hackers.
2. Invest in a protective router. Much like the front door is the entryway into a home, the Wi-Fi router is the entry point into a home’s digital information. It’s also the first line of defense against external threats. Do your research and invest in a router that prioritizes network security. You should always password protect your Wi-Fi and be sure to change the default username and password that comes pre-configured on the router (often this is listed on the bottom of the box or router).
If you can’t remember the last time you manually updated your router, it may be running outdated software, leaving your home vulnerable. Because the update process can be laborious, consider swapping out your old router for a newer technology like eero. eero’s mesh Wi-Fi system takes home security to the next level by automatically installing regular software updates and security patches, so customers can avoid the hassle of manually updating their router. eero is equipped with the latest in Wi-Fi security, allowing you to kick unknown devices off the network via a smartphone app or share the Wi-Fi password with others via text message or email, so you don’t have to leave it posted on the fridge.
3. Secure your devices. You don’t need to live in a “smart home” to be vulnerable to external security threats. These days, more and more products connect to the internet, and while that can be useful, it also leaves your home vulnerable to hackers. The first thing you should do when you get an internet-connected device up and running is check for new firmware updates. Most products sitting on shelves of retailers don’t have the latest software loaded, so applying updates is a critical step to ensuring those devices remain safe. Also be sure you’re not ignoring prompts for software updates and patches in the future. It’s crucial to keep your connected devices up-to-date.
4. Choose strong passwords. You’ve heard it before — make sure you’re using strong passwords. They need to be at least 12 characters in length, and include numbers, symbols, and lowercase and uppercase letters. They shouldn’t include personal information or common words (e.g., "password"). You’ll want to create a unique password for every account, so if a hacker gets one of your passwords in a data breach, they can’t immediately log into your other accounts.
Strong passwords can be hard to remember, but you shouldn’t keep a written record of them. Instead, consider registering for a password manager like LastPass. Password managers are applications or browser extensions that store login credentials for the websites, then log in to those sites automatically for you, so you don’t have to remember every password for each account.
5. Lock down your social media channels. Be careful about what you’re sharing on social media. Besides not posting sensitive information like your address, phone number, and when you’re headed out of town, be aware of other personally identifiable information that’s out there. When trying to reset passwords and usernames, hackers often go through the process of guessing your security questions. If you’re not careful, the information to help them answer those questions might be living on your social media page.
To keep yourself safe, ensure you’re properly securing your social media sites from the public and limit the amount of information you’re posting on those channels. Also, when you’re selecting your security questions, certain answers might be easy for intruders to locate online. Common security questions ask for your mother’s maiden name, your high school mascot, and the name of your family pet. Consider choosing more obscure questions to answer.
While following these steps won’t ensure you’re completely safe, they will help put you and your family ahead of the game when it comes to online and digital security.