With the increased reliance on computers and other online technology in many aspects of our lives, it’s important to be prepared to combat cybercriminals. Cybercrime is defined as the use of a computer as an instrument to further illegal ends, such as committing fraud, trafficking in child pornography and intellectual property, stealing identities, or violating privacy. Follow these tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from cybercriminals.
Protect your children online
- Keep your computer in a central and open location
- Discuss and set guidelines/rules for computer use with your children
- Use the Internet with your children
- Implement strong parental controls
- Consider software that allows you to monitor your children’s email and web traffic
- Consider partitioning your computer’s hard drive
- Know who your children are talking to online
- Teach your children never to give out personal information
Use strong passwords
You should use passwords not only on your home computer but also for services you use elsewhere on the Internet. All should have the strongest passwords you can use and remember, and each password should be unique and unrelated to all other passwords. A strong password should be at least 8 characters long, uses combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and punctuation, and is usually not a word found in a dictionary. Don’t use the same user name and password on multiple websites. Hackers can find that information on one site to get to critical information on other sites.
Keep your web browsers and operating system up to date
Vendors often release patches and updates for their software when a vulnerability has been discovered. Some companies release updates at a certain time each month. Many applications can be configured to automatically check for available updates. Another option is to periodically check the vendor’s website for information about software updates.
Know who you’re dealing with online
- Don’t run programs of unknown origin – Never run a program unless you know it was authored by a person or company that you trust. Also, don’t send programs of unknown origin to your friends or coworkers simply because they are amusing — they might contain malicious software (malware).
- Watch for phishing scams – “Phishers” send spam or pop-up messages claiming to be from a business or organization that you might deal with – such as an Internet service provider (ISP), bank, online payment service, or even a government agency. The message usually says that you need to “update” or “validate” your account information. Don’t take the bait. Never open unsolicited or unknown email messages, don’t open attachments from people you don’t know or don’t expect, and never reply to or click on links in email or pop-ups that ask for personal information.”
- Be wary of free software and file sharing – Every day, millions of computer users share files online. File sharing can give people access to a wealth of information, including music, games, and software. How does it work? You download special software that connects your computer to an informal network of other computers running the same software. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at one time. Often the software is free and easily accessible. File sharing can have a number of risks. If you don’t check the proper settings, you could allow access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, like your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents. In addition, you could unwittingly download pornography labeled as something else, or you may download material that is protected by copyright laws, which could mean you are breaking the law.
Use security software tools as your first line of defense
- Use anti-virus software – Anti-virus software programs are developed to detect and remove computer viruses and other virus-related software from users’ computers. Configure your anti-virus software to perform a full system virus scan on a weekly basis. Confirm that your anti-virus definition files are up-to-date. Ensure that “Automatic Update” settings are configured and that updates are being applied.
- Install and use a firewall – A firewall controls the flow of information that travels between your computer and the Internet. When information coming into (or going out of) your computer is not obeying the “safety rules,” the firewall can block the information to help protect your computer from unauthorized and potentially dangerous material.
Backup important files and folders
Keep a copy of important files on removable media, such as thumb drive. Use software backup tools if available, and store the backup disks in another location such as a fireproof safe, safety deposit box or at your child or parent’s home.
Don’t open unknown email
Some messages you receive may use the return address of someone you know or feature a provocative subject line. The sender is trying to encourage you to open the letter, read its contents, and click on a link to a malicious website or open an attachment that will install malware on your computer. If you must open an attachment before you can verify the source, be sure your virus definitions are up-to-date, save the file to your hard disk, and scan the file using your antivirus software before opening it.
Secure your wireless network
An unsecured wireless network can give hackers access to your computer in order to steal personal information or to upload malware on to your computer. To secure your wireless network, be sure to enable encryption, change the default password that comes with your wireless device, change the Service Set Identifier name (SSID), turn off SSID broadcasting and use MAC filtering. Your wireless device manual will have directions on how to implement these security settings.
Take precautions with mobile computing
Laptops, tablets and cell phones can easily be stolen or misplaced because of their size. Remember, if your laptop is gone, your data is too. Beyond the simple loss of the data stored on your hard drive, someone else could have access to:
- Your online bank account or brokerage account
- The list of passwords you store in Word or Excel
- Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address
- All your email correspondence
- Your personal accounting or tax data
If you are using a laptop remember:
- Protect your device with a strong password, which should consist of a combination or numbers and upper and lower-case letters
- Encrypt confidential information
- Be sure that all important data is backed up
- Keep it with you during air and vehicle travel until it can be locked up safely
Know who to contact if you believe your child is in danger
Visit www.getnetwise.org for detailed information. If you know of a child in immediate risk or danger, call law enforcement immediately. Please report instances of online child exploitation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline. Even though children may have better technical skills, don’t be intimidated by their knowledge. Children still need advice, guidance, and protection. Keep the lines of communication open and let your child know that you can be approached with any questions they may have about behaviors or problems encountered on the computer.
Learn what to do if something goes wrong
Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to identify that your computer has been infected with malicious code. Some infections may destroy files and shut down your computer, while others may only subtly affect your computer’s normal operations. Be aware of any unusual or unexpected behaviors.
- Hacking or computer virus – If your computer gets hacked or infected by a virus, a immediately unplug the phone or cable line from your machine or deactivate your wireless connection, scan your entire computer with fully updated anti-virus software and update your firewall, and alert the appropriate authorities by contacting your ISP and contact the FBI at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us
- Internet fraud – If a scammer takes advantage of you when you’re shopping or sending money online, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at http://ftc.gov. The FTC enters identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
- Deceptive spam – If you get deceptive spam, including email phishing for your information, forward it to email@example.com. Be sure to include the full Internet header of the email. In many email programs, the full “Internet header” is not automatically included in forwarded email messages, so you may need to take additional measures to include the full information needed to detect deceptive spam.
- Divulged personal information – If you believe you have mistakenly given your information to a fraudster, file a complaint at http://ftc.gov, and then visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website at to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from a potential theft of your identity.