In the fast-paced digital world, where technology is intertwined with nearly every aspect of our lives, staying on top of online security has become imperative. In the first quarter of 2023, a staggering 41.6 million accounts were leaked online. With cyber threats lurking around every virtual corner, it is more crucial than ever to stay up-to-date with security measures. This is where cyber hygiene comes into play.
What is Cyber Hygiene?
Cyber hygiene refers to a set of practices and precautions performed to ensure the safety of users, devices, networks, and data. It can be considered similar to personal hygiene measures but applied online. Just as we brush our teeth regularly and wash our hands to prevent diseases, adopting responsible cyber hygiene measures, such as regularly backing up files and using trusted antivirus software, helps protect sensitive data against cyber threats.
It is important to remember that maintaining cyber hygiene for organizations is not solely the responsibility of security managers, analysts, and technicians. Instead, it is a shared responsibility that all employees should prioritize.
Why is cyber hygiene important, and what are its benefits?
The benefits of cyber hygiene practices are fairly self-explanatory. Routine security measures help maintain a secure and safe online environment, which is vital for protecting sensitive information, systems, and networks from cyber threats. However, to gain a better understanding, we can classify the advantages of a good cyber hygiene procedure into two categories: security and maintenance.
Security is perhaps the most important reason organizations should consider implementing a cyber hygiene routine. By maintaining good cyber hygiene, organizations can strengthen their security posture—AKA how well a firm is positioned to deal with security threats. Poor cyber hygiene can lead to security incidents and data compromises. Moreover, it can result in financial loss, government fines, legal liabilities, reputational damage, and more.
Regular software updates, patch installations, and system maintenance are integral parts of cyber hygiene. These measures are essential for computers and software solutions to run at peak efficiency. If overlooked, it can lead to outdated programs and fragmented files, increasing the risk of vulnerabilities. Good cyber hygiene enhances system reliability and the performance of devices and networks, thereby reducing the likelihood of system failures, crashes, or slowdowns. In other words, it ensures that your digital infrastructure works flawlessly and efficiently.
Best Practices for Cyber Hygiene: A Checklist
The current threat landscape is dynamic, and with the world growing more connected, every individual and organization is now a reachable target. According to the 2022 Official Cybercrime Report, the cost of cybercrime is projected to reach $8 trillion in 2023 and is expected to grow to $10.5 trillion by 2025. This makes it more critical than ever to have a cyber hygiene routine. Many organizations rely solely on cybersecurity professionals to ensure data and network safety. However, cybersecurity is everyone's responsibility and should not be limited to a single person or department.
With that in mind, here is a checklist of best practices for maintaining good cyber hygiene:
1) Perform Regular Software Updates
A recent survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute for IBM found that outdated software is a leading cause of cyberattacks. Cybercriminals often search for vulnerabilities in software to gain access to your network. Regular software updates with security patches help reduce the susceptibility to security risks while ensuring your devices function efficiently. You can set up automatic updates to avoid missing out on the latest security enhancements.
2) Use Strong Passwords
Shockingly, 65% of the 3,000 adults surveyed by Google reported using the same password for multiple accounts. Create complex passwords that include a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters—and avoiding reusing them! Remember to also change these passwords regularly to prevent malicious activities. Consider using a password manager to store the passwords in an encrypted database.
3) Use Reliable Anti-virus & Anti-malware Software
Trusted anti-virus and anti-malware solutions help protect against malware, trojans, spyware, and other malicious infections by regularly scanning your system. Install reliable security software, ensure it is always up-to-date, and run regular scans to remove the latest threats.
4) Perform Regular Data Backup
Backing up important files regularly to a secondary source, such as a hard drive or online cloud storage, will ensure its safety in case of data loss, hardware failures, or ransomware attacks. Consider automating your backup policy to maintain a regular schedule and avoid manual work and potential errors. Nonetheless, you should test the backups periodically to make sure they function properly.
5) Train Your Staff
Phishing attacks and malware remain one of the most preferred ways for cybercriminals to hack into your system. According to Lookout, half of the mobile phone owners globally were exposed to a phishing attack every quarter in 2022. Cybercriminals employ deceptive tactics to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information. These can be in the form of email messages or attachments. Educate your employees to distinguish phishing emails by recognizing suspicious links and attachments.
Ultimately, cyber hygiene isn’t something that can be done overnight. It is a continuous process that should form an integral part of your weekly online routine. Start by taking small steps, and you will soon be on your way to creating great habits that will keep you and your organization safe online.