Data breaches are becoming a common occurrence in modern life, but with the right information and innovation in technology, there are things we can do to keep individuals and communities safe.
Recent data breaches have prompted many Australians to view their online habits differently. However, as these events begin to rise, there are steps you can take to protect your important online information.
We asked Distinguished Professor and cybersecurity scientist Willy Susilo for his tips on how to keep your accounts secure and data safe.
Keep your devices healthy
Things like shutting down your laptop, updating your device software and regularly backing up your data are practices that keep your technology healthy and performing at its best.
However, they are also essential steps in keeping your data safe. Professor Susilo says that updating your device software can fix the weaknesses hackers use to access your information. Completing a regular computer backup will also help if your device or accounts have been compromised.
Assess your passwords
A note on your phone or a post-it near your monitor is not a secure or safe way to store your passwords. Instead, Professor Susilo suggests using password manager software to sort and remember your passwords.
“With password manager software, you will only have to remember one master key. The software will then generate other passwords for your accounts that are truly random and all different,” he says.
When choosing a password, there are qualities that make some better than others. Including numbers, capital letters, and special characters are standard practice for password creation, but experts now urge us to shift our thinking from words to phrases.
“Having a simple master key for a password manager software, say a spouse’s name or birthday, kind of defeats the purpose. Cybercriminals can easily guess these and steal all your other passwords,” he says.
Instead, he suggests thinking of a phrase unique to you for the master password. This makes it easier to remember and harder for others to guess.
Turn on two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication provides additional protection and adds an extra barrier for those attempting to hack into your accounts. Professor Susilo always recommends opting for two-factor authentication on the accounts that offer it to safeguard your information.
“The best thing we can do is to use two-factor authentication. The power of authentication has proven to be quite safe because whenever we log in, we need to authenticate that it’s us via a phone or somewhere else.”
Another benefit is that if someone is trying to access your account, you will be notified and can take appropriate action to secure your information.
While data breaches may have only become top of mind for Australians within the past few weeks, Professor Susilo says they have been happening for quite some time.
“People are not really aware, especially when it doesn’t impact them or a mass of people. It doesn’t get traction in the news. But there are websites you can use to check whether your passwords have ever been compromised,” he says.
If you do find that your password is vulnerable, you need to change it and monitor for any unusual activity. If you find your bank account has been compromised, Professor Susilo says you need to notify your branch and observe your transactions for the next few months.
The bigger picture
Professor Susilo explains that while everyone needs to protect themselves and their data online, we shouldn’t place the responsibility on the individual alone.
“Everyone needs to protect themselves, but we need to make sure that we educate other people to understand the issues behind all of this,” he adds.
The University of Wollongong’s Graduate Certificate of Cyber Security was designed to produce experts who can solve practical problems and keep pace with innovations that keep our communities safe.
“If an individual is being attacked or compromised and they do not realise what is happening, there is nothing much we can do. But, when they realise and seek help, cyber security experts can fill in the gaps and make the online community safer for all,” he says.