It’s Fall, which means cooler weather and hopefully a warm cup of apple cider at the pumpkin patch. While it may not be the coziest topic, October is cyber security month. Since 2001, National Cyber Security Month has been an important time to refresh knowledge about cybersecurity. Nearly everyone is online; it has become a necessary part of daily life. This makes it critical to remain diligent about practicing good cybersecurity habits and protecting yourself from fraud or identity theft.

What is it?

National Cyber Security Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Cyber Security Division with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). It is designed to ensure that all Americans have the resources they need to stay safer online through engaging, educating and raising awareness about the importance of cybersecurity. It also aims to increase the resiliency of the nation in the event of a cyber incident. Cybersecurity protects not only you, your family, your friends and your business, but also the country’s national security, infrastructure and economy.

How to participate.

Become educated and spread the word. The NCSA and DHS offer a variety of tools and resources that can be used at school or work and on social media.

What can I do to stay safe online?

1. Don’t open attachments or click on URLs in unsolicited emails from vendors and people you don’t know.

The email may even appear to be from someone you know but look or sound suspicious. These may be phishing scams that contain links that will download malware on your computer or lure you into entering personal information. Never disclose financial details in an email. To verify if an email is legitimate, try contacting the person or company directly via phone or their website.

2. Use unique strong passwords for each of your logins.

It’s not enough to have a strong password, you also should not use the same passwords for multiple websites. Increase the complexity of passwords, and regularly change passwords for added security. You can also consider using a password management app on your computer’s browser and on your phone. These apps create and enter different passwords into each of your accounts when you log in, so you don’t have to invent and keep track of dozens of passwords. This can help eliminate the temptation of using the same password for multiple accounts.

3. Be secure when you shop online.

Use a credit card in lieu of a debit card in case of fraudulent charges. Credit cards allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered. Also, if a fraudulent transaction takes place on your credit card, at least the funds won’t automatically be pulled from your checking account, which could cause overdraft fees. Protect yourself by only shopping on sites with HTTPS and a padlock icon to the left or right of the URL. The ‘s’ at the end of HTTPS stands for secure and ensures all communication between your browser and the web is encrypted.

4. Back up your data on all of your electronic devices.

In the case of a loss, theft or crash, you’ll be glad that you took the time to back up your data: photos, videos, or important documents or work are oftentimes irreplaceable. Many computers come with backup software installed, so check to see if you have backup software. Stay Safe Online offers links to backup software for popular operating systems.

5. Proactively and routinely check all of your financial statements and history for suspicious or questionable charges.

Contact your financial institution immediately if you find unauthorized activity on your accounts. OnPoint account holders can set up purchase alerts to be delivered via email or text.

6. Avoid putting personally identifiable information (PII) on social media platforms.

Consider setting your profile settings to private and only allow friends access to your feed and content. Stay Safe Online offers guides on privacy settings for different social media sites.

7. Make sure you have updated antivirus software installed.

Maintain updates on the software installed on your devices. Consider software that does automatic updates and routine scans. Often times these updates patch holes and weaknesses that hackers exploit–waiting to update a security software could leave you vulnerable. If you don’t currently have antivirus software installed, consider adding one. Many cybersecurity vendors offer free security checks for your devices. Research the options available and select the software that’s right for you.

8. Update your Windows and Apple devices.

For users of iPhones, iPads, Mac computers and Windows devices, downloading the latest patch is critical to avoiding potential hacks. The software updates on these devices fix key vulnerabilities that allow hackers to take over your device.

9. Most importantly, think before you click.

If something seems off, it likely will require a little investigation before clicking the link or message. Resist the urge to respond to enticing subject lines that sound too good to be true. Stay alert and take protective measures to ensure online safety and security.

What next?

Learn more about National Cyber Security Awareness Month and the ways to stay safe online by visiting the DHS website. You can also find useful information about keeping yourself secure from our security center.