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  • Writer's pictureTom Maughan

How to Prevent Cybercrime at Home

Updated: May 23, 2020

Across the world, cybercrime continues to be a growing threat to businesses and consumers alike. With the introduction of GDPR, European businesses have direct responsibility for protecting their clients’ data and have more liberty to know just what information companies hold about them. But still, internet users are vulnerable to cyber attacks and must stay vigilant or fall victim to cyber criminals. Here are 10 top tips to preventing cybercrime at home.

The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have established a Cyber Essentials Scheme. The list of principles is aimed at self-help for businesses but they’re also really useful for protecting your home.

Keep these principles in mind to protect you and your family:

  • Secure your Internet connection

  • Secure your devices and software

  • Control access to your data and services

  • Protect from viruses and other malware

  • Keep your devices and software up to date

1. Use internet security software

In this day and age, internet security software is vital to protecting your personal devices and your sensitive information. With a huge amount of providers to choose from, make sure you check packages carefully before choosing one that fits you best.

If you and your family have multiple devices, it might be worth taking advantage of a group deal to protect all your home computers. Some services also offer Virtual Private Network (VPN) software which will keep you safe while browsing.

Big name brands like Norton and McAfee will most likely offer the most exhaustive protection with a big price tag but smaller providers like Avast offer a good range of security tools for free and a comprehensive service for cheap.

2. Use strong passwords

Most sites that require you to make an account now expect you to create complex passwords with a variety of cases, alphanumeric and special characters. But for older accounts, it’s a good idea to go back and make sure your passwords are strong and not-so-straightforward.

Smartphones like the iPhone can now automatically generate super strong passwords when creating accounts through your phone. Be wary of using this feature as the passwords are often a string of unintelligible words, numbers and other characters. While this offers a high level of protection against manual discovery, storing these passwords in your ‘keychain’ could leave them vulnerable to hacking.

3. Vary your passwords

A simple way to prevent cyber crime is to use a variety of passwords for different accounts. This is a great cyber crime prevention tactic as, should one of your passwords be compromised, your other important accounts and personal details will still be secure.

Just 5 default passwords could give you access to 10% of all ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices. These include Wi-Fi routers, smart washing machines and DVRs. Making sure you change the default password of your new smart technology or Wi-Fi system is the simplest, most effective cyber security action you can take. Never use the same passwords for work related and home devices.

4. Keep software updated

Some of the most infamous cybercrime cases of recent years occurred because of outdated software. The WannaCry virus affected hundred of NHS computers, costing £92m and resulting in at least 6,900 appointments cancelled.

The NHS was particularly vulnerable because there were so many devices still running on the Windows 7 system which didn’t have crucial security patches available at the time of the attack. In your own home, making sure that you always keep your operating software and any applications you use up to date at all times will ensure that you are best protected from cyber security threats.

5. Be careful what you share on social media

Securing your social media is imperative, especially if you have a family. Making your Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts private ensures that strangers can’t see, share or even steal your images or important personal details.

If you’ve shared details relating to details you might think are minor – such as your pet’s names or your mother’s maiden name, insecure accounts mean that this data could be spotted by potential hackers and used to answer security questions for your online accounts.

6. Think before opening emails or attachments

With so many online businesses asking for our emails, our inboxes have been exposed to potential cyber threats for a long time. With the introduction of GDPR, companies now have to make it clear what they’ll be using your data for and you’re required to opt-in to marketing emails from 3rd parties. Even so, scam businesses are probably still finding their way into your emails daily.

Take care to only open emails from senders you recognise and if in doubt, don’t open any attachments in emails you still find suspicious. Scammers will often hide viruses in attachments which can harvest your data or cause serious damage to your computer.

7. Watch out for phishing

One of the most common cyber crime threats, phishing operates through fraudulent emails. Scammers send emails presenting as major companies, and sometimes even the government, with the intention of abusing your trust to steal your information. According to the Office of National Statistics, 54% (1.7 million) of all fraud cases last year were cyber related.

The best ways to prevent this type of cyber crime are to:

  • always check the sender’s email address matches the typical email of the company they claim to be; and

  • never follow links directly from the email. If possible, go directly to the site in question and log into your account from there to check your details.

8. Don’t just give away your details online

While GDPR has made it more difficult for companies to sell your contact information to 3rd parties, filling in your email address on any old site will put you at a much higher risk of cyber crime. Check reviews of companies you buy from before you purchase and always read contact forms carefully to see how they intend to use your data.

9. Watch out for home assistants

The ‘Internet of Things’ continues to grow in popularity, with 51% of Brits claiming they planned to own a smart device by the end of the year last year.

Home assistant devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are changing the everyday way we use the web. As new technology, these devices are more vulnerable than most when it comes to your personal information.

A German Alexa user recently requested the data Alexa had collected on him only to be sent 1,700 audio recordings from someone else’s device. An American couple were also horrified to find that their Alexa had sent one of their contacts an audio recording from their living room. In both cases, the users’ personal data was safe but it shows just how easy it would be to gain access to your house through this smart technology.

10. Take care with your apps

Cyber criminals exploit issues with outdated software which app developers have solved in their latest updates. Similar to updating your computer software, keeping apps updated is the best way to protect your data from attack.

Even if you’re the kind of person who updates your apps on the regular, you also need to be careful of what apps you and your family are using. The Cambridge Analytica scandal of last year gave the controversial company access to 87 million user’s information by harvesting it from a Facebook quiz app. Facebook has also been accused of ignoring children’s in-app spending, which has resulted in kids spending hundreds of pounds on apps like Fifa and Ninja Saga without their parents’ knowledge.

What to do if you’ve become a victim

If you’ve been a victim of online fraud in the UK, you should contact Action Fraud, the main body which monitors fraud reports. Reporting potential phishing scam emails to your email provider, such as Outlook or Gmail, can help them build a profile of the scam and hopefully tackle it for the future.

In the US, your local law enforcement agency is obligated to help you with any fraud reports. You can also complain to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) who can review and refer your complaint to the relevant authority.

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