You can make your home a haven for online safety

This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), a month designated by the National Cyber Security Alliance to promote online safety.

At CenturyLink, we’re proud to do our part to promote awareness of online safety and privacy. As an official Champion of NCSAM, we are helping the online safety effort by sharing tools, resources and best practices. This week, our focus is on best practices for securing your home and making it a haven for online safety.

Here are three tips for how you can help keep yourself, your loved ones and your home safe online:

1. Be better with passwords.

Did you know that “password” and “12345” are still commonly used passwords, despite all the advice counseling against it? The fact is: as consumers, we have so many passwords to maintain, from our online accounts to our home routers, gaming systems and other smart devices, that we sometimes just take the easy way out.

Often, we use the default username/password provided for the device, we reuse the same password for multiple accounts or we resort to basing the password on people or events that have meaning to us, such as birthdays, anniversaries, pet names and so on. Each of these approaches can open us up to potential hacks.

We can do better, and here’s how: instead of using a password, use a passphrase. A passphrase can be something straightforward and easy to remember, but by adding more characters, you’re exponentially increasing its security. Think: “I like apple pie” instead of “apple.”

You can take it a step further by replacing one or more letters with numbers or special characters, and suddenly your devices and accounts have become much harder to crack through methods like social engineering.

Example passphrase: “I Lik3 @ppl3 Pi3”

2. Practice good cyber hygiene.

What’s cyber hygiene? Okay, it might sound strange, but think about it as practicing better habits online. The best way to practice good cyber hygiene is to start with being aware of what’s out there. For example, phishing attempts, which are fake email alerts disguised as legitimate communications and used to collect your sensitive information, account for more than 90 percent of all cyber attacks according to PhishMe. Even if you recognize the company or individual, be wary of clicking on any links sent to you by email. Instead, use your internet search browser to reach the site directly.

Second, regularly check the security settings for your social media accounts to be sure you are sharing what you want with whom you want. Those fun Facebook quizzes might give you a few laughs, but you may not want them to have access to your data months from now and quizzes may be asking you for the very information you use as a password or an answer to a security question.

Finally, consider using two-factor authentication. With tools like Google authenticator or a simple text message, you can elevate the difficulty of a third party accessing your online accounts.

3. Keep internet-connected devices clean.

How many virtual assistant devices do you have in your home? What about home security cameras or connected thermostats? If you already have these or are thinking about getting any smart home devices, take the time to do your research to be sure they don’t have any vulnerabilities that will let cybercriminals into your home network. While it may be the last thing we want to hear, it’s our responsibility as consumers to read the fine print about how and where our personal information is stored and shared.

For current internet-connected devices, the most important step is to keep them up to date on software patches and security updates. Many recent exploits have used known vulnerabilities that only worked on machines or devices that were not updated in a timely manner. Your home router, for example, should be updated at least every three months with the latest firmware. (CenturyLink customers can go here for more information on how to do this: http://www.centurylink.com/home/help/internet/modems-and-routers/what-modems-are-compatible-with-centurylink.html.)

Finally, think twice before using public Wi-Fi. We recommend you don’t join an unknown Wi-Fi hotspot, instead set up your own. Bad actors are known to create hotspots in public places like coffee shops and airports to intercept traffic and inject malware. It’s always a good idea to check with the establishment to ensure you’re joining the right Wi-Fi network.

BONUS Tip: Collaborate with your internet service provider (ISP).

It should go without saying, but your ISP is your partner and can provide information and tools to help keep you safe from bad actors.

We know cybercriminals are counting on consumers to be complacent – so let’s not make it easy for them. Follow these tips and visit www.stopthinkconnect.org to learn more about what you can do to make your home a haven for online safety.