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Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Steps Users Can Take to Keep Themselves Safe & Secure Online (Part 2)

In Part 1 of our Cybersecurity Awareness Month series on keeping the online activities of Americans safe and secure, we addressed the actions technology companies are taking to keep users safe. However, users can also take some simple steps to keep themselves more protected when navigating the internet. 

The World Economic Forum notes that 95% of cyber attacks are caused by human error. While this may sound frightening, it merely suggests that a vast number of breaches could be prevented through some simple alterations in our online behavior. 

In 2021, Verizon found that about 40% of cybersecurity breaches resulted from phishing attacks. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that most of these attacks occur through fictional stories that hackers use to convince users to open links or files that could allow the hackers to access vast, secure amounts of user data. Normally, if a person receives an email or text message asking them to confirm personal or financial information, that message is a phishing scam. And many times, users will open these messages because they appear to come from a reliable source. When receiving an email or text message from a source that appears real, Verizon recommends you contact the source directly using a phone number you know to be legitimate to verify the message. 

Additionally, random notifications of a free giveaway for a laptop, tablet, phone or some other device are usually too good to be true. Users ought to avoid clicking such links. If you accidentally opened links or attachments from these sorts of unverified sources or in some other way provided these scammers with personally identifiable information, the FTC advises you to contact

Companies are using Cybersecurity Awareness Month to remind users to take steps to protect their own accounts to lessen the risk of these attacks and, if they do occur, minimize the damage that can be done. Software updates are one important way to do this. These normally include enhanced, essential security features that protect against cyberattacks. Users of older software tend to be more vulnerable targets for scammers. 

According to NortonLifeLock, another way to enhance your security is to put together secure passwords that are difficult for scammers to steal, which include letters, numbers and symbols. Some cyber experts recommend constructing a password of at least 14 characters and updating it at least every six months. If a password has been identified as a part of a breach, all accounts for which those passwords are used must be changed immediately. However, to avoid this high-risk situation from occurring, Avast also recommends internet users refrain from using the same passwords across different accounts, which is a practice that only 30% of people apply when creating passwords across different services. While these methods vastly minimize the risk of your password getting stolen, they do not guarantee it. Thus, multi-factor authentication can be essential to protect accounts in case a scammer steals a password. 

It is also helpful to install strong security software to protect your data as noted by The New York Times Privacy Project. Backing up data via a cloud or external hard drive may prove useful in preventing the loss of pivotal files in case you fall victim to a hack.

These steps are not the only ways users can protect themselves online, but they are strong starting points that users can take as first steps.