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SALT LAKE CITY – Cybercrime encompasses so much: hacking, malware, identity theft, drained bank accounts and more. The good news is you don’t have to quit the Internet to avoid all those situations. There are several free and really low-tech ways we can improve our cybersecurity.
Use strong passwords
First on the list is a big one, strong passwords. We all know “123456” doesn’t cut it.
But random strings of numbers, characters and symbols aren’t much better. Robert Jorgensen, Director of UVU’s Cybersecurity program, says instead of a password, try a passphrase.
“When you think about passwords, length is much more important than complexity,” said Jorgensen. “So, if you use a phrase like ‘mydogsnameisrex,’ that’s much better than ‘@73#4.’ Plus, it’s easier to remember.”
KSL’s Debbie Dujanovic tested “mydogsnameisrex” on HowSecureIsMyPassword.net. She found that password would take a thousand years for hackers using automated software trying countless passwords to crack. But a shorter, seemingly more complex one like “#ksl@SLC” takes a mere three minutes.
“We call this a brute force attack,” said Jorgensen. “Basically, where they try all the combinations and that’s where short passwords fail.”
We found Nate Julian on his laptop at the library. He’s not a cybersecurity expert, but he has an important password tip the experts will agree with – don’t use the same password for multiple websites or applications.
“If one password gets found by someone trying to break in, they can use that across other platforms and they know that,” said Julian.
Download patches and update software
Ethan Carr also uses his laptop at the library and he says one cybersecurity precaution he always does is keep his software updated.
“The programs I use are up to date, so there aren’t security flaws and stuff like that.”
If you’re tempted to skip past software updates, Jorgensen says think about the massive Equifax data breach where personal and financial info of 143 million Americans was taken by cyber criminals.
“That was a case where a software patch for their servers came out in March, and they didn’t apply it,” explained Jorgensen. “They were breached in May and didn’t realize until the end of July.”
Jorgensen said software updates are a basic technical step you can take to protect yourself.
“It’s not like you have to download these obscure patches to figure out what to do. OSX, Windows and various other operating systems have automatic update features where you can just run it and get the latest patches.”
Jorgensen admits waiting for your computer to reboot after a software update is annoying, but the updates almost always have security updates that will keep hackers out of your computers or smartphones.
Call and confirm messages
When Brent Cowley uses his laptop and other devices, he doesn’t open unexpected e-mails, attachments or links, even if they’re from people or businesses he knows.
“You need to trust anything you’re accessing online,” Cowley recommended.
“When someone gets their account compromised, often the attackers will use that account to send out links or other malware to everyone else in their contacts,” explained Jorgensen. “That way, it’s coming from someone they trust and they open it up. It says, ‘Hey, I’m Jim. Click on this to view my vacation photos.’ So I click on it and all my files are now locked with ransomware.”
Before clicking on anything, contact the sender first to make sure what they sent you is real.
“One of the things these attackers rely on is we’re often in a hurry. They’ll send something and nobody wants to take that time to make that call – so verifying that information is important.”
Back up files, photos and media
If you are hit with ransomware, backing up your files, photos and media to an external hard drive or the cloud saves you from having to pay the ransom.
“If you have those backed up, then the attackers don’t have any leverage on you,” said Jorgensen. “You can say, ‘No, you can delete my files. I have backups.’”