The Green Zone - October 2023
We’re more connected by technology today than ever. Ubiquitous laptops, tablets and smartphones mean we’re always online. And increasingly, people are spending that time dealing with critical communication and troves of sensitive data about our lives, businesses and finances.
Unfortunately, all those devices and data have greatly expanded what cybersecurity experts call “attack surface”—touch points where cybercriminals can try to enter and affect or extract data from. In other words, the bad guys have a whole lot more opportunities to harm you online. Worse, they’re getting better and better at what they do, honing and innovating their techniques.
The good news: Fighting back can be easier than you may think. Here are a few tips to protect yourself online in honor of Cybersecurity Awareness Month this October:
Hardening your hardware
Start with the laptops, tablets and smartphones themselves. Securing hardware generally comes down to a few very simple but vital moves. For example:
- Lock your devices. Use a passcode, PIN or facial recognition tool to prevent unwanted users from accessing your technology. Yes, it slows you down. But it also prevents catastrophes.
- Cover your camera. It’s easier than you might want to believe for a bad actor to hack and gain remote access to your laptop camera and spy on you. A pack of slidable laptop webcam covers will cost you only a few dollars.
Multifactor authentication—a new must-have
By now, we should all be familiar with the need for “table stakes” cyber protection such as antivirus software and complex passwords. Add to that list the latest must-have for safeguarding our data: multifactor authentication.
You may have used MFA without even realizing it. For instance, when a web site texts your phone with a numeric code to enter online, even after you’ve typed your password on the computer, it’s MFA. It works because even if one credential becomes compromised, unauthorized users should be unable to meet the second authentication requirement. It’s a simple approach, but its effectiveness cannot be overstated.
Phishing variants emerge
You’re likely familiar with the online criminal activity known as "phishing," when cyber thieves create phony (but legitimate-looking) web sites, emails and texts designed to compromise the data or identity of an unsuspecting user with a single trusting click.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals have gotten extraordinarily good at phishing. Here are a few tips to help sniff out phishing attempts:
- Read the sender address of an email very closely. Is it spelled correctly? Is it formatted accurately?
- Hover over any link in an email to see whether it will clearly send you to a legitimate web site. If you’re unsure, navigate to the web site by entering the URL in your browser rather than clicking. Once there, see if you can find the content that the email is promoting.
- Be extremely careful with attachments that accompany a message. In particular, steer clear of file extensions such as ISO, which denotes files that can copy everything on your drive, or EXE, which denotes executables that can install malware (more on that later).
Ransomware running rampant
Have you heard of ransomware? This a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a certain sum of money is paid. Although this scam is generally focused on companies rather than individuals, here are a few things to be aware of:
- Have all of your kids’ baby photos and all other files that are important to you backed up to a cloud service that’s safe from ransomware attack.
- Don’t pay the ransom, as it helps perpetuate more cybercrime. There’s also no guarantee that you will get access to your data back again. The FBI and DHS echo this advice.
- Instead, contact law enforcement—up to and including your local FBI field office. The feds have gotten a lot of practice dealing with these exploits in recent years. The bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, is an important resource.
Of course, prevention starts with each of us. Ransomware is often delivered via a phishing email or a link in a message that is malicious. The advice above therefore can help you and your staff avoid getting scammed and having your data held hostage.
What’s the password?
Many folks still don’t use password managers, which enable users to have unique passwords for each account that differ greatly from one another. It’s likely that people are afraid to have all their passwords stored in one location—worrying that if someone breaks into their password manager, the thief will have access to everything.
The reality: If you don’t use a manager tool, it’s very likely that you’re simply recycling a single password and using it across multiple accounts. That’s potentially more risky than the chance that your password manager is going to be compromised.
Ultimately, there’s no perfect guarantee that your cybersecurity efforts will thwart each and every online criminal. But given the risks to your wealth, your family, your business and your peace of mind that cybercrimes present, ignoring the issue is simply not an option. Get the basics in place, implement the more advanced solutions and be ready to stay on top of developments in this fast-moving area that impacts all of us.
If any of these topics resonate with you or if you simply want to have a conversation about your current financial situation, please don't hesitate to reach out. To make things easier for you, you can click here to find a time that works for you.
Furthermore, if you happen to know someone who isn't a current client but could benefit from a second opinion or an experienced perspective on their financial matters, please don't hesitate to share this email with them. I am more than happy to extend my assistance to those seeking informed guidance.
Until next month,
Jeff & the Green Financial Group Team
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