How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Attacks

Written by: Deborah Cartisser

During the past few years, cyber-attacks have become exponentially more prevalent. During the pandemic, cybercriminals took advantage of misaligned networks as businesses moved to remote work environments.  In 2020, malware attacks increased by 358% compared to 2019. Cybercriminals are increasingly using artificial intelligence to perform breaches.[1]  I recently had a client suffer multiple hacking attempts. We got advice from cyber security experts[2] to help her create greater security. Follow the list below to create enhanced security for yourself and your family.

Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

Using a public Wi-Fi hotspot without protection not only makes all your activity trackable, but it makes it easy for hackers to sneak malware into your device. Don’t be tempted to use hotel, retail, library, or restaurant Wi-Fi. All the browsing activity, texts, emails, and videos you access when using public Wi-Fi can be intercepted by hackers.  Be sure to never access your financial sites on public Wi-Fi. If you must use public Wi-Fi, install a VPN on your computer and phone.

Use a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) can be used on your home computers, laptops, and mobile devices. Most of us use a VPN to access our work computers. Our personal devices need the same security. A VPN masks your IP address, making your online activity private. It creates an encrypted tunnel for your data and allows you to access websites and use public Wi-Fi safely. For more information on why to use a VPN, select the right product and set one up for your phone and computer, search for the Forbes article:  Best VPN services of 2023.

Computer Safety

Update your computer software regularly. Enabling the automatic update function ensures you won’t miss a software update. When vulnerabilities in the system are detected, patches are created by the developers. Install anti-virus and anti-malware software and keep them up to date. Every 2-3 years, research the best anti-virus/malware software to ensure you are using the most current software.

Password Safety

Don’t use the same password for multiple websites or the same password patterns, like the year of your birth or other easily guessed dates. Cyber criminals find passwords on the dark web and then use the stolen login credentials from one website and stuff them into other websites until they find a match.  This is called credential stuffing. Use a reputable password storage system to create a unique and complex password for each website that requires a login. See the PC Magazine article: Do not store passwords in a file on your computer or in your phone. Writing them down on paper in your desk is safer. Do not store any passwords on your browser. Google Chrome, Safari, and many other internet browsers offer to store your passwords for the websites you go to, with a pop-up box asking if you want the password saved. While this may make our life easier, it exposes us to hackers.

Dual Authentication

Enable dual authentication on your email and all of your financial websites. You can go to the company website or call to learn how to enable this on various sites. While it’s tempting to use your phone number to get a text to authenticate your login, hackers can easily reroute your phone number to intercept the texts. Most websites also allow the use of authenticator apps. Their website will list the authenticator apps that are acceptable and you can go to the app store to download them onto your phone.

Review Your Profiles

Every three months you should review your profile on important websites. Hackers can sometimes gain access to a website and change your profile data to reroute activity or prevent your email authentication from working. Look at your name, email address, Social Security number, phone number, and settings. Check your dual authentication settings to be sure they are set properly. Checking to ensure your data is accurate can sometimes be the first step in thwarting an attack.

Use an Identity Theft Monitoring Service

Services like Life Lock, Identity Guard, and Aura, to name a few, can help prevent the theft of your identity. They monitor the dark web for your personal information and password leaks. They can alert you if your personal information is being used to open new accounts. They can monitor your credit cards, financial accounts, and credit files. You get alerts when suspicious activity is found. The more quickly you are alerted to a vulnerability, the faster it can be remediated.

Freeze Your Credit

Criminals will sometimes use your personal data to obtain credit under your name or apply for business loans using your information. To prevent this from happening, freezing your credit at the three major credit agencies prevents anyone from opening new lines of credit under your name. You simply call the agencies and make the request. If you need to open a new credit card or secure a loan, you must call the agencies again to have them unfreeze your credit.  When the loan is secured, call to reinstate the freeze. It is a good idea to pull your credit report annually to review all the information.

Equifax (888) 378-4329, Experian (888) 397-3742, Trans Union (800) 916-8800

If you find fraudulent activity, change your passwords immediately. Next, notify your bank, your financial advisor, and your CPA. You should also report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission at or (877) 438-4338 and follow the steps they outline. Sadly, we may not be able to prevent the hackers from getting in, but by being more vigilant we can stop it quickly if it happens.






[2] Martin Lachance, Partner, Citara Systems

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