Cyber security AwarenessOctober is officially National Cyber Security Awareness Month, something that couldn’t be any timelier, given the recent Equifax breach. Sadly, though, this incident is just the tip of the iceberg as far as breaches go. This year, breaches have been more frequent and more severe than those of years past with leaks like CloudBleed, the CIA Vault 7 leak, the RNC leak and the Verizon leak, demonstrating how vulnerable online data can be. Despite the uptick in breaches that consumers have no control over, good cybersecurity habits still remain the best way to keep your information safe. Continue reading as we reflect on the current state of cybersecurity, cybersecurity’s importance today and how you can adopt better cybersecurity habits.

How has cybersecurity fared this year?

While things aren’t all doom and gloom, the chronic frequency of breaches and security vulnerabilities reveals several things about the present state of cybersecurity.

Many cybersecurity concerns fall on consumers’ shoulders (for now)

While a number of personalized attacks, such as email phishing or malware infections, rely on targeting individuals, the big hacks that target entire systems or databases involve cybersecurity at the organizational level. Although consumers have no control over these attacks, at least not directly, the unfortunate reality is that information gained from these occurrences can be used to create more complex phishing social engineering scams to attack consumers. This effectively means that the consequences of bad organizational cybersecurity aren’t always internalized by companies, as consumers have the most to lose. As a result, some companies simply kick the can or pass the buck when it comes to cybersecurity, much to the frustration of consumers and watchdog agencies. To be fair, legislation addressing this issue has been proposed, and there do exist many companies which take cybersecurity seriously. Still, there seems to be a lack of accountability when it comes to major data breaches, leaving consumers left to fend for themselves.

Consumers are scared and tired

It’s hard to talk about cybersecurity without talking about fear and fatigue. A recent study shows that many Americans are more afraid of criminal hacking than they are about pollution, global warming, nuclear power, car accidents and other threats. Not only that, but consumers are likely very tired of hearing about breaches on a weekly basis. Although maintaining strong passwords and good cybersecurity habits, like the ones we shared last year, can help protect consumers, such habits can’t stop breaches or hacks from occurring. As such, some consumers may view breaches as a “regular” part of life and this can cause them to invest less time in their own cybersecurity, as some studies show. This, in turn, encourages hackers to continue their actions, as bad cybersecurity habits make their jobs easier.

What should you do?

Given the current state of cybersecurity, what can or should consumers do in order to best protect themselves? Here are some tips:

Don’t fall victim to fatigue

We realize how easy it is to essentially tune out breach-related news or any cybersecurity advice, given how frequently we hear about both, but breach fatigue and password fatigue will create cracks in your defenses if you let them. Even if your information is stolen in a breach, good password practices, like changing them regularly (consider using a password manager if you need help coming up with new ones), can mitigate your chances of having other accounts hacked. Additionally, reacting to breach disclosures by changing your passwords, freezing your credit, checking your bank statements, etc. in a prompt and timely manner could allow you to have more available options for dealing with the situation.

Delete old accounts and dispose of old devices

We’ve previously talked the importance of reducing your attack surface, or the number of entryways hackers can use to gain access into your life, but it’s something worth noting again. Your digital footprint, or the number of devices and services you use, is one key aspect of your attack surface. That means keeping around old devices or leaving old accounts open, such as your long-abandoned Myspace and Hotmail, for example, could create subtle pathways into your life. Obviously, reducing your digital footprint isn’t going to be the be-all and end-all of cybersecurity, especially with breaches targeting corporate and government systems, but it’s a decent start for those who want to do everything they can to keep their information safe.

Utilize two-factor authentication and look for HTTPS

Two-factor authentication and HTTPS are cybersecurity tools that we talk about all the time because they’re powerful (though not foolproof) ways of keeping you safe online. Because of this, you should always seek out both of these options whenever accessing a site or service that requires you to login or input information into a form. Not sure what they are? Visit our guide to HTTPS or our guide to two-factor authentication to learn more.

Keep your kids safe

Given that children frequently fall victim to major data breaches as well as other types of attacks before, it’s wise for parents to aim to protect their whole family, young ones included. With that in mind, it’s necessary to teach your children basic cybersecurity tips, like what sites to stick to and how to avoid strangers online, whether they’re using social media or playing video games over the Internet. As they get older, you can teach your children the importance of monitoring their digital footprint and attack surface. Cybersecurity will likely be a part of your child’s whole life, so by teaching them some good habits now, you may be setting them up for strong cybersecurity habits throughout their entire life.

Watch who you do business with

While consumers can’t control corporate and governmental cybersecurity policies, in some cases, we can exert our will through our economic choices by avoiding companies who have notably lax or bad cybersecurity policies. If a company has had multiple breaches in the past due to the same types of errors, for example, you may want to recognize that as a sign of disregard for consumer information. This isn’t something that is always feasible – e.g., we’re all customers of Equifax whether we like it or not – but there’s no reason why we should continue to support the practices of every company that engages in consistently careless cybersecurity habits.

For more information about National Cyber Security Awareness Month, keep reading our technology blog, where we detail the best ways for you to keep yourself safe in this day and age.