October is here! It’s the time of year when we see leaves swirling around the sidewalks. Creepy decorations haunt the neighborhoods. And the kids come down with a serious case of candy fever.

One thing most of us don’t do during pumpkin patch season is carve out time to take stock of our digital safety. October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. It's the perfect time to shore up your security habits before the busy holiday season, which is right around the corner.
It’s OK if technology isn’t your strength. Most of us are focused on our daily to-do lists and don’t give cybersecurity a second thought. Password changes, software updates, and Wi-Fi network protection just don’t enter into our regular digital routines. But they are so important! Because losing control of your identity and finances is scarier than any sugar-seeking zombie that might appear at your door this spooky season.

Here is a list of useful tips and reminders to get you started on your path to a more secure digital lifestyle.

Software Updates

When your software is out of date, it means it’s missing the latest security patches. You’re more vulnerable to attacks. Most modern PC’s and Macs will run automatic operating system updates periodically. The same is true for popular software programs like Microsoft Office. It’s still a good idea to check your settings and ensure automatic updates are enabled.
Your smartphones and tablets are also susceptible to attacks when they’re behind on patches. When your mobile devices recommend an update, it’s always a good rule to say yes!

Anti-malware & Firewalls

A solid anti-malware solution and a firewall are two of the most important barriers against digital devils like viruses, rootkits, bots, trojan horses, spyware and malware. There are several good anti-malware solutions on the market, and many of them can work on both your computer and your cell phone. Read through reviews and comparison sites, or talk to a professional, to find the best solution for you.
A firewall monitors the traffic that comes and goes from your device, and it blocks traffic it deems suspicious. It is a layer of protection your operating system (Windows or Mac OS) may already have built in. The firewall is often turned on by default, but double check to see that this is the case for your computer.

Passwords and Multi-factor Authentication

Do you choose a password and then use it forever? Trust us, we've all been there. But how do you know your password hasn’t already been leaked and is available to hackers? Check here to see if your information is compromised.  There are also services that will monitor the dark web and alert you if any of your information has been shared there. But even if you aren’t showing up on those sites, it’s still good practice to change your passwords periodically.
A secure password generally has these elements:
  • At least 12-15 characters long
  • Uses both capital and lower-case letters
  • Uses at least one number and one special character (@, $, %, &, #, !, and so on)
  • Avoid personal information in the password (ex: surname, pet’s name, birthdays)
  • Not identical to a password you use for another site or service
Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) means you use more than just a single password to log into (authenticate yourself to) a website. The second method can be a personal identification number (PIN), fingerprint, GPS location, or any number of other identifiers. Turning on MFA in your most important services can prevent someone else from getting into your accounts even if they have your passwords, steal your identity or hack your systems.
One more tip: Password management programs like 1Password and LastPass can help you create, store and use secure passwords, so you aren’t tempted to write things down on paper, use weak passwords, or use the same password for multiple services. Like we said above , we encourage you to do your own research or speak to a professional about the best solutions for your needs.

Wi-Fi Network Security

Would you rather face Frankenstein than fiddle with your network? Never fear! Home Wi-Fi solutions are far more user friendly than they used to be. Check the manual or website for your Wi-Fi router for instructions on how to do these quick steps that keep your network under the radar and be more secure.
  • Change the default SSID. The SSID is the name of the wireless network you connect to. If it matches the brand name on the router, it’s a good idea to update it to something more personalized. Don’t worry about being too clever, though.
  • Change the default password. Every Wi-fi router comes with a password set at the factory. If you leave this default, it’s easier for hackers to get into your network and attack your computers and mobile devices. Change this password to something more secure using the same rules we outlined above.
  • Turn on the firewall. Sure, you may have followed our point above and already checked to see if the firewall on your desktop or laptop is turned on, but that only protects those individual devices. Activating the firewall on your wireless router helps protect all the other devices in your home, such as gaming consoles, smart speakers, appliances, tablets, and more.

The Extra “S” Stands for Secure

Right now, if you look at the address bar in your web browser, you’ll see that our URL starts with HTTPS. In the past, website URLs started with HTTP. But recently, more websites have begun moving to HTTPS for improved security. The extra letter means the connection between your computer browser and that website is more secure than communicating with websites that still run the old technology.
When you click on a link to go to a website, check that it’s using HTTPS. If you only see HTTP, consider whether that website content is something you really need to read, watch or use. At the very least, never give personal information to any site that doesn’t start with https.

Scrutiny and Skepticism

We can’t talk about cybersecurity without acknowledging the monstrous piles of spam and scam messages we all get. One of the best ways to avoid being a victim of scams and ransomware is to scrutinize messages, texts, and emails. Be especially skeptical of them if they aren’t from expected people or services.
Here are some common red flags:
  • Whatever they promise is too good to be true. If it’s a pile of money or a big reward, specifically one that requires you to first spend your own money to collect, the message is likely a scam.
  • The message asks for personal information. Legit services will almost never ask you for your account numbers, personal data, or login information through an email or text.
  • They demand you do it now! Scams requiring immediate action are using urgency and fear to get you to divulge information so they can steal your identity or clean out your checkbook.
  • Bad spelling and grammar or uncommon phrases. The quickest way to spot a scam is to look for spelling mistakes, poor grammar, or phrases that would not normally show up in a business email.
  • The links go to strange websites. If the links in an email do not go to the official website of that business or service, the message is almost certainly fake and should be deleted.

Additional resources from Starion

Along with this article, the Starion Bank security and fraud protection page has an easy list of tips about keeping your technology safe, as well as available fraud alert tools. You’ll also find a rundown of the steps we take to secure your personal and financial information.


Leave the hair-raising for Halloween

Nobody wants to spend their holidays (or any other time of year) on the phone with banks and billing companies straightening out a financial mess. A little attention to your digital habits goes a long way to thwarting hackers and scams. The small amount of time you spend researching and updating your security practices could save you loads of time and money down the road.