Cyber hygiene: best practices worth your time

Anton P. | September 06, 2022

Cyber hygiene involves coordinated software, device, network, and service maintenance. It consists of healthy cybersecurity habits like regularly updating applications, embracing 2FA, using firewalls, or enabling spam filters.

Nowadays, sustaining hardware and software in good condition is an uphill battle. Besides the most well-known cyber hygiene techniques, many minor procedures fall under this scope.

Cyber hygiene: best practices worth your time

You might cover web cameras, install ad-blockers, avoid free Wi-Fi, or back up files in USBs or cloud storage. So, the main goal of cyber hygiene is guaranteeing user comfort and security online or offline.

What is cyber hygiene?

Cyber hygiene or cybersecurity hygiene practices resemble personal hygiene. Following recommendations for healthy living can fight diseases, improve immune systems, and prolong lives.

Similar outcomes ensue from adopting nourishing cyber hygiene recommendations. For instance, battery maintenance, overheating prevention, and operating system updates are key to having durable laptops.

Ideally, such beneficial practices develop into habits over time. Therefore, cyber hygiene represents daily, weekly, or monthly norms that preserve, protect, and polish your digital life.

Cyber hygiene for devices, applications, and beyond

Commonly, cyber hygiene focuses on several levels:

  • Hardware maintenance relates to computers and other devices, like smartphones, IoT gadgets, routers, etc. It can relate to replacing outdated models or bolstering performance via upgraded components. However, the physical level of maintenance is only a part of cyber hygiene.
  • Software intertwines with hardware. Many issues can daunt your hardware if you do not take care of the software within. For instance, delaying computer updates can trigger slower performance and noisy overheating.
  • Not all services you use can be in favor of cyber hygiene. Some can be vulnerable, lacking security patches. Others might require too many access privileges, like cameras, microphones, contacts, images, etc. The third category can simply be bloatware, consuming resources unnecessarily.
  • Networks are an important part of cyber hygiene. Everything you do online passes through a network you have connected to. Ideally, a network should appropriately deal with authentication, encryption, and privacy protection for data passing it. Furthermore, network owners should change default passwords and SSIDs, turn off remote administration, and enable firewalls.
  • Cautious actions are critical even if you embrace cyber hygiene practices for hardware, software, services, and networks.

Threats cyber hygiene practices mitigate

Following healthy cyber hygiene routines make you a difficult target for hackers, trackers, malware, and other digital threats.

Building a strong cyber hygiene framework requires a detailed understanding of cyber threats and techniques to prevent potential dangers.

Problem: software vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities represent weaknesses found in software code. Minor flaws could hinder software performance, preventing users from performing specific actions.

Severe vulnerabilities can work as backdoors that hackers can exploit. So, such flaws can facilitate malware injection or other types of unauthorized access. Zero-day vulnerabilities are the most severe as vendors have not detected them.

Solutions to flawed software

Installing software updates as soon as possible is the easiest remedy. It patches functionality flaws and defends against backdoors. Also, it is crucial to know whether the software used still gets active support from its vendors. Companies can abandon projects, leaving all, if any, existing vulnerabilities.

Problem: phishing, spam, and social engineering

Phishing uses social engineering techniques to deceive users into performing particular actions. Scammers could aim for personal details, like credit card details or social security numbers. Other phishing schemes convince users to download malware-ridden files or software.

Solutions to fraudulent messages and emails

Cyber hygiene rules recommend following tips for stopping spam from arriving in your inbox. Users should also be able to recognize phishing emails or SMS messages.

Lastly, owning several email accounts can help minimize the threat. For instance, reserve one email inbox for letters from banks or other facilities. The second email account can be mainly for marketing messages.

Problem: account takeovers

Account takeovers can happen under various circumstances. Hackers could use brute-force techniques like credential stuffing or dictionary attacks. Such attacks hope to guess users’ credentials by running dozens of possible combinations.

Account pre-hijacking is one of the advanced threats when hackers guess which services victims might join. Then, they create accounts and facilitate easy takeovers when victims register.

Solutions to accounts threats

Protect accounts by following these cyber hygiene guidelines:

  • Create unique and strong passwords for every account.
  • Avoid saving credentials in browsers.
  • Use password managers to store credentials.
  • Check devices running active sessions with your account.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Set up alerts for unrecognized logins from new devices.

Problem: malware, spyware, and other viruses

Digital viruses can drastically disrupt device operation, cause data loss, reduce performance, or crash systems. However, not all infections are the same:

  • Spyware is stealthy software known to showcase advanced methods for evading detection. Its purpose is to spy on users, and such monitoring can happen via web cameras, keyloggers, or data theft.
  • Malware is a general term for malicious software. It can perform many activities, from changing computer settings to leaking private information.
  • Ransomware is a vicious infection, encrypting victims’ files and demanding ransoms in exchange for decryption.
  • Adware is an infection leading to an increased number of promotional content. Some of the pop-ups or banners might be legitimate. However, others could belong to malvertising strategies.
  • Other dangerous or suspicious software types can include keyloggers, rootkits, bloatware, worms, Trojans, fileless malware, scareware, etc.

Solutions for defending devices against viruses

Your device deserves the best protection against malware and viruses. These cyber hygiene habits can make your PC or smartphone more immune:

  • Installing a reliable antivirus program.
  • Avoiding unknown websites.
  • Downloading software strictly from reliable sources.
  • Staying away from pirated and cracked software.
  • Blocking ads and trackers.
  • Disabling JavaScript in browsers.
  • Refusing to open or download unknown email attachments.
  • Keeping backups of files in cloud storage or USBs.
  • Scanning USBs for viruses.
  • Being cautious about enabling Macros for unknown Office documents.
  • Avoiding unknown public hotspots, especially ones requesting authentication.

Problem: unsafe networks at home and beyond

Households likely rely on wireless connectivity, and each device joins a single internet access point. Cyber hygiene practices bolster home network security, preventing access and initiating damage control. For instance, if unknown entities connect to your local network, they could secretly snoop on your internet traffic.

Home solutions for going online securely

Reviewing and updating your network security settings is crucial for secure and fast connections. Here are the main modifications to protect devices connecting to the internet:

  • Change the default name and password of your network.
  • Enable Wi-Fi encryption (WPA 3 or WPA 2) to prevent eavesdropping.
  • Turn on a firewall to manage unwanted traffic.
  • Create a separate network for guests.
  • Update router firmware.
  • Turn off remote access to your network.

Connect to public Wi-Fi safely

Public Wi-Fi can carry similar dangers as home networks. Such internet access points might not be inherently malicious, like a business offering free Wi-Fi to its clients.

However, a lack of encryption or other protections can make such hotspots extremely attractive to vicious individuals. Public hotspots could be dangerous by design, like fake networks known as evil twins.

Before you connect to an unknown network, always enable a VPN. It creates secure encrypted connections regardless of the settings network admins choose.

Safe and secure with cyber hygiene services

Integrating cyber hygiene habits into your digital lifestyle might be challenging. However, it is worth it to keep your devices durable and secure. After all, we have reported statistics showing over $25 billion losses to cybercrime since 2015.

So, take simple daily steps to have the best fighting chance against snooping, malware, and data theft. Many cyber hygiene services and applications can also be helpful along the way. Consider password managers, antivirus software, ad-blockers, spam filters, and VPNs.

Atlas VPN can serve you as an ideal tool for implementing your cyber hygiene goals. It protects your browsing, blocks suspicious websites and ads, and can keep track of your email account safety.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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