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Happy Cybersecurity Awareness Month!  

Every October, the National Cybersecurity Alliance selects a theme around which to publish extensive awareness resources and practical tips to help you improve your cybersecurity.1 This year’s theme is “It’s easy to stay safe online.” With the number of cyber threats and breaches dominating the headlines, it can seem like a Herculean task to cover all your bases; however, with just four easy habits, you can actually protect yourself against a large percentage of these threats!  

Don’t be scared of hackers, phishers, or cyber criminals this month. Leave that to the ghosts, ghouls, and your upcoming holiday social calendar. 

1. Multifactor Authentication

Multifactor authentication (MFA) is an excellent way to frustrate cybercriminals attempting to break into your online accounts. MFA means that you need more than a username and password to log in, such as a one-time code sent to by email, text, or through an authentication app or a face or fingerprint scan. This adds an extra layer of security, because a thief would have to have access to your device, your email, or be able to trick a biometric reader to get into your online account.  

Most online sites offer the option to turn on MFA. While it may add an extra few seconds to the login process, it’s well worth it. Username and password combinations can be up for sale on the dark web following a breach. With these in hand, a cybercriminal could then help themselves to your online bank account, online medical records, and possibly your identity. When an account is secured with MFA, a criminal may quickly move on to another target that’s easier to crack. 

2. Using Strong Passwords and Password Managers

Most sites won’t even let you proceed with creating an account if you don’t have a strong enough password. A strong password is one with a mix of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. What also makes for an excellent password is one that’s unique. Reusing passwords can be just as risky as using “password123” or your pet’s name plus your birthday as a password. A reused password can put all your online accounts at risk, due to a practice called credential stuffing. Credential stuffing is a tactic where a cybercriminal attempts to input a stolen username and password combination in dozens of random websites and to see which doors it opens. 

Remembering a different password for each of your online accounts is almost an impossible task. Luckily, password managers make it so you only have to remember one password ever again! Password managers, like the one available in McAfee+. safeguard all your passwords in one secure desktop extension or cellphone app that you can use anywhere. McAfee+ is secured with one of the most secure encryption algorithms available, and multifactor authentication is always standard. 

It’s best to create passwords or passphrases that have a secret meaning that only you know. Stay away from using significant dates, names, or places, because those are easier to guess. You can also leave it up to your password manager to randomly generate a password for you. The resulting unintelligible jumble of numbers, letters, and symbols is virtually impossible for anyone to guess. 

3. Updating Software

Software update notifications always seem ping on the outskirts of your desktop and mobile device at the most inconvenient times. What’s more inconvenient though is having your device hacked. Another easy tip to improve your cybersecurity is to update your device software whenever upgrades are available. Most software updates include security patches that smart teams have created to foil cybercriminals. The more outdated your apps or operating system is, the more time criminals have had to work out ways to infiltrate them. 

Consider enabling automatic updates on all your devices. Many major updates occur in the early hours of the morning, meaning that you’ll never know your devices were offline. You’ll just wake up to new, secure software! 

4. Recognizing and Reporting Phishing

You’ve likely already experienced a phishing attempt, whether you were aware of it or not. Phishing is a common tactic used to eke personal details from unsuspecting or trusting people. Phishers often initiate contact through texts, emails, or social media direct messages, and they aim to get enough information to hack into your online accounts or to impersonate you.  

Luckily, it’s usually easy to identify a phisher. Here are a few tell-tale signs for be on the lookout for: 

  • Poor spelling or grammar 
  • Links to suspicious-looking URLs 
  • A tone of urgency, fear, anger, or pleas for sympathy 
  • Requests for banking or personal details, passwords, or money wires 

Never engage with a phishing attempt. Do not forward the message or respond to them and never click on any links included in their message. The links could direct to malicious sites that could infect your device with malware or spyware.  

Before you delete the message, block the sender, mark the message as junk, and report the phisher. Reporting can go a long way toward hopefully preventing the phisher from targeting someone else. 

Great Habits With a Side of Cybersecurity Tools 

The best complement to your newfound excellent cyber habits is a toolbelt of excellent services to patch any holes in your defense. McAfee+ includes all the services you need to boost your peace of mind about your online identity and privacy. You can surf public Wi-Fi safely with its secure VPN, protect your device with antivirus software, scan risky sites for your personally identifiable information, and more! 

This October, make a commitment to improving your cybersecurity with the guidance of the National Cybersecurity Alliance and McAfee. 

1National Cybersecurity Alliance, “Cybersecurity Awareness Month”