During times of crisis – whether it be a terrorist attack, economic downturn, pandemic outbreak or otherwise – it is natural for humans to focus on what’s most important in life, such as their children, pets, health and finances. It is understandable that data security may not be top of mind and the typical safeguards against cyber-attacks can fall to the wayside.

However, it is during these times that cyber criminals typically increase their efforts. They are aware that we are concentrating on other priorities and take advantage of our fear and need for health, safety and financial aid information. Therefore, it is important that we be most vigilant to keep our personal information protected during a crisis. This is especially important for those of us working from home, as we also need to be mindful of protecting our employer’s sensitive information as well.

The good news is, there are steps you can take to enhance the security of your electronic transactions. Here are some best practices from leading industry experts that can help you protect your personal and business data from hacks, scams, malware and theft.

  1. Create Complex Passwords
    Creating strong, unique passwords for all of your accounts is a critical first step in keeping your data safe. It’s also important that your online accounts offer multi-factor authentication in which multiple pieces of information are required to verify your identity. For example, to log into an account, you may need to enter a code that is sent to your phone, as well as your password and passphrase. Also consider changing your password often.
  2. Avoid Public Wi-Fi
    Public Wi-Fi is often unsecured, which makes it easy for hackers to access your device or information. If you occasionally must use a system other than your own password-protected router, then it makes sense to invest in a virtual private network (VPN). This is simply software you can download that creates a secure connection over the Internet, wherever you may be.
  3. Use a Firewall
    A firewall is an electronic barrier that closes off unauthorized access to your computer or devices. When you use a firewall, you ensure that all devices connected to your network are secured. A firewall also closes off vulnerable points of entry to your network, such as webcams and smart thermostats.
  4. Protect Mobile Devices
    Mobile devices present their own set of dangers, such as unknown links sent by text message or risky apps. If you use a smartphone, be sure to use a screen lock or other security feature to access your phone. Remember to install updated security patches to your smartphone’s apps or operating system and only respond to messages from people you know.
  5. Click Carefully
    Online quizzes, free offers and spam emails are common phishing techniques used by cyber-criminals to trick you into sharing personal or sensitive information. Be careful when it comes to clicking on unknown or suspicious emails or otherwise disclosing personal information.
  6. Surf and Shop Safely
    Cyber-criminals often create fake websites to lure in unsuspecting users who believe they are using legitimate shopping or banking sites. Only shop or bank online when you can ensure that the website’s address starts with “https” instead of just “http.” Also, check that there is a padlock icon in the URL to be certain the site is secure and uses encryption to scramble your data. Sometimes you can identify copycat sites by their use of incorrect grammar as well as frequent misspellings of commonly used words.

While the health and safety of our family is paramount in times of crisis, it is important not to lose sight of other factors that affect our long-term security, including our approach to keeping our online data protected. By employing these tips before and during a crisis you are safeguarding yourself – and your company – against damaging cyber-crimes that could be timely and costly to correct.