How To Be Safer Online Right Now, From Passwords To Spam Filters

Photographed by Tayler Smith.
With online learning and remote work necessitating our increased use of technology, it's crucial that we take steps to protect our cybersecurity — since we're a lot more vulnerable to hacks and phishing scams these days, especially ones that capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic. According to Ralph Russo and Dr. Bill Rials, who teach at the information technology program at Tulane University's School of Professional Advancement, it's especially important to watch out for fake CDC emails used for phishing, fake government programs (phony stimulus checks, for example), fraudulent GoFundMe campaigns, and counterfeit COVID-19-related treatments, products, and medical supplies.
While working from home, Russo and Dr. Rials suggest keeping your work devices separate from your personal ones. On personal devices, you should make sure your device's software is to up to date, use strong passwords (for example, Safari's suggested randomized passwords), and add passwords to your Zoom meetings to protect against "Zoombombing." They also suggest running endpoint anti-virus protection software if you want to be extra careful.
According to Niroop Suguna Raj, an MS student specializing in cybersecurity, and Dr. Prakash Ranganathan, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and the Director for Data Energy Cyber and Systems Laboratory at the University of North Dakota, there are other simple steps you can implement now, like using a password manager that stores your passwords for you. Because whatever you do, you shouldn't be using the same password for all of your various accounts. As a rule of thumb, opt for a password longer than eight characters including both letters and symbols. You should also limit your use of public wifi, since it's easy for hackers to intercept sensitive information sent on an open network, and make sure your personal wifi network at home is private and secure.
Dr. Ranganathan and Raj also suggest using spam filters, which are built in on Gmail, in order to avoid phishing attempts. If an email from a seemingly reputable source appears fishy to you, be sure to carefully check the email address for any misspellings or obviously fake senders. And if you receive an email asking for your personal data or financial information, be suspicious. If you're unsure of its legitimacy, reach out to the company to verify rather than responding directly to the email.
Also, you should always opt into two-factor identification — which adds an extra layer of security to all your accounts and requires you to verify your login either via a text or email code. And if you suspect that your device is being hacked, you should disable access to your camera, microphone, and speakers.
Lastly, check out the Public Health Agency of Canada for the latest and most accurate information as a way of dispelling fake news.

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