Cyber hygiene is a basic necessity

There are some things in life we do without thinking: washing our hands, morning showers, cleaning dishes. It’s basic hygiene taught from an early age and carried through life to help protect against illness and disease.

As the recent Equifax data breach — and numerous breaches at other organizations before that — demonstrate, cyber hygiene has become just as important.

It should become just as routine.

The risk of not practicing cyber hygiene is having your identity stolen, your credit misused and potentially losing money from financial accounts.

So, what is cyber hygiene?

You’ve heard some of it before, such as having strong logins and passwords and changing them regularly. But the online world has evolved and become a much more dangerous place in recent years. More steps are needed to protect yourself online.

Many experts, for example, now recommend considering a credit freeze, which makes it more difficult for someone to open an account in your name. The Washington State Attorney General’s Office has detailed information on how to place security freezes at Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

A credit freeze at Equifax is currently free. The others charge a fee, unless you are 65 or older, or already a victim of identity theft.

Here are some additional recommended steps to work into your cyber hygiene routine:

  • Enable two-step verification, if available, on all your accounts. This involves signing in as usual with a password and login, but also typing in a security code that’s texted to your phone or generated by a smart phone app, such as Google Authenticator.
  • Don’t trust your email. If an email requests you to take action, such as signing into an account, contact the organization directly. Do not use links or phone numbers embedded in the email. Visit websites by typing the address into the address bar.
  • Only open an email attachment, including PDFs, photos and text files, if you are expecting it and know what it contains. Be cautious about container files, such as .zip files, as malicious content could be packed inside.
  • Be careful about posting personal information on social media. Spear phishers will use it to pose as someone you trust in an email. They also may use the information to attempt breaking into your accounts.
  • Keep your antivirus software up to date, as well as all other applications on your computer. Home users should have the auto update feature enabled. This will help protect against the latest threats.
  • Take advantage of free online security awareness training sites, such as https://safeandsecureonline.org/

Please browse the stories at cybersecurity.wa.gov for more information on how to protect yourself online.

Sincerely,

Agnes Kirk, Washington State Chief Information Security Officer

Ph: 1.888.241.7597 or cybersecurity@ocs.wa.gov