Use Good Cyber Hygiene
In this digital age, we rely on our computers and devices for so many aspects of our lives that the need to be proactive and vigilant to protect against cyber threats has never been greater. However, in order to be as secure as possible, we need to use good cyber hygiene – that is, making sure we are protecting and maintaining systems and devices appropriately and using cyber security best practices.
Many key best practices are outlined in the Top 20 Critical Security Controls, managed by the Council on Cyber Security. These Controls assist in mitigating the most prevalent vulnerabilities that often result in many of today's cyber security intrusions and incidents. The Center for Internet Security (CIS) provides free, PDF-formatted configuration guides (Benchmarks) that can be used to implement the Controls and improve cyber security.
Below are several best practice strategies for strengthening defenses, noting the related Control and the CIS Benchmark. View the CIS Mitigation Strategies Crosswalk for the complete mapping of the Controls to Benchmarks.
Update Your Applications, Software and Operating Systems
Even though you may be diligent in keeping your software up-to-date, you are still at risk from malware infections. Malware can infect your computer from a variety of different vectors, including compromised websites, malicious attachments in email, and infected thumb drives. Update your anti-virus software regularly. Keeping applications, software, and operating systems patched will help keep you more secure by providing you with the most recent and secure version.
Securely Configure Your Systems and Devices
The “out-of-the-box” configurations of many devices and system components are default settings that are often set for ease-of-use rather than security. To mitigate risk, systems and devices should be configured according to industry-accepted system hardening standards.
Secure Your Browser and Browser Add-ons
Cyber attackers search for programming errors and other flaws in web browsers and associated plug-ins in order to exploit them. These vulnerabilities, if successfully exploited, can give cyber criminals access -- and sometimes control over -- your computer system.
Back Up Your Data
Be sure to back up your important data so you can retrieve it if your computer fails. Remember to back up data at regular intervals and periodically review your backups to determine if all your data has been backed up accurately.
Secure Your Wireless Network
Before the days of wireless (Wi-Fi) home networks, it was rather easy to see who was linked into your home network; you could simply follow the wires. You wouldn’t allow a stranger to connect to your network, so check to see who is connected to your wireless network. The first step is to lock down your wireless network with a strong password and encryption. This will prevent people who don’t have the password from connecting to your network.
Protect Your Administrative Accounts
Administrator or "admin" accounts give a user more control over programs and settings for a computer than a typical user account. If an intruder accesses an admin account, he could potentially take over your computer. Non-administrator accounts, or guest accounts, can limit the ability of someone gaining unauthorized access. It is important to change the default password on your admin accounts and to always log on to your computer as a non-administrator or non-admin account.
Many computer defaults are set for ease of use, which is convenient not only for us, but also for cyber criminals. Cyber criminals can use weak or unnecessary services as a first step to compromising your computer. Many computers and routers already come with a firewall built in to prevent malicious access to these services. It is recommended that you set the firewall to the securest level you think is appropriate: if this is a laptop you’ll use for traveling and connecting to public networks, it is recommended that you choose the strictest level of security and only allow exceptions for services you need. You can always relax the controls if necessary.