Top tips to stay cyber-safe in 2021

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the ways in which we’re able to work and engage with others, many of us are now spending more time online.

Online shopping is a great way to support businesses of all sizes but unfortunately, cyber-crime remains a real and ever-evolving threat.

While this risk cannot be eradicated, there are a number of small and effective steps that you can take to stay cyber-aware and reduce your personal risk.

If a promotion doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts

If you receive an unsolicited email or phone call that sounds too good to be true - such as a heavily discounted must-have item or an investment opportunity that claims guaranteed returns - it probably is. Similarly, you may see these kinds of posts on social media and online marketplaces, with items such as luxury villas being offered through means such as a raffle.

Our advice here is to research, research, research. Is the company reputable? How many online reviews do they have? How long has the company existed for and how wide is their digital presence?

You’ve worked hard for your savings, so exercising caution and taking the time to consider if an offer is legitimate, trustworthy and secure could stop you from inadvertently handing your money over to cyber-criminals.

If you have any doubts, don’t open the email or any associated attachments, such as a link embedded within a text message or a ‘click here’ message, as this could compromise your online security.

Keep your devices and software updated

It’s tempting to press ‘remind me later’ when your system prompts you to update, and some of us can end up putting updates off for days, weeks or even months at a time!

A prompt is your software’s way of telling you that it’s out-of-date - by not updating when recommended, it could be easier for hackers to gain access to your accounts, money and personal information.

If you’re struggling to find the time, some devices and systems can be set to update automatically as and when necessary, which can be a great way to stay secure even while you’re busy.

Don’t let an unexpected phone call pressure you

As well as phoney emails, cyber-criminals also use fraudulent phone calls and voicemails to try and con people out of their own money and sensitive data - this process is commonly referred to as ‘vishing’. In these instances, criminals will contact you and pretend to be a reputable company, such as your bank, your utilities provider or a government agency.

They will then attempt to coerce you into revealing personal information, such as your bank details and other identifiable data.

It’s vital to remember that you are under no obligation to share any unnecessary information with anyone over the phone, even if they repeatedly ask for it.

If you’re not sure, stay calm and ask yourself a few questions. Are they asking you to respond within a very short timeframe? Is this the tone of voice that the company usually talks in? Is the call automated? Why would they need your information via this phone call? Does something feel a little strange about the call?

If you’re unsure, it’s always best to ignore these calls and contact the company yourself using verified contact details to confirm whether the call was legitimate or fraudulent - this could be the difference between staying secure and being scammed.

Make the most of two-factor authentication

This type of authentication is popular as it requires more information in addition to your password, such as biometrics or a code. By adding another layer to your device’s security, you could stop a hacker from being able to access your accounts with a compromised password.

Keep your eyes peeled for signs of a scam

Once you’re on a website, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of reviewing the URL of every website you visit via the search bar - it’s sometimes very clear that a website is not what it’s claiming to be from the address alone.

If you receive an email that you know or suspect is spam, a right click will let you mark it as such. It’s also a good idea to manually type a company’s website address into your search bar, rather than clicking on links which may redirect you to a fraudulent page that’s masquerading as a trusted brand’s site.

Move away from the one-password-fits-all mindset

If your email account is compromised and a hacker gains access, they could then proceed to reset passwords for other accounts that are linked to your email, such as e-commerce sites. There is also the possibility that they could access sensitive data - personal and business - that is saved in your messages.

To reduce this risk, the National Cyber Security Centre recommends using three random words to create a strong, memorable password, rather than personal information such as your mother’s maiden name.

If you think your email password is too simple - and therefore easier for hackers to guess - you can change it at any time in your email account’s settings. If you’re worried about remembering them all, passwords can be securely saved in your browser to help with managing your details.

This list is far from exhaustive, but we hope you will find it useful throughout 2021.

If you would like to find out more about how you can stay safe online, there are plenty of great resources available, including the National Cyber Security Centre and the Information Commissioner’s Office.