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Some simple actions can boost cybersecurity

William R. Conte
William R. Conte

In 2017, more than half the U.S. adult population fell victim to cyber crime.* These attacks often succeed because individuals don’t take basic steps to safeguard their information and assets in the digital age. Here are some simple things you can do to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals:

Choose strong passwords

A robust password strategy is your first line of defense against hackers. Chances are, at some point, you’ve reused the same password across multiple websites or application logins. That may put you at risk. If you reuse the same username and password and a hacker gains access to one of your accounts, the hacker may be able to access your other accounts, as well.

You should be sure to set complex, unique and lengthy passwords for all of your accounts – like a phrase with multiple words that is easy to remember, but hard to guess. Never store your passwords someplace they can easily be compromised (e.g., on a notepad in your desk drawer or a file on your computer).

Consider a password manager, which will create strong passwords for all of your logins and store them in a cryptographically sound way.

Skepticism means safety

Phishing and malware are tactics used by cyber criminals the world over.

Phishing occurs when an attacker attempts to acquire funds or steal personal information by sending an email that appears to originate from a legitimate source, such as a financial institution, government agency or your employer. These emails encourage the recipient to click on a link embedded in the message or download a file, which installs “malware” (malicious software) on the victim’s device.

These communications typically carry an unusually strong sense of urgency to instill a sense of panic and get the victim to act quickly without taking the time to ensure the correspondence is legitimate.

Avoid clicking on suspicious links without confirming the identity of the sender. This applies not just to emails, but to text messages, as well. You should also run a reputable, American anti-virus product on your home PC or laptop.

Be careful what you share

The information you share online could be exploited to gather information for fraud schemes and/or physical theft of property. For instance, social media posts related to your vacation plans could be used to determine your location and also provide a timeline for when your house will be empty.

Various social media scams will try to trick you into giving away crucial data, such as your age, pet’s name and model of your first car. Publically posting information like this could be used to try and guess passwords or common security questions.

Limit how much information you share on social media, and lock down privacy settings on social media accounts.

Monitor your credit

Even the most vigilant individual can still experience breaches that result in fraud. That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep tabs on your accounts and look for signs of identity theft or unauthorized purchases.

Enroll in a credit monitoring service, and check your account statements regularly for unusual activity.

Stay safe online

With so much of our financial lives taking place online, cybersecurity should never be an afterthought.

• William R. Conte is a wealth adviser in Joliet at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC . He can be reached at or 815-729-8040.

* Source: 2017 Norton Cyber Security Insights Report United States Results, Norton by Symantec,

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