Digital Safety & Security and How to Stay Protected Online

There is an aspect of our digital lives that often goes ignored: Security and safety.

We log on to our computers, browse the internet on our mobiles, click on links, read/send emails, transfer files, part with personal data and publish sensitive content daily.

But rarely do we question the safety of what we are doing. We don't think about the potential dangers. As users of technology and internet-connected devices, we often neglect our digital wellbeing and proceed without protection.

To fully understand the current situation, and the potential scale of the problem we face, here is a basic refresh of where we are:

  • We rely on more and more third-party cloud-based services for our daily tasks.

  • In the process, we part with more of our personal data (sometimes without even knowing).

  • We take more of our work-based devices home to work (and visa versa).

  • In general, we are connecting more devices to the internet, creating more profiles with various software and apps.

  • More hackers, threats and scams lurk than ever before.

  • As artificial intelligence develops, the capability of cyber-hackers develops alongside.

Most of this won’t come as a surprise, but you might feel that most of the above do not affect you. This is where the problem lies. We are all guilty of it: Naïve enough to believe that the next attack will happen to someone else rather than ourselves. Staying protected, however, is not so difficult.

If you have never been a victim of a cyber-attack, the following tips will likely be new to you. (If you have unfortunately experienced a cyber-attack, then you may have conducted some of them.)

Nonetheless, these twelve digital safety and security tips apply to anyone working with digital devices or using digital devices to complete tasks at home. They are to help you stay protected online.

1. USE (A RELIABLE) ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE

Threats can be found at every corner of the internet. Worms, trojans, ransomware and other malicious and potentially unwanted programs are some of the most common that can be blocked with an effective antivirus software package. You will most likely already have a subscription to an antivirus package, but has the package expired or is the package adequate for your digital needs?

Make sure your devices (including mobile devices) are protected with a reliable antivirus software package. IT departments will have organisation-wide antivirus packages, but the smaller organisations sometimes require the users of devices to fend for themselves. It is likely that this is already covered but be sure to double-check. Do not fall at the first security hurdle.

2. TAKE FURTHER SAFETY PRECAUTIONS VIA THIRD-PARTY SOFTWARE

Antivirus packages do a great job at protecting users whilst browsing the internet, but they do not provide full protection from cyber threats. Browsing safely is becoming more and more difficult as the threats become more sophisticated.

Consider using other third-party software such as a firewall to monitor and control incoming and outgoing network traffic as well as a utility cleaner to clean potentially unwanted files. Browser extensions, such as Adblocker Plus (that blocks potentially harmful and intrusive downloads and tracking pixels) and Https Everywhere (that automatically switches thousands of sites from insecure "HTTP" to secure "HTTPS) also help you to stay safe whilst browsing.

3. BACK UP YOUR WORK (MULTIPLE TIMES IF POSSIBLE)

Possibly the easiest precaution we could take to ensure that our valuable files are not lost in the event of a security breach or software/hardware failure. In the event of a serious incident, if backups of files are made, the organisation, department or system can be restored to its original state before the breach.

A backup strategy involves keeping multiple copies of your files, either locally on another device or using a cloud-based back-up service away from the site of the organisation or workplace. Many organisations will keep three copies of files, using both of the above backup methods. However, and although services can be attainted that backup files automatically when programmed, backing up in two other locations may be excessive if you are not backing up at all. Start with a cloud-based provider and schedule backups to happen on a daily or weekly occurrence.

4. ENCRYPT EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES AND PASSWORD-PROTECT KEY FILES

Many of us travel from location to location or work in various locations that requires a commute. As we do so, we carry with us external hard drives that store our work and working progress files. If those hard drives are lost along the commute, in most cases, accessing that hard drive is quick and easy. Which in the wrong hands is not good news. Depending on the size and complexity of the hard drive, there are several ways to lock down the hard drive to prevent such unauthorised access.

Some hard drives have encryption options that include passwords or even a fingerprint scanner for access. The files themselves can also be password protected as a further layer of security for any files that are transported between networks.

5. DO NOT DUPLICATE PASSWORDS ACROSS ACCOUNTS

We are all sometimes guilty of this. As previously mentioned, we rely on more and more third-party cloud-based services for our daily tasks which require us to log in with a username and password. Often, the username doesn’t change from our email address, and often – where we will put our accounts at risk – our passwords also do not change per account or service. By not using different passwords in this way we are putting our accounts at risk, should an account with the same (or similar) password become compromised.

It is highly recommended that you vary the passwords you have on your various accounts. We appreciate that this is probably a high number, but by using a secure password manager complex and random passwords can be automatically created for you that inputs them when prompted. The Google Chrome browser includes a built-in password manager that provides this service.

6. SET UP A GUEST WI-FI NETWORK

If you or your organisation welcomes a high number of visitors and guests – who are also likely to want to use your Wi-Fi – it is worth considering setting up a guest Wi-Fi network, keeping visitors away from your main network. Keeping visitors away from your main network will reduce the risk of malware spreading to this critical network, should your visitors unknowingly carry threats and unexpectedly transferring the threats across the network.

If you work from home often, and share that network with your family, or even have a large number of guests that also wish to connect to your Wi-Fi, it may also be relevant to set up a home guest Wi-Fi network as a precaution.

7. …AND BE CAUTIOUS WHEN USING OTHERS’ PUBLIC WI-FI NETWORKS

Just as you will want to avoid users of your network spreading malicious and harmful malware threats, you will also want to avoid the networks themselves spreading malware to the users, certainly within a public network. Access public Wi-Fi networks as a guest (and part with personal data to access these networks) with caution. Aim to only use legitimate public networks when doing so.

If your organisation offers VPN (virtual private network) access, opt to use this every time instead of connecting to a public network. If any of your organisation’s employees are working remotely, this is a serious consideration if you do not have such network already. The users of public networks are not vetted, meaning that anyone – including hackers – can access them.

8. SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BE A DANGEROUS PLACE… ALSO, USE WITH CAUTION

Social media platforms have become a breeding ground for all sorts of cyber threats and crime. They attract a large number of users – with a Digital 2019 report stating that leading social media platform Facebook boasts 2.3billion monthly users – who also part with data and information, making it highly attractive for hackers.

It is therefore advised that social media platforms be used with caution (and scarcely, if possible). Be aware that your every movement – every click, comment and scroll – is being recorded and used by the platforms. Also, be aware of the sheer amount of fraudulent accounts that exist on the platforms that can publish paid posts that can appear on your feeds for you to also interact with.

9. DO NOT SHARE PERSONAL DATA UNLESS YOU HAVE TO

Social media platforms, as well as other websites and services, require your data to complete a transaction, use a platform or access materials. In the digital age, data has sometimes become the currency (instead of real currency) meaning that it is impossible not to have to share personal data such as names, addresses, telephone numbers etc. But you do not always have to share specific data.

There are times where you can still access particular services without giving your full name, main email address, amongst other details. Get into the habit of providing minimal information when parting with any form of data. Also, be aware that your every movement on all web pages are recorded (along with your location by via your IP address) and the websites themselves, especially if the website requires signing in. Can you browse in private mode?

10. DO NOT SHARE PERSONAL INFORMATION UNLESS YOU REALLY HAVE TO

Sharing data to access platforms is only part of the risk users take when accessing third-party websites and platforms. What users do on those platforms next is the next risk. Back to Facebook. Users use the social media platform to willingly (albeit with a nudge from the platform) update profiles with information on birthdays, hometown, employment, associations, friends, family and all activity which includes posting photos, comments and likes. If any of this is sensitive, avoid sharing in the first place.

Have you ever used Facebook to sign in to other apps and services? Here is another example of how the social media platform collects information from you (from those other apps and services) without you even visiting a page on their site. (Disclaimer: We use Facebook and do not have a vendetta against the platform, we are just aware that it is primarily a data organisation that does little to inform its users on the data it, just like many other platforms, collects from its users.)

11. DELETE SUSPICIOUS EMAILS

Like social media platforms, email has also become a breeding ground for hackers and malicious practices ever since the first-ever spam email was sent in 1978. Although email scams might have slowed down in recent years (due to the sheer number of emails that are generally ignored within email inboxes) email inboxes are still not a safe haven. Be cautious about what you open and click.

Emails sent from suspicious senders and addresses should be deleted immediately – this is the same for emails that contain dubious-looking subject lines. If you do decide to open such email, hover over every link within those emails (if you are interested in the link) to determine the structure of the URL and to assess any dangers within that email. Attachments sent from outside of your network should also be opened with similar caution.

12. KEEP YOUR SYSTEMS CURRENT

Finally, always keep your systems updated with the latest software. Many of the devices you use will prompt you that an update is ready – do not delay this update. Your software, apps and antivirus will all need updating regularly and it is all too easy to keep hitting the “update later” option. Updates often address a current issue within the software, so be sure to update right away or those threats will find their way into your devices.

STAYING PROTECTED ONLINE

As a pharma marketer, you are presented with many challenges. Sometimes, digital safety and security go on forgotten and is set for attackers to pounce. It can be challenging to stay safe. These tips are to understand that there are dangers at every corner, but also, that there are plenty of methods of protecting yourself from those dangers. Take some time out to address them.

If there is one trend that keeps heading in a consistent direction, it is that we are becoming more reliant on digital devices and its subsequent software applications to complete daily tasks. And the more we do so, the more cyber threats we are exposed to.

The tips in this article help you:

  • Become more cautious online.

  • Prevent malicious cyber-attacks.

  • Protect sensitive personal and professional data.

  • Block illegal access to networks.

  • Remove existing threats from your network.

So...

Consider implementing these tips. Lock up your computer every time you leave your desk, do not click on anything which looks suspicious and understand your organisation’s IT infrastructure. Test your current environment against the tips to see how digitally safe you, your department and organisation are. If there are any potential weaknesses or further potential issues, enrol onto a digital safety training course to learn more.