Everyone knows that cyber security is important. Most people are now well aware that it’s necessary to actively protect their personal data and online privacy. Key issues include what data is being collected (and who’s collecting it), data theft and the threats that increasingly sophisticated malware, ransomware and phishing scams can pose.

Cyber security can also be complicated. Awareness is the first step to staying safe, so here are four tried and tested rules to live by. We’ve adapted them from the hundreds of security articles written by the reporter and security blogger Brian Krebs, who writes for the Washington Post. Based on our own years of experience working with businesses in the New Jersey and New York area, we’ve added some extra guidelines, hints and tips.

What’s This? Don’t Click if You Didn’t Ask For It

How do computers get infected with malware and succumb to cyber attacks? Often it’s because the end user unwittingly does something to activate the process. Email is the vehicle for most malware circulating today. An innocuous email arrives, carefully designed to tempt the recipient to click on an equally innocent-looking attachment. That’s the go-ahead that the cyber criminals need, and for viruses to be launched.

Downloading apps and software (typically offered for free) that is bundled with invisible malware is another danger. A few years ago this was done by getting users to install browser toolbars, which not only slowed down your computer but made changes to the way your browser functioned. Cyber criminals are constantly devising new ways to carry about their scams, so vigilance is vital.

The good news is that software is getting smarter and is written with a view to preventing cyber security problems. The threats haven’t gone away though. It’s still easy to visit an unsafe website, which activates a scareware pop-up window that may look just like your antivirus program. It tells you that your computer has become infected with something dangerous. In a panic, you’re pressurized to click a link to fix it – and malware gets downloaded. Think before you click, or immediately contact your IT support.

Keep Your Essential Programs Updated

Updates are issued for most software these days, to fix bugs, add features, increase functionality and plug security gaps. Most people don’t like them much because they’re used to what they already have. A recent layout change on my Gmail app moved the buttons for switching accounts to a different place on the screen, and it really threw me off. It’s a small tweak but my thumbs still haven’t got used to having to go somewhere different!

Tempting as it might be to ignore update requests, it’s just not worth it. Often, it’s patching security vulnerabilities that’s the whole point of the update. Cyber criminals can only win if holes in cyber security exist in our software and remain available to be exploited. The irony is that sometimes they don’t even know that an opportunity exists until the developers issue an update to deal with it. But they also know that people often don’t run the update immediately, which means that the door is open for an attack to be launched. The longer you delay updating your applications, the greater the risk.

It’s not just your computer that you need to be vigilant about. Modern homes are full of things that connect to the internet: computers (PC and Mac), tablets, smartphones, the Playstation/Xbox/Switch, Kindles and all sorts of smart appliances. Any one of these could open the window to a cyber attack. The good news is that many devices these days are automatically updated, without you having to do anything, but you’ll still have to authorize some updates yourself. Do it ASAP to keep your cyber security intact.

Ditch the Non-essentials

Updating can be a hassle, so get rid of programs you no longer use and cut down on the computer chores. It’s common to install an application to do a specific task but, if you haven’t used it since, just get rid of it. Just because you’re not using it regularly doesn’t mean it’s not a potential security risk if it’s not updated.

Especially if you like your tech and have a passion for gadgets, it’s easy to accumulate them, and networks are often linked up to all sorts of bits and pieces. If you have devices on your network that are connected but idle, run the updates or disconnect them completely. Not only will you be boosting your cyber security, but you’ll be decluttering and simplifying your life at the same time. This leads into our next rule for cyber security peace of mind.

Do Technology Audits and Document the Changes

Do you remember all the changes you’ve made to your system or network in the last few years? Of course not. Just like you don’t remember that you had a blueberry bagel for breakfast last week. We make tweaks to our technology all the time, sometimes even daily. There was that software for editing image files, and that handy little program for managing something else… As the saying goes, ‘There’s an app for that’, and so lots of stuff gets installed on our devices, all the time. Chances are that you won’t remember half of it a month or so down the line, let alone a year or so. If you don’t make a note of it, you won’t even know what you have on your system that could open the door to a cyber attack.

Auditing your technology can take time but it’s worth the effort. As well as software on your devices, and all those handy little apps you downloaded back in the day, keep track of all your hardware, and what’s on or hooked up to your network. And it doesn’t stop there. A proper audit will include keeping an up-to-date record of your server setting and even security permissions for bank accounts, social media, email and other online accounts. To stay safe, be proactive about your cyber security. It could save you a lot of stress down the line.

These four golden rules have stood the test of time and aren’t going to change any time soon. Of course there’s a lot more to cyber security, but getting the basics right will take you a long way towards preventing you and your business from falling victim to a cyber attack.

If you need more help to protect your business, Quikteks can advise on all aspects of cyber security. Reach out to us at (973) 882-4644.