Start Your Cyber Security “Makeover”

Woman using computer

Photo: Crew on Unsplash

Another day, another high-profile data breach.

From Facebook and Equifax to Yahoo and Capital One, you might feel like you just need to unplug, get off the grid and live like a Luddite.

But there’s no need. As long as you take a few simple precautions, you can significantly reduce — but not eliminate — the odds of becoming a victim of cybercrime. And no, you don’t need to have a degree in computer engineering to bump up your protection from hackers and scammers.

The following is a simple 5-part checklist, which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of your time.

Step 1: Strong and unique passwords

Creating a good password isn’t difficult, but it does take a little more imagination than using one of the common ones like “password,” “123456,” your phone number or your kids’ or pet’s names — all of which are not recommended for obvious reasons.

A strong password is at least seven characters long and has a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.

Never use the same password for all your online activity. Why? Because if a service is hacked and your password is exposed, cybercriminals may try it on another account.

Out of laziness, many people use the same password for everything. Free password manager apps — like Dashlane, 1Pass, RoboForm and LastPass — are a handy way to store them all.

Step 2: Enable two-factor authentication

Make it harder for the bad guys to access your data by adding a second layer of defence.

Two-factor authentication is highly recommended for all your online activity, such as your web mail, online banking, cloud accounts, and so on.

Often listed as “2FA,” two-factor authentication means you not only require a password or passcode (or biometrics log-on, like a fingerprint or facial scan) to access your accounts, but you also receive a one-time code to your mobile phone to type in.

In other words, it combines something you know (password) with something you have (smartphone).

Enabling 2FA is usually performed in your app’s Settings or Options area (under Security or Privacy).

Step 3: Have good cybersecurity software

Just as you wouldn’t leave the front door to your home unlocked, you shouldn’t let your tech be vulnerable to attacks — whether it’s a hacker, a virus (or other malicious software) or a phishing scam.


Reputable cybersecurity software on all your devices — laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones — can identify, quarantine, delete, and report any suspicious activity. The most robust software offers a suite of services, including a firewall and encryption options.

Step 4: Update your software

Set your software to automatically update, so you don’t have to remember to do so.

This includes your operating system, browser, plug-ins, and other software. You only need to do this once. For software that doesn’t allow for automatic updates, check them regularly.

On a related note, take a moment to secure your wireless router by ensuring you have a password on it — both to gain access to the Internet (so your neighbours don’t steal Wi-Fi), and for entering the settings of the router (by changing the default password, which may be set to something like “admin.”

Step 5: Back-up your info

It doesn’t really matter how you want to do it — a free cloud service, external hard drive, USB thumb drive, or what have you — so long as you’re proactive about backing up your important files regularly you’ll minimize the damage if you’re hit with a cyberattack.

Also, be cautious when using your laptop in free public Wi-Fi hotspots (use your smartphone as a personal hotspot instead).

RELATED: How to Stay Safe on Free Public Wi-Fi

Exercise common sense when reading emails and text messages — as no respectful company, like your bank, will ever ask you to urgently confirm your identity by filling out forms. Never click on suspicious attachments or links.

These above mentioned steps take mere minutes, and don’t require any major technical know-how. If it still seems daunting, bribe a tech-savvy relative or friend with a good meal in exchange for setting up this 15-minute makeover.