How To Keep Your Information Secure Online


A new cyber-attack seems to make news every week. With malware attacks targeting the energy sector, food production, infrastructure, education and more, no business or industry seems safe. Attacks seem to be random, but the attackers have one thing in common: they are looking to exploit users by scoring personal information or extorting money through ransomware attacks. You can never be 100 percent protected, but you aren’t completely defenseless either. The IT team at Iowa Valley has a few tips on things you can do to keep your information secure online.  

Avoid Unsafe Links 

Avoid clicking on links in spam messages or on unknown websites. Clicking on malicious links could trigger the automatic installation of malware and thus infect and compromise your computer. 

Don’t Disclose Personal Information 

If you receive a call, text message, or email from someone you don’t know that is requesting personal information, do not reply. Cybercriminals who are planning a ransomware attack might try to collect personal information in advance, which is then used to tailor phishing messages specifically to you. If in any doubt as to whether the message is legitimate, contact the sender directly. 

Avoid Suspicious Email Attachments 

Not all email is created equal. Ransomware can find its way to your device through email attachments. Avoid opening any dubious-looking attachments. Attachments, including PDFs, JPEGs, EXEs, ZIP files and Microsoft Office documents, can contain hidden malware that launches upon opening and without your knowledge or approval. To make sure the email is trustworthy, pay close attention to the sender and check that the address is correct.  

Don’t Use Unknown USB Sticks 

Do you use USB sticks or flash drives to share information or store additional documents? Never connect USB sticks or other storage media to your computer if you do not know where they came from. Cybercriminals may have infected the storage medium and placed it in a public place to entice somebody into using it. 

Keep Programs and Operating Systems Current 

Regularly updating programs and operating systems helps to protect you from malware. When performing updates, make sure you benefit from the latest security patches. This makes it harder for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities in your outdated programs. 

Download Only from Trusted Sources 

To minimize the risk of downloading ransomware, never download software or media files from unknown websites. Rely on verified and trustworthy sites for downloads.  

Make sure that the browser address bar of the page you are visiting uses “https” instead of “http”. A shield or lock symbol in the address bar can also indicate that the page is secure. Also, exercise caution when downloading anything to your mobile device. You can trust the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, depending on your device. 

Be Cautious on Public Wi-Fi Networks 

Conscientious use of public Wi-Fi networks is a sensible protective measure against ransomware. When using a public Wi-Fi network, your computer is more vulnerable to attacks. To stay protected, avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions or use a secure VPN service. 

Use Multi-Factor Authentication  

A popular attacker tactic is to leverage stolen credentials to gain entry into networks and distribute ransomware. Those credentials are often collected via phishing or harvested from past breaches. To reduce the likelihood of an attack, adopt two-factor authentication (2FA) across all technology solutions. 

Keep Passwords Strong 

Data breaches and identity theft are on the rise, and the cause is often compromised passwords. After stealing credentials, cybercriminals can use passwords to access data and systems.  Using a strong, unique password helps mitigate this risk.   

A few best practices for choosing passwords:  

  • A password should be 16 characters or more; research shows that 45 percent of Americans use passwords of eight characters or less, which are not as secure as longer passwords. 
  • A password should include a combination of letters, numbers, and characters. 
  • A password should not be shared with any other account. 
  • A password should not include any of the user’s personal information like their address or phone number. It is also best not to include any information that can be accessed on social media like kids’ or pets’ names. 
  • A password should not contain any consecutive letters or numbers. 
  • A password should not be the word “password” or the same letter or number repeated. 

No matter what industry you are in, understand that cybersecurity is everyone’s business. If you would like to be part of a team that is fighting breaches and restoring confidence in online activity, consider a degree in Computer Network Management and Technology. You can begin a career in two years or less with the skills learned in this program, available at Marshalltown Community College. Contact us today to learn more.