personal cyber security best practices

Personal Cyber Security – 10 Steps to Security

There are actions you can take now to protect yourself from digital threats. Take control and make your data and sensitive accounts harder to hack and exploit.

By James Wilson

The internet is amazing. There are almost infinite opportunities to create, learn, and share. There is also a dark side to the internet. There are millions (if not billions) of opportunities to scam, steal, infect, and harm people and organizations. The list of things you can do to protect yourself is quite long and can seem overwhelming. This list will introduce you to the top 10 beneficial things you can do today to help protect you from digital threats.

The Top 10 Personal Cyber Security Best Practices

1. Avoid questionable environments

The first step in any form of self-defense is to avoid known bad situations and environments. This also applies digitally. For example, you should never use public Wi-Fi without using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Public Wi-Fi is a known scenario where cybercriminals will try to access people’s personal information. You should use your cell’s data network when you don’t have a VPN, especially when security is important, such as logging into your bank account. You should also avoid questionable websites, such as places to download pirated material. You should avoid anywhere else your information or devices can be taken advantage of, such as websites that participate in illegal (or not completely legal) activities. Take a look our VPN article for more information about VPNs.

2. Verify links you don’t trust

You should always be careful before clicking on a link. Often, a sketchy link will look legitimate. You can get more information about the link by hovering over the link (desktop) or hold and copy (mobile) to see what the link is. Does it take you to or Get into the habit of analyzing links before clicking on them.

3. Don’t install pirated software

It can be tempting to download expensive software for free, but often there is malware inside the software and you get more than you bargained for. Malware, such as key loggers, can be used to send your login credentials to cybercriminals. Realize the risk is not often worth the tradeoff.

4. Don’t open unknown documents

It doesn’t matter if it comes to your inbox or you see it on a website. If you are not certain about the safety of a document, do not open or download it. We have known this for a long time, but it still important to reiterate. The PDF, excel file, or other program could have malware that can infect your devices.

5. Install apps from legitimate sources (e.g., the App Store, Google Play Store)

Don’t install or download from sketchy places. A game that is paid in the official app store, but is free on another site, is probably too good to be true and likely a tool of a cybercriminal. Another helpful point is that keeping the amount of apps or programs you have to the essentials can also protect you. There is malware and spam that can sometimes sneak through the defenses of legitimate app stores.

6. Keep software up-to-date

Hackers often get into an account or device by taking advantage of outdated software. This means that a device or app will be missing any patches or updates addressing security issues, making you more at risk. Enable automatic security updates to help keep things up-to-date and secure. This goes for devices, programs, and even program extensions, like browser add-ons.

7. Use a password manager with unique passwords

Strong passwords are critical to online security, but too many people still have bad password practices. A survey revealed that 91% of people know that using the same password puts them at risk, however 66% of people always or mostly use the same password. Password issues (stealing/selling passwords, losing passwords, compromised passwords) make up a large percentage of hacking statistics. A password manager is a safe and simple tool to help you create and manage complex passwords. Don’t wait until it’s too late to update your password practices. Take a look at our article on password managers for a deeper dive on the subject.

8. Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds another step to logging into an account, which increases the security of your accounts. While anything is better than nothing, there are definitely more valuable MFA tools. Using an authenticator app like Authy or Google Authenticator is a great way to protect your online accounts. Our article on multi-factor authentication can answer more questions on the topic.

9. Use alias information whenever possible

Because data breaches will continue to happen, it can be beneficial to limit where you give out your real information. Create a plan for where you will use your real information and where it makes sense to use alias information. If you use an alias name, masked email address, and masked credit card when signing up for your internet with Comcast, then you have nothing to worry about if Comcast every has a data breach. Our why you need an alias strategy article can be a great place to start if you want to learn more.

10. Backup valuable files

Often, victims of ransomware or malware attacks will have to erase their systems and restore anything you have backed up. If you haven’t backed up your data, then you run the risk of losing it all. Additionally, if your hardware is compromised, lost, or breaks, you will be grateful you have backup copies of your important files.


This list is a great jumping off point for creating habits and practices that will contribute to your online security and privacy. While they do take some time, and a little bit of know-how, it is well worth the investment of time and effort. Take a look at what experts say are the best tools for online privacy and security. You will notice significant overlap with most of the points in this post.