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Protecting Yourself from Malware with Better Password Security

This post was originally published here (Blog Archive)

In Week 1 of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) we looked at spoofed emails, cybercriminals’ preferred method of spreading malware. Today, in an effort to provide you with the best information out there to keep you safe online, we’re hitting you with a double dose of cybersafety news.

Let’s take look at the topics for Week 2 and 3 of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month: malware and password security. They’re separate but related issues in the world of Internet crime prevention, and a better understanding of each is key to protecting your property and personal information in today’s digital world.

Malware

Malware is an umbrella term used to describe software that is intended to damage or disable computers and computer systems. If you’d like, you can take a moment and watch this video on malware from Norton Security. But the best way to begin protecting yourself against this stuff is to learn about all the different types of malware that can affect your computer. There are tons, so we’ll just go over the broader categories for now.

Viruses: Malicious bits of code that replicate by copying themselves to another program, computer boot sector, or document and change how a computer works. Viruses are typically attached to an executable file or program and spread once a user opens that file and executes it.

Worms: They’re like viruses, but are different in terms of the way they’re spread. Worms typically exploit a vulnerability or a weakness that allows an attacker to reduce a system’s information assurance. Missed that last Windows update? You might be more vulnerable to worms.

Trojans: These look like legitimate pieces of software and are activated after a user executes them. Unlike a virus or a worm, a trojan does not replicate a copy of itself. Instead, it lurks silently in the background, compromising users’ sensitive personal data.

Ransomware: This refers to a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their system, either by locking the system’s screen or by locking or threatening to erase the users’ files unless a ransom is paid. You may recall the WannaCry attack that affected users across the globe this summer, only to be thwarted by the accidental discovery of a “kill switch” that saved people from the malicious software.

Spyware: This malware collects your personal information (such as credit card numbers) and often passes this information along to third parties online without you knowing.

You can check out more descriptions and examples of the types of malware that exist today at MalwareFox, a malware detection and removal software program.

Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Malware

Staying malware-free doesn’t require an engineering degree. You can greatly reduce, if not completely eliminate, your chances of falling victim to malware by following these easy tips.

  • Keep your operating system current.
  • Keep your software up to date, particularly the software you use to browse the Internet.
  • Install antivirus and security software and schedule weekly scans. At TechSoup, we’re protected by Symantec Endpoint Protection. At home, there are dozens of solutions you can use to protect yourself (PCMag lists many here).
  • Mind where you click. Think twice before you download torrent videos or free Microsoft Office templates from some random website.
  • Avoid public, nonpassword, nonencrypted Wi-Fi connections when you can. Use a VPN when you cannot.

Spread the Word

Let people know that TechSoup is helping you become more #CyberAware by sharing a message on your social media channels. If you tag @TechSoup on Twitter, we’ll retweet the first two tweets. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Password Security

Now that we’ve covered the nasty stuff that can make your life miserable if it ends up on your computer, let’s go over some password security tips to help prevent malware from getting there in the first place. Using best practices when it comes to protecting your passwords is a proven way to protect your personal and financial information. Curious how knowledgeable you already are? Watch this video and take this quiz to enter a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card!

First, let’s go over some facts.

  • Passwords are the first line of defense to protect your personal and financial information.
  • A weak password can allow viruses to gain access to your computer and spread through TechSoup’s or your family’s network.
  • It’s estimated that 73 percent of users have the same password for multiple sites and 33 percent use the same password every time. (Source: Digicert, May 2014)
  • Despite a small sample size of 1,110 U.S. adults, a recent YouGov survey still found that 28 percent of adults use the same passwords for most of their online accounts. (Source: Business Insider, October 2017).

Best Practices for Effective Password Protection

One great way to better protect yourself is by opting for a passphrase, which is much more difficult to crack than a single-word password. Here are some guidelines to creating one.

  • Pick a famous quote or saying and use the first letter of each word.
  • Add a number that you can remember.
  • Capitalize one letter.
  • Make it unique by adding the first letter of your company’s name to the beginning or end of the passphrase.
  • Make it between 16 and 24 characters.

You should never write your password down, but if you must, never store user IDs and passwords together. Finally — even though it might seem unwieldy — you should always use a different password for each site that requires one. In today’s world, everything is connected. A savvy hacker can easily breach your bank account, email, and medical records in one fell swoop if you’re using the same password for all three.

Additional Cybersecurity Resources

In case you missed it, take a look at last week’s post on recognizing suspicious emails.

Need a little inspiration? Find out how TechSoup and Symantec are making a difference in the lives of at-risk teens.

Get more security tips from the National Cyber Security Alliance. National Cyber Security Alliance Month — observed every October — was created as a collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure that all Americans have the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online. Find out how you can get involved.

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