Better Business Bureau tips for cybersecurity safety

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, an important time to embrace simple actions that can keep you safer.

Cybercriminals can do anything from putting malware on your computer to stealing vital information or money. In the case of business hacks, systems and essential client and operations data can be held for large amounts of ransomware. I recently spoke with a law firm in Chicago that paid 1 million dollars in ransomware to get their data back.

While hacks and breaches of large, well-known businesses may make the big headlines in the news, most attacks happen to small- and medium-sized companies that tend to have less cybersecurity. In many cases, a serious breach can lead to smaller companies being unable to survive the financial turmoil or losing customer and vendor confidence.

Whether a business or your personal cyber safety, the number one source of all breaches is phishing emails, these scam emails often are from imposters pretending to be banks, credit card, or delivery companies trying to scare you with fake notices of a problem with your account.

Other simple email and text scams may look like they come from friends or well-known stores' special offers.

To protect yourself from phishing emails, always look closely at the exact email address the communication is coming from to help spot fakes. A red flag is any unsolicited email or text seeking your personal information, and if you are the least bit suspicious, do not click on any links.

Other ways to avoid hacks of any kind include keeping strong passwords. Never use simple personal information like birthdays, names of family or pets that some fraudsters might find in profiles. Use multiple passwords for your various accounts, including your email, financial accounts, and subscription accounts. Having numerous passwords will help protect other accounts in case one gets hacked.

With security concerns rising, many people have started subscribing to a password manager that generates difficult passwords for all their accounts and keeps track of them.

It is vital to continually update the software on your computer and apps on your phone to keep updated with the most recent security changes. Often, software updates will be due to increased cybersecurity protection or to fix a problem that's been detected.

If you are one of many that tend to rarely shut down your computer totally, develop a habit of trying to do a total shutdown two or three times a week, or you could be missing important updates that stop a hack in its tracks.

Although it can be a bit extra work, multi-factor authentication can save a lot of time and major headaches down the road, especially regarding your financial accounts. By requiring a code sent by text or email, or sometimes a facial recognition or fingerprint, you may be stopping cybercriminals from getting into your accounts, even if they have your password. It is genuinely another layer of security to invest in to protect your information.

Don't forget some of your information most likely is out there already in a partial profile for sale on the dark web.

Another tip is crucial even though it's very low-tech. Talk to your family and friends of all age groups about the importance of taking these simple steps to safety.

Cybercrimes and identity theft hit all age groups, young and old, and show no signs of letting up. One final tip to leave you with is the BBB highly recommends an excellent detection tool for any trouble is to check your credit report twice a year.

You can get a free report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies through or You can request all three of your reports at once, or you can space them out over the course of the year.

A great way to remember to check your credit report is to time it with the clock changes in the spring and when we fall back in early November.

Steve J. Bernas is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau and can be reached at

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