It’s a haunting notion to think about the chilling consequences of identity theft, yet with the holidays around the corner, it’s important to protect your digital home — your network of computer(s) and smart home devices. With the spikes in online shopping and email activity this time of year, scammers make more attempts to capture financial information. But with a dash of preparation and a sprinkle of caution, you can fortify your defenses against cybersecurity threats.
At Space Coast Credit Union, we’re always monitoring our members’ accounts for unusual activity. We also arm them with a variety of security measures to stop fraudsters in their tracks, which you can see here
. You can also set up real time alerts for your online accounts to help you monitor your financial information. We’d like to offer some tips on how to secure your digital home from your smart home gadgets to prevent hackers and protect your data.
Secure your Router
Your router connects devices to the internet, such as your computer, phone, smart home appliances, and more, so it’s important to lock up this primary gateway accordingly to prevent cyber thieves from exploiting your network and gaining access to your financial information. Here’s what you can do to take criminals off your router’s radar:
- Change the router’s default name. The router’s default ID (service set identifier or SSID) is often its make and model. If this factory setting remains the same, others can easily find the router’s default password and access your network. The new name doesn’t need to be super creative, but we recommend not renaming it with your name or address.
- Set a strong password. Your router’s password is like a deadbolt for your digital home. It’s a good idea to create a password that’s at least eight characters (or more) with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. If you’re stuck, you can adapt a common phrase or use LastPass, a free app that allows you to keep track of your passwords and generate a strong one for you, as jumping-off points. It’s advisable not to use your router’s password for anything else.
- Opt for a high encryption level. Next, look at enabling the router’s Wi-Fi Protected Access, or WPA, to better secure wireless data transmission. Currently, the most secure type is WPA3, but a WPA2 setting works well too. You can check the encryption level by typing your router’s IP address in a browser’s address bar and logging into your router’s configuration utility. If your router isn’t at least a WPA2, then you might need to upgrade your router.
- Place your router in the center of your home. Not only does this help distribute internet access better, but it also puts your Wi-Fi network further out of reach from outsiders. Be sure that your router isn’t visible from doors and windows as well. (Little tip: Since routers radiate both vertically and horizontally, you can get better distribution with it on a shelf.)
- Consider getting a Virtual Private Network (VPN). While routers do come with some security features, it’s not completely bulletproof. A VPN creates a private, secure channel that encrypts your internet traffic and hides your IP address by routing it through a server that the VPN owns. Most VPNs are only a few bucks a month with a contract, and you can download and install them on multiple devices, typically at no extra cost. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are both excellent options.
Conduct Activities Online with Care
We use our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices to browse social media sites, file taxes, fill out forms, watch shows, monitor accounts, check emails, and shop every day. Nearly 60% of Americans log nearly 8 hours a day
of screen time. Unfortunately, criminals can find their way into your digital life by hijacking devices through a variety of methods. Here’s how you can minimize security risks:
- Don’t save your passwords in your browser. Third parties that import your password from your browser may come with the risk of malicious software possibly accessing them too. A good option to use is LastPass to manage your passwords. You can learn more about protecting your passwords here.
- Clear your cache. Your browsing history, cookies, and other cached files contain valuable personal information. It’s best to delete this information regularly to prevent others from accessing this data. You can easily bring up the settings to do this by holding down Ctrl + Shift + Del in your browser. Then, you can choose what you’d like to boot from your browser.
- Create emails for different accounts. While creating emails may sound cumbersome, security experts highly recommend it. For example, you can have one email for your social media accounts, another for banking, and another for shopping. This make it easier to identify emails that make false claims about account breaches if the email’s not for that purpose. Also, you can use another email for questionable free trials that often come with spam and promotions.
- Post with caution on social media. It’s important not to give away too many personal details or your location, as criminals could use this information to target you and your loved ones. Be sure to check your social media sites’ privacy settings to help prevent any attacks from scammers.
- Keep your software up to date. While we’re always tempted to click “remind me later,” it’s better to update applications and operating systems sooner rather than later because the latest versions usually become available to patch up security weaknesses. Many devices nowadays even let you schedule the updates.
- Use two-factor verification — this adds another layer of security protection. Two-factor verification means you enter your password as the first step and then receive a text or email with a code to enter as the second step. Some apps also allow two steps to be your password and biometric data (a fingerprint or facial recognition).
Safeguard your Smart Home Devices
Smart home devices include things like a security camera, thermostat, appliances, virtual assistants, and more that connect to the Internet. Many of these devices also work together and connect to smartphones to create a remote controllable network. These devices add comfort and convenience to our lives, but they also add more entry points for hackers. We recommend doing the following to block those access points:
- Create a guest network on your router for your smart home devices. This ensures that hackers who compromise a device cannot access your computers and smartphone on the other network. Your router’s manual should have the instructions on how to set up a guest network.
- Switch off Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). UPnP is a protocol that allows devices to discover and connect with other gadgets on the same network automatically; however, this opens up vulnerable access points for hackers to infect devices, and it threatens your home network. You can connect devices without UPnP. Consult with your router’s manual on how to disable it.
- Review app permissions. Most smart home devices link up with a mobile phone app and collect and share data. So, it’s a good idea to check the app’s settings and turn off any data you don’t want it to gather, such as the gadget’s location. You can also ensure that Bluetooth only connects to the devices you want.
Take Precautions While Traveling
Many of us leave home for the holidays to celebrate with family and friends. Unfortunately, your home network can become even more vulnerable while you’re out of town. Here are some of the top steps you can take to protect your digital information:
- Turn off your home router. This helps prevent the possibility of fraudsters hacking into your smart home devices (and fun fact, it helps save money on your electricity bill).
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi. While public Wi-Fi is convenient, it opens up a channel for hackers to access your accounts and information. It’s best to use your phone’s data or a VPN if you need to check your accounts or remotely turn on or off your smart home devices.
As a side note, be sure to let us know
of your travel plans to ensure that we don’t freeze your cards while you’re out of town (transactions outside of normal geographic bounds raises red flags). You can learn more about how to prevent identity theft while traveling here
Report Suspicious Activity to SCCU
The best way to prevent fraud is to monitor your accounts regularly. If you spot something suspicious, be sure to report it to SCCU by sending a secured message via Online Banking or by calling our Member Service Center
. We’ll be sure to verify your identity and walk you through the next steps. We also recommend making sure we have your current address and phone number on file in case we need to contact you upon noticing suspicious activity. Most of all, SCCU will never request your personal or account information via a phone call, text message, or email that a member did not first initiate.