Five Ways to Stay Safe Online during COVID-19

March 18, 2020 | By: Communications Staff

by Jill Williams, LaSalle Branch Manager & Dr. Marc Rogers, CERIAS Fellow, Purdue University

With schools out of session and non-essential businesses closed to the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many students, teachers, and employees are having to navigate a new digital world. E-learning and remote work are critical tools to keep students on track and businesses functioning, but Dr. Marc Rogers, a cybersecurity expert and professor at Purdue University, warns that they also provide opportunities for hackers to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis.   

Dr. Rogers suggests that individuals working or learning remotely take these five steps in order to protect their school, company, and personal information from cybersecurity threats: 

1. Update your antivirus software 

New computer viruses are constantly being created. Staying on top of antivirus software updates will ensure that your computer is protected from the newest threats. Click on the respective links to learn more about antivirus software on Apple and Windows computers.

2. Update your operating system and browsers

Keeping your computer’s operating system and browsers up to date will also protect against new viruses, and ensure that your computer operates properly. 

3. Don’t open emails from unknown senders or click on unfamiliar email links

Downloading attachments, following links, or in some cases simply opening spam emails can result in your computer receiving a virus. The Department of Homeland Security suggests that computer users only open email attachments if they are expecting the file and are aware of its contents. 

4. Don’t give out credit card numbers or other personal information (including health information) without verifying the recipient

Certain people will try to take advantage of this crisis to steal personal information and solicit donations to fake organizations. If you plan to make a donation online, look for reputable charitable organizations, and when in doubt search for a phone number you could call to speak with someone at the organization first.  

Your bank, doctor’s office, and government organizations will never ask you for your personal information via email. Scammers can make it look like they are emailing you from an official business or government office to get your personal information. This is known as phishing

5. Don’t reuse passwords

Using the same passwords for multiple accounts can leave your personal information vulnerable. If a hacker is able to gain access to all of the user data for a website, known as a data breach, they could then use your password to access accounts you hold on other websites. This can include online banking, or in this case, online tax filing information, which can make it possible for hackers to steal your identity and/or access your bank accounts.   

Remembering different passwords for each account you create can be a daunting task; password managers provide a secure solution. PC Magazine rated LastPass and Myki Password Manager and Authenticator as the top free password managers.

Protecting oneself against the effects of COVID-19 requires taking both physical and digital precautions. Following these five steps will start computer users on the path to practicing good online hygiene, and using technology safely, securely, and responsibly.

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