Have you ever heard of „cyber hygiene”? Things like brushing your teeth and showering are not usually associated with technology, but the term „hygiene” is a useful metaphor when it comes to smart behavior when using your smart devices.
You learn what good hygiene is as a child and then usually stick to it for the rest of your life. It is based on three basic principles: use of products and aids according to your hygiene needs, correct implementation of the necessary measures and development of a routine.
But what is cyber hygiene and what does it have to do with computers and networked devices ?
Cyber hygiene is about being proactive about your own cybersecurity – no different from your daily personal hygiene – to ward off online threats and security issues. Unfortunately, cybersecurity is still not taken as seriously as tooth decay and tooth root infections. Some people take cybersecurity for granted, but as online threats evolve, that may change. That is why cyber hygiene measures should become just as routine as brushing your teeth.
Below are some tips on how you and your family can put this into practice.
Use the right cyber hygiene tools
Have you ever tried brushing your teeth without a toothbrush? Maintaining personal hygiene is difficult, if not impossible, without the right tools. The same applies to good cyber hygiene. Without the right products and tools, personal information that you believe is safe could be at risk.
Trusted antivirus software , a network firewall, and password protection can help protect the data stored on your computer. Together, they can help ensure that you don’t have to worry about the security of your computer, laptop, smartphone, and other personal devices.
Also, you should always make sure that the provider is a reputable source before installing software on your computer or mobile device.
Integrate cyber hygiene into your everyday life
When you learn to take care of your cybersecurity on a regular basis, you increase your chances of warding off an online threat. But like any habit you’d like to develop, it takes routine and repetition.
First set up a reminder or mark in the calendar when which tasks should be carried out. This includes checking for viruses with antivirus software, updating the operating systems of your various devices, checking for security patches, deleting unnecessary files from your hard drive, and changing your passwords. Once you become familiar with the basic rules of cyber hygiene it will become a matter of course.
Be thorough and careful in cyber hygiene
The use of floss is generally recommended. But does everyone stick to it? Deleted or presumably unrecoverable files on your computer also require some form of flossing, and it depends on the correct application.
For example, you might assume that regularly emptying the trash on the desktop removes personal or sensitive data from the hard drive. But that is a mistake.
In order to permanently delete files from your computer, you need special software. As soon as you install new software, add hardware or change system files, you run the risk of losing personal data. So make a habit of regularly cleaning up unnecessary data and deleting it from the hard drive.
Another security area that needs your attention is password protection. Defy the convenience and create complex, unique passwords for each individual account. Use combinations of at least 12 letters, numbers and special characters. Change your passwords regularly – and you have improved your cyber hygiene.
Important measures for good cyber hygiene
Good cyber hygiene is something that can help keep you safe online. But there are some best practices you can use to make good cyber hygiene even better. Here are nine basic steps.
Step 1: Install trusted software to protect against viruses and malware
The first and perhaps most important step is to install antivirus software. What’s it all about? Antivirus software is a program or series of programs that scan for and help remove computer viruses and other forms of malware, also known as „malware” . It’s an important part of your overall cyber hygiene, which you can use to protect yourself from security breaches and other threats.
In detail, antivirus software helps protect you by doing the following:
- Quarantining specific files to detect malicious software
- Schedule and run automatic scans
- Scan a specific file or the whole computer or flash drive depending on your specific needs
- Deleting malicious code and malware
- Check the security status of your computer and other devices
Step 2: use network firewalls
Using a network firewall is another important measure of good cyber hygiene. Firewalls are a first line of defense for network security because they prevent unauthorized users from accessing your websites, e-mail servers, and other sources of information accessible over the Internet.
Step 3: Update software regularly
Regularly update apps, web browsers, and operating systems to ensure that you are always using the latest versions, which have fixed possible bugs in older versions. Setting up automatic updates ensures that you have the latest protection.
These updates are especially important because they often contain patches. Software developers publish patches as soon as they discover bugs that could become the gateway for viruses or cybercriminals . You may not always be notified when a critical patch has been implemented as it could also attract the attention of cyber criminals. With regular updates, you can therefore ensure that these patches close any security gaps in your software.
Step 4: set up strong passwords
Setting up strong passwords on all of your devices is a must. Passwords should be unique, complex, and consist of at least 12 characters, including numbers, symbols, and upper and lower case letters. If you change your passwords regularly, never give them away, or use them multiple times, you can better prevent them from being cracked by cyber criminals. A password manager can help you set up passwords and keep them safe.
Firmware passwords are another security measure. If hardware is password-protected, unauthorized persons cannot use your computer. While encrypting the entire hard drive prevents cyber criminals from accessing stored information, firmware passwords protect your hardware because your computer cannot be restarted or reset without entering the password.
Step 5: use multifactor authentication
Two-factor or multifactor authentication is a best practice for additional security. With two-factor authentication , you usually have to enter your password and username together with a code that you receive via SMS, for example. For some systems this may be sufficient. However, multifactor authentication offers additional layers of protection through the use of biometric data such as face or fingerprint recognition to make it more difficult for cyber criminals to gain access to your device and personal information.
Step 6: use device encryption
In most companies, data is automatically encrypted. If necessary, you should also use this technology for your devices and other media that contain sensitive data – such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, removable storage devices, data tapes and cloud storage. In fact, many smartphones use encryption as the standard for the data stored on them. Some apps use end-to-end encryption and other services encrypt data on your devices and secure them in the cloud. Another option is to use an encrypted USB stick.
Step 7: take regular backups
The back up important files – offline, on an external hard drive or in the cloud – is also an important task. This will help you protect yourself from the numerous forms of data loss, especially if cyber criminals gain access to one of your devices.
Step 8: Erase data from the hard drive
When you sell your laptop, tablet or smartphone, you need to make sure that the next user doesn’t get to your personal or sensitive information. Should your device be compromised, attackers can access far less data from a clean hard drive.
However, simply deleting files or data is usually not enough. Good cyber hygiene also includes reformatting and then cleaning up your hard drive. For example, if you want to sell your computer and have previously used it for online banking, then you should clean the hard drive to remove software and data.
Step 9: Secure your router
Don’t forget to protect your WiFi. To do this, you need to disable and change the default name and password set by the manufacturer of the router, disable remote management, and log out as administrator after setup. Also, make sure that your router offers WPA2 or WPA3 encryption to ensure the highest possible level of security for information sent over the network.
Remember: good cyber hygiene habits must be practiced permanently. If you install trusted security software on your computer and devices, update them regularly, use strong passwords, and thoroughly erase data, then you are well on your way to getting used to the rules of cybersecurity.