For the everyday internet user, becoming more cyber savvy is vital. Just as we invest in personal security and keep our wits about us as we move around, so too must we be alert to threats online. Fortunately, becoming more better informed and protecting our online assets doesn’t require huge investments of either time or money. By simply keeping a few golden rules in mind, we can go about our daily internet activities with greater peace of mind, says Gerhard Oosthuizen, CIO at Entersekt.
Be smart about your passwords
The most commonly employed line of attack is email phishing. By persuading you to enter your username and password into a fake site or app through a cleverly crafted email, hackers can use these details to access legitimate sites or applications you use. If they have your name, hackers can simply go onto your social sites – such as Facebook and Instagram – and use clues there to guess your passwords.
For example, they might use your dog’s name or mother’s maiden name, your birthday or hometown, to answer security verification questions. The key here is to never repeat a theme, pattern or “recipe” in any of your passwords. It is advisable to use lowercase phrases as passwords (theappletree or ienjoysunsets), instead of merely using different versions of the same password.
Work from the assumption that at least one site you have been on – LinkedIn, for example, or a service you may no longer even use – has been breached and your password there is being sold by hackers with tens of thousands of others.
Always use two-factor authentication
If an online service gives you the option, implement two-factor authentication, where you confirm your identity or specific intentions through a combination of two different touchpoints. Instead of relying solely on email to reset your password for a certain website or mobile app, two-step verification requires you (or a potential hacker) to provide more information – such as a one-time password (OTP) or an answer to a security question over a separate communication channel.
This option is always available for any online platform where a transaction is taking place, although it is very rarely the default security setting. It is, therefore, up to you to ensure that two-factor authentication has been activated for the websites and mobile apps that you regularly access and on which you share personal information. This reduces the risk associated with weak, predictable or stolen passwords.
Use your discretion with password managers
Password managers are undoubtedly a very helpful and important tool in an age where we maintain scores of online accounts and depend on several mobile apps daily. They are generally very secure and dependable, but it is worth putting up another line of defence on certain websites that can leave you vulnerable.
Use password managers for the bulk of your frequently visited sites or apps (and thus use random/complex passwords that are difficult to remember each time) but also create entirely new and unique passwords for two or three important financial/banking sites. Keep these independent of your password manager.
Always be a sceptic
Whenever you are working or transacting online, employ a healthy dose of scepticism and good common sense. Hackers tend to use personalised emails, for example, to lure you into clicking on an unsecure link. So if you haven’t heard from an ex-boss for five years and you receive an unexpected (but friendly) email from him or her, don’t open it.
In cases like this, it is best to call the supposed sender or organisation attached to the email directly – don’t simply assume that a familiar tone means it is safe. The same applies to emails about winning or retrieving money – these should immediately trigger alarm bells. It’s always best to delete those “too good to be true” emails.
Employ the many tools at your disposal
There are countless tools and apps available to help you become more secure and cyber savvy. For example, websites such as have i been pwned allow you to check if you have an account that has been compromised in a data breach. You can also use VirusTotal, a free service that analyses suspicious files and URLs and “facilitates the quick detection of viruses, worms, trojans, and all kinds of malware”.
It is also very important to check the validity of the security certificate on any site through which you will be transacting (if the URL starts with “http” instead of “https”, beware). Finally, always keep your devices updated with the latest software – there is a good reason why the big tech companies work so hard to continually find patches and improve their software: your safety.