IT Security Best Practices Checklist (Simple but Effective)

Establishing cybersecurity best practices is the one thing that’ll protect your business or yourself from falling prey to threat actors. It’s always a good idea to ensure guidelines are easy to follow since technology is complex. Here’s a simple but effective IT security best practices checklist.

Staying safe online requires sharing as little personal information as possible, using strong passwords, and updating the software you use. Other IT security best practices include locking your devices, connecting to secure networks alone, and backing up your data.

Following IT best practices will help you avoid a lot of attacks. It also allows users to recognize common threats, such as phishing and vishing attempts, though that’s not the only reason to follow these rules.

Why Are Cybersecurity Best Practices Necessary?

  • Protects Users. Hackers target a lot of companies to steal their data – but they don’t do so out of curiosity. They couldn’t care less about the lives of employees and users. Their goal is to monetize that data one way or another (e.g., selling it to the highest bidder). Nowadays, every company stores information and they have to protect it unless they want legal trouble.
  • Preserves Data. Technology today is centered around information. Individual users and companies have to go out of their way to protect said information. The main reason behind cybersecurity best practices is to create a symbolic fortress threat actors can’t infiltrate, no matter how hard they try.
  • Prevents Lawsuits. Small and big businesses have to invest a lot of money in cybersecurity to prevent data breaches. Otherwise, they have a huge liability – or, in other words, a lawsuit waiting to happen. For that reason, cybersecurity is not there to protect users but companies as well.

IT Security Best Practices You Must Follow

Know Hackers Target Anyone (Including You)

Threat actors go after information or money (or both). Most people think the best hackers target multinational companies to get million-dollar profits – but that’s seldom the case.

In fact, most cybercriminals go after small companies and individual users because that’s where the easy money is. Most big companies train their employees in cybersecurity, though that’s rarely the case for small businesses that can’t afford it.

Even if you’re a user with no say in what a company does, you still have to protect your family from threat actors. Following cybersecurity best practices will help with that.

Reduce Your Social Media Presence

One of the easiest ways hackers have to find information about someone is through social media. Most people post their full names, birthdays, and even addresses, among other things, online – for everyone to see!

That information may seem worthless to the untrained eye. However, hackers know how to leverage that information to figure out login credentials, which could do a lot of harm if it falls into the wrong hands.

At the same time, posting pictures with your kids or similar could facilitate cybercriminals to blackmail you. For that reason, reducing your social media presence as much as possible is a must: little to no information, few pictures, and so on.

Keep Personal Information to Yourself (As Much as Possible)

Social media profiles are not the only place where you can write down your personal information (and create a huge liability). Other websites will ask you for many details – for no reason other than to store it or sell it to someone else.

That’s right! Your personal information is worth a lot of money for many companies – and you shouldn’t give it away for free.

At the same time, a lot of hackers will create phishing websites to get as much data from you as possible – and if you tend to give that away for free, you won’t notice what’s going on until it’s too late.

Data theft leads to fraud, which isn’t something anyone wants to go through.

Create Strong Passwords

Let’s say you keep using your information only when it’s necessary (e.g., to open a bank account). Doing so using weak passwords is the same as giving it away for free.

Why is that? Because hackers have sophisticated ways to crack your password. Whether they brute force it (use powerful computers to find out your passcode one character at a time) or figure it out themselves (via social engineering), a smart threat actor will discover a weak password in no time.

How can you avoid that from happening? Create a long password that features no personal information! You have to give hackers a tough time so they give up.

Use a Password Manager

The best passwords could fall into the wrong hands even if you do nothing wrong. One data breach could give a hacker your email, password, and other information.

You have to use different passwords for different websites if you want to minimize the damage of a data breach. That way, when one website leaks your password, it’s not a big deal because you haven’t used it anywhere else.

However, it’s difficult to remember dozens of passcodes, especially if they’re all in your head (writing them down could lead to someone stealing them). Use a password manager to deal with that issue.

Enable Multi-factor Authentication

Let’s say you haven’t used a password manager and fall victim to a data breach. How can you prevent hackers from accessing your accounts? Use MFA! Multi-factor authentication puts a wall between whoever has your login credentials and your account.

The most common MFA is 2-factor authentication: every time someone tries to log in to your account, a code will be sent to your phone. Nobody can access your account without that code, no matter if they have your password.

So, if you fall victim to a data breach, everything will be safe unless they get your phone too!

Be Wary of Other Means of Protection

A lot of people are falling head over heels for biometric protection: using your fingerprints (among other unique traits) as a key to unlock your account or device. It’s the same way you unlock a smartphone but for bank accounts and similar things.

There’s a problem with that: willingly or otherwise, companies could leak your biometric data. That means third parties will access your unique traits – and use them for who knows what kind of stuff.

If someone leaks your passcode, you can simply create a new one. However, you can’t get new fingerprints.

Connect To Secure Networks Alone

Connecting to a public network is a great way to compromise your data. A lot of people do so without considering the danger doing that entails.

When you do so, a hacker could listen to what you’re doing. In other words, they’ll see the emails you send, the websites you browse, and more. In fact, they could get your login credentials without you knowing.

For that reason, going to a coffee shop with your computer to work away from the office is a terrible idea.

Encrypt Your Data if You Connect to Public Networks

Sometimes, you’ll have no other choice but to connect to a public network. It’s bad – but manageable. You need to use a VPN to encrypt your data so hackers have a hard time reaching it.

Does that mean VPNs are bulletproof? Far from it! However, the next best thing is to connect to a public network with no protection at all.

Never connecting to a public network is the best thing you can do. The second best would be using a VPN to encrypt your data. A compromise between each option would be to use a VPN and never deal with sensitive information while you do so.

Lock the Devices You Use

Threat actors won’t get to you through the internet alone. They can also do so in a very hands-on fashion, like grabbing your phone and downloading spyware to it. You may think it only happens in the movies – but it could happen to you the next time you leave your phone unattended.

Think about it: a not-so-smart criminal would grab your phone and run, so they can sell it for cents on the dollar. A smart criminal would grab your phone, download spyware into it, and empty your bank account a few weeks later.

What’s the best way to stop that from happening? Locking your phone! At the same time, if a not-so-smart criminal steals your unlocked phone, they’ll probably wise up and try to take the money from your bank account too.

Reduce Your Number of Devices

Your network is as strong as its weakest device. So, imagine someone steals your phone or puts spyware on it: your entire network could be compromised!

The more devices you have, the bigger the chance of trouble coming your way. We’re not talking about owning two phones alone: the Internet of Things turns even the simplest household appliances into possible liabilities.

If you want a secure network (and a secure household), start thinking about using old tech coffee makers, TVs, and more. You should also use as few computers and phones as possible.

Don’t Open Unknown Emails

Phishing is one of the biggest threats users face every day. In fact, billions of scams go out via email every day. You probably receive a few every week – and it only takes one click to make a fatal mistake.

For that reason, you should have a known-emails-only policy: in other words, only open emails from people you know. Even better, open emails you expect alone!

That way, you greatly reduce the risk of having a threat actor get into your device via your inbox.

You can stumble upon a phishing attack in many ways. You’ll face similar attacks from several angles, including WhatsApp messages, Instagram DMs, and many more places.

It’s always a good idea to click links you can trust for that reason. In other words, visit websites sent to you by friends or family, never by people you don’t know.

Did you know Twitter reported having more than 300 million bots on its website? That means the number is potentially much higher than that – and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think threat actors are using them to lure users into a trap.

Make Sure Your Software Is Updated

Let’s say you never click any unknown links or open untrustworthy emails. Did you know there are other ways for a hacker to get to you? Using an outdated browser is a good way to fall for exploits, even if you use popular browsers like Chrome.

Hackers spend a lot of time looking for vulnerabilities. That’s why there are so many one-day patches nowadays (among other reasons).

Because of that, software developers often update their products. Otherwise, hackers would exploit the holes found in them.

You’re leaving yourself wide open for an attack if you don’t update your antivirus, firewall, internet browser, and any other software you use.

Do Routine Backups

Imagine your personal phone gets compromised. Perhaps, you clicked on a link you shouldn’t have and downloaded spyware without knowing. Maybe someone exploited a vulnerability because you forgot to update your browser.

For whatever reason, you can’t manually delete that piece of spyware. So, you resort to a factory reset. That brings your phone back to normal – but it also deletes everything else off your phone.

Your computer could fail due to a malfunction or external forces too, making you lose everything you had in it.

Because of that, it’s always better to routinely back up your data (and if you can do so in external storage, even better). You never know when you’ll need to retrieve something that otherwise would be long gone – and being cautious is the foundation of all cybersecurity practices!

Conclusion

Staying safe online requires you to limit the amount of personal information you share, create strong passwords, and do your best to have updated software on your devices. At the same time, being able to recognize a threat actor’s attempts to steal your data is key to protecting yourself.

Herman McCargo

Herman is a Microsoft Certified Security Engineer and Cybersecurity Specialist. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.