How to be cyber safe and savvy: Ten top tips

Cyber-crime continues to hit the headlines with the latest stats revealing over five million instances of online fraud in the last year alone - and people can often be victims without even realising it.

One of the key methods used by virtual thieves is to steal small amounts from multiple victims, so they are rarely discovered until it is too late.

With IT and technology moving at such a fast pace, it can be confusing to keep abreast of new and emerging threats, so that’s why I have created my top 10 tips to help you stay safe in the virtual world.

1. Keep your infrastructure defence systems such as firewalls up-to-date. The E-crime Home Affairs Report found that 80 per cent of cyber-attacks could be stopped through what it called ‘basic information risk management' - i.e. you!

2. Ensure good password practice, as password protection is the lynchpin of security. Aim for a minimum of eight characters with a random set of upper and lower case letters, symbols and numbers, and use different passwords for different applications or services

3. If you have a business never underestimate the importance of having an IT policy - it is vital in the current climate of cyber attacks. It should be a set of guidelines that all staff understand and buy into and your policy must be concise to ensure it is read and understood - a couple of pages are often sufficient. Everyone who has access to your systems should adhere to it, in and outside the office, as remote working can be where your systems are most vulnerable

4. Avoid using a public network if possible, but needs must on occasions. You are better protected if the network you are connecting to has encryption in place (normally shown by a padlock beside the network name). Better still use a virtual private network (VPN) that you can set up for working remotely. All modern browsers will show the status of website security, normally in the address bar

5. Check you’ve not already been hacked. A good way to tell is whether small amounts of money have gone missing in your transactions. This is because cyber-thieves often target huge numbers, taking only small amount, so they can accrue large sums undetected

6. Be e-crime aware and on your guard. For example, the growth of mobile communications means that many of us are carrying confidential data (such as emails, contact details) in our pockets via a phone. And every week, nearly a thousand laptops go missing at Heathrow, only half of these are recovered.

7. Review your security on a monthly basis - cyber criminals act quickly and you need to as well. They are constantly looking at new ways to hack into systems and that’s why you need to ensure you are up-to-date to avoid being vulnerable. ‘Phishing’ attacks, where emails are sent purporting to be from a bank or other service provider, trick victims into providing user names and passwords on a convincing but phoney version of the actual provider’s site. Always be sure you are on a genuine site by entering the website address directly into your browser address bar rather than clicking links in emails

8. Identify what IT is critical to you on a personal and business basis and have a recovery plan in case of hacking. You should plan for all potential emergency situations and consider different options for backing up your critical system data, both online and offline

9. Even if you are not doing money transactions online, remember hackers could be after your intellectual property - everything from your client list to new business ideas - so be safe.

10. Finally, a word of warning. If you are dealing with customers, they are also at risk and that is also your responsibility. Under the UK Data Protection Act, companies are responsible for all data they receive from the moment they acquire it to when it is destroyed. It can be catastrophic if e-criminals get into your database. When cyber thieves hacked the financial details of 23,000 Sony customers, it cost them $172 million and a nine per cent drop in share price before it was put right.

Lifeline IT manages, sets up and develops IT systems for businesses across a variety of different sectors, including accountancy and finance, retail and property.

With more than 20 years' experience in the IT industry, it has specialist interest in advising small businesses.

For further information about Lifeline IT visit www.lifelineit.net

Daniel Mitchell is the director of Lifeline IT

Image source: Shutterstock/m00osfoto