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Help! How can I make my family tech savvy?

  • 09 March 2020
  • 15 minutes
  • We are all digital citizens living more of our lives online

  • But few of us are schooled in the dangers this creates

  • Here are our top tips for helping make you and your families safer

The internet has opened up new opportunities to shop, bank, research, work and connect whenever we want to and wherever we are. But we could all be unwittingly giving criminals many opportunities to steal directly from us or to steal our identities and commit fraud against ourselves or others.

In 2018, the UK finance industry stopped more than £1.6 billion of unauthorised frauds. Despite this, criminals still managed to steal £1.2 billion. They also managed to steal £354.3 million in authorised fraud schemes: where they successfully convinced someone to transfer money on false pretences. That’s almost £1m a day [1]. Globally, the cost of online fraud has been estimated at £3.89 trillion [2].

These crimes can have a devastating impact on victims, even if they get their money back. So how do you help protect yourself and your family in an ‘always on’ world; one where anyone anywhere has the ability to access information about you 24 hours a day? Here are our top ten tips.

1 Set strong passwords

Current advice is to use a paraphrase: three or four unconnected words comprising at least 13 characters, for example 'candleshipmonkey'. Make each one meaningful to you in the context of each online account or device, but which other people would find hard to guess. To make it even more secure, include random capital letters and replace some of the letters with numbers or special characters. Like using ‘!’ instead of ‘I’, ‘4’ instead of ‘A’, or ‘#’ instead of ‘H’.

Avoid using the same password for more than one account. It’s an old chestnut but chestnuts have longevity because they remain valid pieces of advice. Now that’s easier said than done given the number of accounts we accumulate. But it only takes a single data breach to provide criminals with the password to your other accounts.

Don’t be tempted to use social logins (that is via Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc). While this can solve the issue of remembering multiple passwords, it can provide access to all your personal information and that of your friends and family. Again if your social account gets compromised or stolen criminals can easily access all your accounts just by using the one stolen social login.

Instead, use a password manager (or ‘vault’) to help you manage your passwords.

2 Protect your hardware

You protect your online accounts with passwords but what about your devices? Always set a password, Personal Identification Number (PIN), or passcode. Many mobile phones, tablets and even laptops now offer finger-print recognition and this is the most unique thing about you.

But it’s not just about your mobiles and tablets. From TVs to voice assistants, smart devices (called the ‘Internet of things’ or IoT) seek to make our lives easier and more comfortable. However, they can also offer ways for cybercriminals to enter our homes. In 2016, cyber criminals used household devices to take over household computers and bombard some of the world’s highest profile websites with internet requests that brought them crashing down . Even things as innocuous as baby monitor were used as gateways to household networks [3]. Security experts predict that some of the biggest cyber attacks of the future will exploit our smart devices [4].

The cameras in your smart devices could also be used to spy on you so cover the webcams of your laptops, tablets and TVs when not actively using them.

Make a list of all the internet-connected devices in your home, including kitchen appliances, and set strong and unique passwords for each of them (see above). Your Wi-Fi router will also have a factory-set password that you should change.

You should also back your devices up regularly either on the cloud or to an external hard drive.

3. Secure your connection

We’ve recommended changing the password on your home WiFi network but when out and about think twice before using public WiFi unless it is password protected.

Hackers have become very good at intercepting messages and stealing information carried over unprotected WiFi networks. They can even rename their phone’s hotspot to look like the name of the hotel, bar or café you’re sitting in. Connecting to the fake network hands them all of your personal information. So if you ever notice two WiFi signals with the same or similar names exercise extreme caution.

Always wait until you're able to connect to a secure Wi-Fi network before providing sensitive data such as your bank account details. Or use your mobile contract’s data allowance.

If you’re really concerned, a virtual private network (VPN) makes your online activity hacker proof and spy proof. However, some information (your location and the sites you visit) is still readable by the VPN provider which could be compelled to reveal this to the government if asked.

Finally, leave Bluetooth turned off or in undiscoverable (hidden) mode unless connecting to a device on purpose.

4. Secure your software

Update all your software regularly, especially when prompted to. Updates and upgrades often contain additional security features and ‘patches’ that fix security flaws in the original coding.

Security software from a recognised company – such as McAfee, Norton, Kaspersky, or Bullguard – can provide a vital layer of defense. While they can’t protect against every threat, they detect and remove most and can be faster to respond to new threats. Many offer licences that cover multiple devices that can include your laptop, tablet and/or mobile; or put all your family’s mobiles on one contract.

If your laptop uses Windows 7, upgrade to Windows 10 as Windows 7 is no longer being supported by Microsoft. That is, they will no longer provide software updates and ‘patches’. Some older machines can’t run Windows 10 so you may have to replace your device.

It is worth considering whether you still actually need a desktop or laptop when many of the functions you use it for can be carried out on a tablet with a separate keyboard.

5. Protect your identity

Personal and financial information is currency for criminals who can piece together your identity from information you share online. So be careful how much you reveal especially on social media posts. Sharing your address, phone number, birthday and other personal information can put you at a greater risk of identity theft, stalking and harassment.

Think before you fill out online forms and be careful with whom and how you share your information. Ask yourself: do I really need to give my information to this site?

Sometimes the threat isn’t that obvious. Many pop quizzes are thinly disguised attempts to steal personal security information: such as the name of your first pet combined with your mother’s maiden name, your middle name combined with the street where you live or grew up, or the make and model of your first car. These are all security back-up questions.

6. Protect your reputation

Once online, always online: the Internet does not have a delete key. There is no way for you to take back a comment you wish you hadn't made, or get rid of that embarrassing drunken selfie you took at a party. It’s out there for everyone to see.

Don't put anything online that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of a national newspaper. One way to protect yourself is to use a nickname and a profile picture that does not give away who you are.

7. Buy securely

Any time you make a purchase online, you need to provide credit card or bank account information—just what cybercriminals are most eager to get their hands on. Only supply this information to sites that provide secure, encrypted connections. Look for an address that starts with https: (the ‘s’ stands for secure) rather than simply http: They may also have a padlock icon next to the address bar.

Finally, set up two-factor authentication wherever you can. For example, always elect to receive a text message or email from your bank or credit card provider with a single use passcode.

8. Download securely

If a cybercriminal can get you to download an app carrying malicious software (’malware’) that can take over your device or steal information they have struck gold. This could be disguised as anything from a popular game to something that checks traffic or the weather.

Always download from an official app store and avoid installing apps from links in emails, social media, text messages or websites that look suspicious.

Uninstall apps when you no longer need them.

9. Email securely

Although we all stress about our online security, email remains the easiest and most successful approach for cybercriminals to attack unsuspecting users [5]. Known as phishing, predators disguised as plausible businesses or individuals send links to non-legitimate websites that steal your information.

Obviously, never click on suspicious or unknown links or attachments. Even if it comes from a source you believe to be reliable, unless you are expecting the email always think twice. Your friend or colleague’s email address may have been compromised and used to send you a false email.

So think before you click. Spelling errors, poor grammar, email addresses that don’t seem quite right, and out-of-the blue messages from friends should be treated with utmost caution. If you’re asked to click on a link to access your account, delete the email and go to the company’s main website to log in securely.

One way to protect yourself from spam (mass marketing) emails is to use a separate email address for shopping, discussion groups and newsletters. Reserve your primary email address for people you know and trust.

10. Dispose of your old technology safely

It is very important to make sure you delete all your personal information and account details before retiring and disposing of your old equipment. The data they hold can easily be accessed and even ‘deleted’ data can be retrieved with relative ease by criminals.

This can include old files, website passwords, your browsing history, and any emails stored on your computer.

Copy all the data you will need in the future on to your new PC, a storage device, or the cloud. Then fully erase your hard disk(s) using a dedicated file deletion program. If the hard drive is still serviceable and reliable, you could re-house it in an external case and use it as a back-up device.

Disposing of your tech through a recognised disposal facility will also ensure the minimum environmental impact and prevent you from breaking the law. Some retailers will transfer your data

Conclusion

We can’t avoid being part of the online world. We are living and sharing more and more of ourselves in very public ways. Ways that didn’t exist as recently as ten years ago. How many of are really trained or even educated to understand the threats and pitfalls that lie in wait for us?

If you're a participant in this digital world of ours, cyber security should be at the forefront of your mind at all times. Always stay vigilant and never give away sensitive information unless you can verify that the source is legitimate.

In the end, good security is about being vigilant and keeping yourself abreast of how technology is changing our lives. For today's security might not be tomorrow's. If you think you have been the victim of online fraud, report the incident to your local police.

Important information

Any views expressed are our in-house views as at the time of publishing.

This content may not be used, copied, quoted, circulated or otherwise disclosed (in whole or in part) without our prior written consent.

Fees and charges apply at Schroders Personal Wealth.

In preparing this article we have used third party sources which we believe to be true and accurate as at the date of writing. However, we can give no assurances or warranty regarding the accuracy, currency or applicability of any of the content in relation to specific situations and particular circumstances.

Sources

[1] Fraud the Facts 2019, UK Finance

[2] The financial cost of Fraud, Jim Gee and Professor Mark Button, Crowe LLP and University of Portsmouth http://www.crowe.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/The-Financial-Cost-of-Fraud-2019.pdf

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Dyn_cyberattack

[4] https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/internet-things-will-be-even-more-vulnerable-cyber-attacks 18th May 2017

[5] https://www.zdnet.com/article/phishing-attacks-why-is-email-still-such-an-easy-target-for-hackers

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