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What is cyber hygiene? Important online and offline tips

What we'll cover

  • Things you can do to keep your data safe

  • Checklists for online and offline cyber hygiene 

  • Quizzes to test your cyber hygiene knowledge

The internet has made everything from shopping to socializing possible from the palm of your hand. But to make the most of your digital lifestyle, it’s important to keep your data secure. From hackers to fraud and phishing scams , there’s no shortage of security threats on the internet. Cyber hygiene is one crucial way to avoid these pitfalls and remain as safe as possible online.

What is cyber hygiene?

Just like you shower, brush your teeth and wash your hands to stay clean, a solid cyber hygiene routine is of the utmost importance. But we’re not talking about lathering up your laptop. Cyber hygiene refers to maintaining the health of your digital devices as well as following best practices to improve your online safety and security.

Why is cyber hygiene important?

Prevention is the best medicine and maintaining good cyber hygiene could ward off common online threats. A solid routine can help prevent security breaches and protect sensitive data from theft or attacks. (Think: hackers getting access to your bank account or all your photos disappearing). With proper cyber hygiene, you have a greater chance of stopping these threats before they wreak havoc.

Online cyber hygiene best practices

Cyber hygiene can consist of physical, offline actions as well as online safeguards. To get your cyber hygiene routine in tip-top shape, follow these tried-and-true methods for remaining safe and secure online.

Don’t use the same passwords twice

If your password is stolen, cybercriminals could try to use it to access your other accounts. By creating unique passwords for every online account, you decrease the likelihood that multiple accounts will be affected when a hacker strikes. Use these tips to create strong passwords you’ll remember.

Don’t share passwords with others

Sure, you may trust your closest family members and friends with your life, but you still shouldn’t share your passwords with them. When other people have access to your passwords, you can’t ensure their safety. For instance, if someone with your password falls for a phishing scam or unknowingly has malware on their browser, you could be the one paying the price.

Don’t fall for phishing scams

Stranger danger isn’t just something we learn as kids – the same advice applies online. Phishing scams are intended to lure you into revealing your personal information by masquerading as legitimate companies or people. Don’t take the bait.

See an email from an unfamiliar address? Err on the side of caution, and don’t click on any links or open attachments as they could contain malware and viruses. The same goes for social media and SMS messages . Beware of payment requests, and look out for red flags on social media platforms (i.e. investment opportunities, hacked profiles or the latest scams involving dating and finances ).

Utilize antivirus software

Think of antivirus software as a daily multivitamin for your digital safety. Operating systems often have this protection built-in, but additional software helps to scan your devices for viruses and malware. Antivirus software is often bundled with other digital security software you may find useful, such as parental controls, firewalls, secure browsers and password managers.

Use public wi-fi wisely

When you’re out and about, hopping on public Wi-Fi to do some online shopping or check your email is super convenient, but take care to avoid putting your personal information at risk. To avoid automatically connecting to public Wi-Fi as you’re on the go, turn off both automatic and Bluetooth connectivity on your phone. You should also use secure sites and connect to secure networks whenever possible. And don’t forget to sign out of your accounts and log off the network when you’re done.

Your online cyber hygiene checklist

To stay safe online, you have to take a multi-pronged approach to cyber hygiene. Start by using this handy checklist as your guide:

  • Use unique passwords for each of your accounts

  • Don’t share passwords

  • Watch out for phishing scams via SMS, email and social media

  • Use antivirus software

  • Be careful on public Wi-Fi

Think you’re prepared? Test your knowledge to see how much you know about online cyber hygiene best practices.

Offline cyber hygiene best practices

Offline (physical) safety tips should also be an important part of your cyber hygiene routine, too. Even when you’re not online, there are ways to physically protect your digital safety. Take these steps into consideration to ensure your online security:

Don’t leave your device alone

Your laptop and phone have valuable information and data stored on them. That’s why you should never leave your device in your car overnight or anywhere in plain sight when you’re not present. Unfortunately, a lot can happen in a short amount of time, even if you’re simply running to the bathroom at the airport or getting up from your table at the coffee shop for that second cup of joe.

Be cautious of ‘shoulder surfers’ as you input sensitive information

Cybercriminals don’t just exist online. They can also get your passwords and other private data the old-fashioned way — by looking over your shoulder. Whenever you input a pin, password, credit card number or other sensitive information, look around to make sure no one is lurking. Better yet, use your body to hide your password as you type to keep prying eyes in the dark.

Don’t write passwords down

While it may be convenient to use a sticky note on your desk for your passwords, it’s not the safest method. Your information could end up in the wrong hands. Instead, consider using a password manager with a digital vault.

Keep all private information stored securely

Store all your most valuable documents in a safe and protected spot such as a locked safe. If thieves target your home, they could get your banking information, Social Security number and other private information.

Wipe your hard drives

When you sell or dispose of your laptop, tablet or smartphone, your data shouldn’t go with it. Reformatting and wiping your hard drive clean when a device will no longer be in your possession is a good way to help keep your data from being compromised.

Your offline cyber hygiene checklist

When it comes to your digital security, what you do offline is just as important as what you do online. To get started, use this checklist to make sure you’re making the right moves:

  • Don’t leave your device unattended

  • Watch out for people looking over your shoulder when inputting sensitive information

  • Don’t write passwords down

  • Keep private information in a secure location in your home

  • Clean your hard drive

Think you’re up to speed? Now it’s time to test your offline cyber hygiene knowledge!

Make cyber hygiene a routine

Whether you’re banking, shopping or keeping up with friends on social media, digital tools and websites have made life easier and more enjoyable. But it’s still important to be careful while having fun. With a proper cyber hygiene routine, you can help protect yourself from online threats before they happen. By making safety and prevention a priority, you can continue to live your best online life with less worry.

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