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In our digitally-driven world, we rely on the internet for just about everything. But while technology provides us with a lot of conveniences, it also makes it easier for our personal information to fall into the wrong hands. And during a pandemic, those events can become even more damaging—and are also proving to be even more commonplace.

Whether you’re continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future or you want to bolster protection for your small business, cybersecurity is a measure that’s worth investing in. Let’s take a look at why it’s so important to focus on these considerations now more than ever and what you can do to lower your risk of becoming a victim.

Why Cybercrime is Going Up

Cybercrime is on the rise right now for a few different reasons. For one thing, more people are out of work due to shelter-in-place orders and the closures of non-essential businesses. Although temporary disability benefits entitle workers to two-thirds of their average weekly earnings, those workers who don’t qualify for unemployment (or who had trouble filing for it, like so many Americans did) might find themselves in dire financial straits. Since cybercrime tends to go up during times of economic downturn, that alone makes it more likely for criminal attempts to be made.

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It’s also worth noting that our own behaviors might be making it easier for these cybercriminals to get what they’re after. More Americans are working from home, which means they’ve been using their personal electronic devices and potentially unsecured networks to access the information they need to do their jobs. It’s far easier for a system to be breached as a result. Coupled with the fears many of us have surrounding COVID-19—and criminals who cleverly take advantage of those fears through a variety of attempts—it’s no wonder that, as of May 2, the FBI reported a 300% increase in reported cybercrime incidents.

And since 25% of organizations never even test their disaster recovery system, that means there’s huge potential for widespread disaster. In fact, Forbes predicts that the largest cyberattack in history could happen within the next six months.

Fortunately, you don’t have to just let that happen. Rather than allowing this scenario to simply play out, you can be proactive and keep these devastating events from happening due to a lack of oversight.

How to Protect Yourself Through Better Cybersecurity

  • Secure Your Network: If you use a WiFi router to connect to the internet, make sure that it’s secured with a complex password. Your router should also have active system firewalls. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are generally better for keeping your information safe, but you should protect this with a strong password and set up two-factor authentication. As a rule, stay off of public WiFi. Since 24% of consumers discovered they were victims of identity fraud by accident and public networks provide the least amount of protection, you won’t want to risk it. While you’re at it, turn on automatic updates for your operating system and other software, as well.
  • Strengthen Your Passwords: Whether you’re logging into a company-wide system or you’re placing an order through an online retailer, you shouldn’t be using the same password across multiple platforms. You should also take care to change your passwords regularly. Strong passwords should never be easy to guess and there are plenty of generators or password lockers that can help you choose new passwords or keep track of the ones you have. Biometric authentication (like fingerprint or face scanning) methods are even better, as they’re harder to hack. Obviously, you should never share passwords with anyone—even if the request seems to come from a coworker or close family member.
  • Don’t Go Phishing: Phishing emails have been around for years, but they’re definitely increasing in frequency and sophistication. Many even have a coronavirus spin in order to play off of consumer fears. Phishing emails often appear to come from a trusted source (like your bank, PayPal, a store you’ve shopped with, or even your employer or IT desk), so you’ll want to take the time to authenticate any email you receive that asks you to log in or alerts you of an account issue. According to Norton, some phishing scams are even masked as COVID-19 business policies and other reports state that thousands of college students have received fraudulent emails with information about the CARES Act.
    Even digital calendar invites might not be as innocuous as you might think, as Wells Fargo customers quickly realized. Clicking on a link in such an email could easily trigger a malicious software download that might take control of your computer system and access sensitive business documents. Want to know whether that email might be a phishy fake? Look for grammatical errors and misspellings and requests to click on a link or volunteer sensitive info. Be sure to hover over email addresses and links to see where they’re really coming from or where they’re trying to get you to go.

While the threat of a cyberattack might seem unlikely, the truth is that even small businesses and relatively unknown individuals can become huge targets for these activities—often because these are the exact kind of internet users who think they aren’t important enough to be the subject of a breach. By taking steps to protect yourself before a potential security problem ever occurs, you can minimize the potential for a disaster during a pandemic.

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